Senate Democrats plot their next voting-rights move. Plus: Biden’s meat meeting and what to expect on the one-year anniversary of Jan. 6.
While I was on winter break, Congress was too. And although today turned into a snow day for the federal government, Senate Democrats will attempt to make progress on several issues when they finally settle back into their legislative groove.
Top of mind for Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer is President Joe Biden’s stalled Build Back Better economic agenda and a pair of bills that would protect, expand and restore the right to vote.
On the voting rights front, Schumer sent Senate Democrats a letter this morning announcing his intention to schedule a debate to consider changes to the filibuster — a Senate mechanism that requires a supermajority for most bills to advance to a debate or a vote — on or before Jan. 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
President Biden seems to be willing to endorse an update to the rules that would allow Senate Democrats to pass voting rights legislation with a simple majority. After all, the Senate modified their rules to lift the government’s borrowing limit last month. But Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia says he won’t vote for a rules change unless Republicans can participate in the process. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is a no altogether, citing the possibility that Republicans could change the rules to pass extreme policies when they’re back in the majority. “The Senate was designed to protect the political rights of the minority in the chamber, through the promise of debate and the opportunity to amend,” Schumer wrote in his letter today. “But over the years, those rights have been warped and contorted to obstruct and embarrass the will of majority – something our Founders explicitly opposed.”
Sinema is welcome to her position. She seems to believe she’s of sound reason despite what appears to be a bias towards corporate interests and her treasured reputation as a free-thinking politician like the late John McCain, another Senator from The Grand Canyon State. But it’s the role of elected officials to make and pass laws that respond to the current moment — not hypothetical ones. Republicans have demonstrated that they’ll do whatever no matter the circumstances or precedent.
The trouble for Democrats is that everything I’ve written is inside baseball for most people. Many people, perhaps yourself included, vote their instincts. And while Democrats have passed too much legislation last year for me to fit into a single newsletter, it feels like they’re losing ground to Republicans. The good news is that they’re on the right side of a lot of winning issues. And they have ten months to remind and convince voters.
As for Build Back Better, Manchin late last year defied the president, his party and his constituents by throwing cold water on Build Back Better, a sweeping jobs, health care, education and climate bill that Democrats campaigned on and Biden is happy to tell you he wrote himself. The bill is full of long-term investments that would bring down the cost of living for working people. But it also includes an extension of the child tax credit that lifted between 40 to 50 percent of children out of poverty. The credit expired at the end of the year so families won’t get a payment this month. The White House mentioned the possibility of doubling up payments in February if Build Back Better passes this month. But I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you just yet.
Schumer announced before Christmas that Senate Democrats should be prepared to vote for Build Back Better early this year. Manchin critics have urged Schumer to play this card because it would force the West Virginia senator to put his position on the record and put him at risk of the political fallout that would likely ensue. “We will keep voting on it until we get something done,” Schumer said.
Biden’s meat meeting
President Biden met virtually today with family and independent farmers and ranchers from across the country to share how the White House is working to boost competition and reduce prices in the meat-processing industry.
Biden’s meeting and his administration’s plan is a response to critics who blame the president’s economic policies for the highest costs of goods we’ve seen in generations. The White House says the pandemic is in part to blame, along with industries — like the meat and poultry processing sector — that have become dominated by a handful of large companies that control most of the business and most of the opportunities.
“Just to give you a sense: Gross profit margins for big meat processes are up 50 percent,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a briefing with reporters last month. “And net margins are up over 300 percent. That should not be the case. That is not all attributed to supply chain issues, et cetera.” This outsized market power means increased prices and fewer options for you, so goes the White House’s argument. It also squeezes out small businesses and entrepreneurs.
Prior to the meeting, the administration announced a four-part strategy for a fairer and more resilient meat and poultry supply chain with a focus on lowering prices at the grocery store. The plan will dedicate $1 billion from the American Rescue Plan Biden signed into law last March to expand independent processing capacity. $275 million of this funding is focused on closing the credit access gap for independent processors in underserved communities who need long-term and affordable capital.
The plan also focuses on workforce development. The United States Department of Agriculture will use $100 million to build a pipeline of well-trained workers, safe workplaces and jobs that pay living wages. The USDA will also invest an estimated additional $50 million in technical assistance and research and development to help independent business owners, entrepreneurs, producers, and other groups, such as cooperatives and worker associations, create new capacity or expand existing capacity.
The White House said it’s also focused on strengthening protections for consumers. For example, the administration plans to issue new “Product of USA” labeling so you can better understand where your meat comes from. Additionally, the USDA hopes ranchers can demand a fairer price for their work by increasing transparency in cattle markets. “Right now, meatpackers have outsized power in setting the prices for beef,” the administration said. “The dominance of opaque contracts and insufficient competition undermine price discovery and fairness in the independent livestock markets, which ultimately lock producers into prices that aren’t the product of free and fair negotiation.”
What to expect on Jan. 6
President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will speak on Thursday to mark one year since the assault on the US Capitol inspired by lies from Donald Trump that he won the election.
The White House is expected to release more details later this week. But officials inside the administration are indicating that Biden and Harris could use the occasion to push for voting rights — an issue that progressive activists and lawmakers say the president hasn’t been influential enough on.
The House won’t be in session this Thursday but Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced late last week a full program of events she said were planned based on member input.
First, the Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden will moderate a conversation between historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jon Meacham to “establish and preserve the narrative of January 6th.” Then members will share their reflections of the day in a moment presided over by Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado. Later that evening, House and Senate members will join in an observance with prayer and music on the steps of the US Capitol. The events will be live-streamed so that members can watch and participate from their districts.
“These events are intended as an observance of reflection, remembrance and recommitment, in a spirit of unity, patriotism and prayerfulness,” Pelosi said in her announcement to House Democrats. “The patriotism and courage of our [members] as we prepare for this difficult day is an inspiration, for which I sincerely thank you.”
Because everything in Washington is filtered through a political lens, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy is painting a less solemn picture though. “As we have said from the start, the actions of that day were lawless and as wrong as wrong can be. Our Capitol should never be compromised and those who broke the law deserve to face legal repercussions and face full accountability,” the California representative said in a letter to his conference last night. “Unfortunately, one year later, the majority party seems no closer to answering the central question of how the Capitol was left so unprepared and what must be done to ensure it never happens again. Instead, they are using it as a partisan weapon to further divide our country.” McCarthy told his members to expect a memo that will outline “meaningful and measurable steps” to protect the Capitol from all threats. He failed to mention it will be one year too late.
Biden and Harris will be speaking to a divided nation. 40 percent of Republicans say violent action against the government, like what we saw at the Capitol nearly a year ago, is justified at times — up from past polls by other major news organizations dating back more than two decades, according to new polling from The Washington Post and the Center for Democracy and Engagement. (41 percent of independents and 23 percent of Democrats say violence against the government is sometimes justified.)
Donald Trump will be counter-programming with a news conference of his own. He’s expected to repeat his lies that he won the election. He’ll probably call on his supporters to support extreme candidates in this year's midterm elections who will serve as his spokespeople in Congress. It will certainly be a mess.
But the event isn’t about airing new grievances. It’s about Trump signaling to the Republican establishment that he’s still the leader of the party. It’s also about appealing to the anti-democratic sentiments of a voter base who would rather tear the country down than respect the will of a majority of voters who are Blacker, browner, queerer and more female than they prefer.
Media critic Jay Rosen has some excellent suggestions for how the press should cover the spectacle:
I’ll follow suit. I’m unsure if my colleagues have the corporate incentive to do the same though.
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Today in Politics
President Biden returned from Delaware this morning where he and First Lady Jill Biden spent the holidays. Passengers were delayed from exiting Air Force One for about 30 minutes so crew members could plow snow from the tarmac. Later Biden received his daily intelligence briefing with Vice President ****Harris. The president ended his day with the aforementioned virtual meeting on competition in the meat-processing industry. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also attended.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki canceled her scheduled press briefing with reporters this afternoon because of the federal office closure due to snow.
Biden’s week ahead:
Tue Jan 4: Biden and Harris will receive a briefing from their COVID-19 experts on the Omicron variant.
Thu Jan 6: Biden and Harris will speak to mark one year since the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
Fri Jan 7: Biden will speak on the December 2021 jobs report.
The House is in recess.
The Senate canceled its scheduled vote this evening to advance one of Biden’s judicial nominees because of the snow day.
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