Biden unveils a new plan to save you money at the gas pump
It’s unclear if and when it will work though. Plus: The Senate is close on a new COVID funding bill and Democrats call on the president to cancel student debt (again).
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Recent polling shows that the high cost of living has surpassed both the pandemic and war in Ukraine as the top issue of concern for Americans.
In response, President Joe Biden is working overtime to use his relatively limited power to relieve the inflationary pressures that have caused a spike in the price of everything from food to gas in the past year.
Case in point: On Thursday he announced a two-point plan to address what his administration has branded as the “Putin price hike,” an inevitable increase in oil and energy costs due to the Russian president’s invasion of Ukraine and the US’s subsequent decision to ban all Russian oil imports.
“I know how much it hurts. As you’ve heard me say before, I grew up in a family, like many of you, where the price of a gallon of gasoline went up, it was discussed at the kitchen table,” President Biden said on Thursday. “Our family budgets, your family budgets to fill a tank — none of it should hinge on whether a dictator declares war.”
The first part of Biden’s plan calls for the daily release of one million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for the next six months.
The administration characterized the barrels as a bridge while oil companies ramp up production later this year.
Biden said Americans could save between 10 to 35 cents per gallon at the pump in the months to come. His aides were unwilling to join him in speculation though.
“We’re not focused right now on sort of the immediate, short-term price movements. What we’re focused on is a real challenge we have,” a senior administration official said during a press call with reporters. “Where we’re focused is a structural challenge right now in the oil market as a result of Putin’s actions.”
The reserve is an emergency stockpile of crude oil the US turns to in times of crisis to avoid relying on other nations who may use conflict as leverage to exploit American international policy.
The 180-million barrel release is the largest in history and comes from a reserve of 568 million barrels across four locations in Texas and Louisiana.
National Economic Director Brian Deese told reporters the reserve has the operational capacity to release up to four million barrels per day so one million is achievable in the administration’s eyes.
The Department of Energy will use the revenue from the release to restock the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in future years.
The second part of Biden’s plan focuses on accelerating the nation’s clean energy transition so the US is no longer reliant on international oil.
The White House said implementation of the president’s climate plans would save Americans more than $900 a year in gasoline from the adoption of electric and hydrogen vehicles $500 a year by increasing the use of clean electricity to power homes with technologies like heat pumps and solar and storage.
To be sure
But Republicans and more than a few Democrats are disinclined to support the administration’s environmental initiatives. In fact, some claim that gas prices are so high because the US isn’t drilling enough oil to replace the supply we’re losing from Russian imports.
The White House says the US was importing 700,000 barrels per day of crude and petroleum product from Russia. For context, America imported about 8.47 million barrels per day of petroleum from 73 countries in 2021, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
Senior officials say that the oil and gas industry is sitting on more than 12 million acres of non-producing federal land with 9,000 unused but already-approved permits for production.
In other words, instead of reinvesting their revenue to increase supply, some oil companies are profit-banking under the guise of inflation to provide a windfall to executives and shareholders. (The White House declined to identify any of the companies by name though.)
Biden proposed to Congress a “use-it-or-lose-it policy” that would make companies pay on wells from the leases they haven’t used in years to discourage them from hoarding acres of public land without producing.
He also implored corporate executives to act against their impulses to squeeze every cent of profit out of their products and instead pass the savings to consumers.
“I say: Enough. Enough of lavishing excessive profits on investors and payouts and buybacks when the American people are watching, the world is watching,” Biden said. “It’s time to step up for the good of your country, the good of the world, to invest in immediate production that we need to respond to Vladimir Putin, to provide some relief for your customers, not investors and executives.”
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Senate negotiators reached a tentative agreement to provide the White House with $10 billion for COVID preparedness.
The hope is to pass the bill by next Friday when the Senate goes on a two-week Easter recess.
At press time, negotiators were still drafting the legislative text, waiting for an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office and confirming final details.
“We want our communities to go back to normal and stay normal,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on Thursday. “If a new virus comes, if a new variant comes and we’re not prepared, we could lose that ability to go back to normality, for our schools to stay open, for events to occur, for people to gather. We don’t want to do that.”
The $10-billion agreement is less than the $15.6 billion that was initially included and then dropped from the comprehensive government funding bill Congress passed earlier this month. And it’s a fraction of the $22.5 billion the Office of Management and Budget requested on behalf of the White House.
It would authorize $5 billion for therapeutics including vaccinations and be funded by reallocating money from previous pandemic-response bills. This was a point of contention for several House Democrats who opposed a previous version of the bill that called for money to be pulled from state and local governments.
But the agreement would leave a few dollars for the White House’s campaign to help vaccinate the world.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described the Republicans’ unwillingness to honor our global commitment as shameful.
“They don't care or they don't know, but it is wrong,” she said of her GOP colleagues. “Everyone knows none of us are safe unless all of us are safe.
Pelosi also bristled at the topline number as insufficient to meet the task at hand.
“This is not enough money. We're going to even need more money,” she said. “It's not going to last us past probably June 1st.”
A group of House Democrats released a statement that said any deal without global vaccine funding would be “unacceptable.”
Still, the White House seems content to take what they can get.
“The President has been very clear there is a strong sense of urgency here,” Communications Director Kate Bedingfield said during a briefing on Thursday, adding that the funding lapse has diminished the nation’s supply of monoclonal antibodies and treatments for the immunocompromised. “We’re very hopeful that Congress is going to come to a solution on this.”
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Seven congressional Democrats led a letter to President Biden calling on his administration to extend the pause on federal student loan payments until at least the end of the year and to cancel student debt for all borrowers.
The lawmakers argue that restarting payment would destabilize many borrowers who are currently facing higher costs for essentials like food and gas and are unprepared to should another bill.
“As your administration works towards rebuilding a more equitable and just economy, it should use its administrative powers to address this crisis and permanently relieve the millions of borrowers struggling with this debt,” they wrote.
The letter, which is at least the fifth to the administration on this issue, says that the extended pause that’s set to expire in May has saved borrowers an average of $393 per month.
The Democrats also argue that canceling student debt would alleviate some of the racial economic disparities Black and Latino borrowers face.
Black students, they say, borrow more to attend college, borrow more while they’re in school and have a harder time paying their debt than their white peers, resulting in wage garnishment, tax refund withholding, and federal benefit offset. Meanwhile, Latino borrowers are more likely to struggle in repaying their loans and have some of the lowest post-education earnings among all racial or ethnic groups.
The White House has deferred the issue to the legislative process, calling on Congress to send President Biden a bill that would cancel up to $10,000 in student debt.
But Democrats say the administration knows there aren’t enough votes to pass legislation and that the president has the authority to cancel student debt through executive action. (The next Republican president could, of course, sign an executive order reinstating the debt.)
What’s certain is that this could be a make-or-break issue that influences if and how many young people who voted for Biden turn out this November as Democrats work to expand — or at least maintain — their congressional majorities.
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In the Know
The House passed a bill that would cap the cost of insulin at $35 dollars per month. Now it goes to the Senate for consideration. (@HouseDailyPress / Twitter)
Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington signed into law a bill that creates a first-in-the-nation statewide alert system for missing Indigenous people. The law sets up a system similar to Amber Alerts and so-called silver alerts, which are used respectively for missing children and vulnerable adults in many states. (Gillian Flaccus and Ted S. Warren / AP News)
March saw more tornadoes in the US than any one on record. Scientists believe the climate crisis is causing more severe weather earlier in the year when such weather used to peak from April to early June. More disastrous and deadly tornado outbreaks are also possible with severe storms happening farther east in the country. (Caitlin Kaiser and Brandon Miller / CNN)
President Biden announced 18 new appointments to the Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The board exists to increase the capacity of HBCUs to provide the highest-quality education to its students and continue serving as engines of opportunity.
Google will add a new label to search results to highlight original reporting and company announcements that are picked up by websites. The feature is designed in part to restore a lot of the context that gets stripped when stories go viral. (Jon Porter / The Verge)
Today in Politics
President Biden will speak this morning on the March jobs report and then receive his daily intelligence briefing. This afternoon, he’ll travel to Delaware for the weekend.
Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Greenville, Mississippi to visit a small business and speak on this administration’s investments in economic development in underserved communities. She’ll return to DC this evening.
The House is in and will vote on a bill to decriminalize marijuana.
The Senate is out.
Read All About It
Rosie Gray on how COVID-19 made it worse for teachers who were already in collapse:
Despite these wide geographic and logistical differences, however, nearly all of the teachers I interviewed spoke about similar problems in their schools that touch every aspect of our culture and society, from technology dependence to stats-obsessed bureaucracy. Teachers described increasing pressure from multiple angles. They’re dealing directly with the ways phones and technology have changed the classroom environment. They’re dealing with kids who were out of school, sometimes for years, and are readjusting to social interaction every day. They’re dealing with an increasingly political and surveilling approach to curriculum from outside, and longstanding budgetary and bureaucratic demands from above.
The breakdown of teaching, I came to understand, has been accelerating in plain sight from well before the virus hit. But its aftershocks will be felt long after the virus has faded.
Mark Hannah on the press corps’s long history of tilting toward military action:
These calls for the United States to join the fight seem especially shocking and glib, considering the serious dangers of conflict between two nuclear-armed powers. As the Atlantic Council’s Damir Marusic explains, even minor skirmishes can escalate to nuclear exchanges terrifyingly fast. Given these risks, U.S. President Joe Biden has been understandably cautious—a trait that doesn’t always play well in a polarized news culture. Fox News invited a Ukrainian official to characterize the president making the no-fly zone decision as “afraid” and a Republican senator to call it “heartless.” The Wall Street Journal editorial board thinks Putin has “succeeded in intimidating Mr. Biden” with the threat of nuclear escalation. Meanwhile, the American people are not fully informed on the details or likely consequences of such an action. Polling finds Americans supportive of a no-fly zone at first glance, with support for the idea dropping like a rock once pollsters explain it would almost certainly result in an honest-to-goodness shooting war with Russia.
Ross Barkan on Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg:
In a year of woe and confusion for Biden — the war in Ukraine seems to be boosting a president who has been bogged down with Donald Trump–like approval ratings for many months — it has been Buttigieg who is out front and unruffled, the public face of a trillion-dollar infrastructure package that might be the president’s defining domestic-legacy item. At a time when other members of the Cabinet are struggling to escape the administration’s travails, Buttigieg has proved himself to be both a dogged defender of the president and an irrepressibly buoyant figure with a following all his own, as likely to appear in People magazine with his husband, Chasten, and the twins as on Meet the Press.
Daniel Summers on how the new “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida is just one part of a larger nostalgia for straight-up hate:
But the debate over the law has also once again brought the bogus concept of gay people “grooming” children into the conservative mainstream—and is of a piece with an insidious push to curtail the rights of LGBTQ+ people nationwide. Similar rhetoric about protecting kids from the malevolent influence of queer adults has led to a catastrophic threat to medical care for trans youth in Texas, and bans on trans athletes competing alongside others of their gender in Utah.
The Florida law, which supporters claim is about parents’ right to choose when their children learn about gender and sexual minorities, bars classroom discussion in some grades about those people at all. Rather than sex, it’s about whether people like me, my brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ+ community, and our families, can be acknowledged in schools to exist.
The word its proponents have seized upon to attack those of us who oppose it is “groomer.” It’s been used in articles to attack Disney for its (better-late-than-never) opposition to the bill, and by no less than DeSantis’ own spokesperson against everyone who disagreed with her boss. Conservatives have latched onto it as the simple, seemingly bulletproof defense for targeting my community.
Elizabeth A. Harris on the boom in LGBTQ romance novels:
L.G.B.T.Q. romance novels have been around for decades, but they have been a quiet presence, almost entirely self-published or put out by small niche presses, and often shelved separately from other romances in bookstores. Now, they are coming from the biggest publishers in the industry. They are prominently displayed at independent bookstores and on the shelves at Walmart, and advertised on New York City subway platforms.
Josef Adalian on CNN+, CNN’s new premium streaming service:
While it’s far too early to reach any definitive judgements, CNN+ in its formative phase feels somewhat like the Quibi of streaming news: Lots of money has been spent, big stars are onboard, but it’s hard to figure out just what the service is supposed to be and why a large number of people will want to pay for it. As with Jeffrey Katzenberg’s failed experiment in miniaturizing content, the production quality of the handful of CNN+ originals in production so far is top-notch, comparable to anything on the cable channel. The star wattage of the service’s anchor lineup is also undeniable: All the big names are involved, from Anderson to Wolf, much the same way Quibi was able to brag about its projects from Kevin Hart, J.Lo, and The Rock.
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