Why the Biden administration’s response to the latest inflation numbers took me back to high school
Plus: What’s next for the COVID aid that Congress pulled out of its funding bill this week.
👋🏾 Hi, hey, hello! Good Friday morning. The Senate late last night passed the comprehenisve governtment funding bill by a 68-31 vote, one night after the House did the same. 18 Republicans joined all 50 Democrats to fully fund the government through the end of September.
“The bipartisan funding bill proves once more that members of both parties can come together to deliver results for the American people,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement after the vote. “The bill also ends a damaging series of short-term continuing resolutions that have undermined the government’s ability to meet pressing challenges.”
The bill now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed into law.
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FIRST THINGS FIRST
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When I was in high school, it became somewhat of a ritual each semester to warn my parents that my math grades would disappoint them before my progress report arrived and they saw the numbers for themselves.
I wanted them to know how hard I was working: I was going to tutoring, studying at home and turning in as much extra credit as Mrs. Main would give me.
Looking back, I guess I hoped Mom and Dad would know that while the grade was important in the big scheme of things, it was an inaccurate reflection of the effort I was pouring into a subject that has always given me the blues.
As I listened this week as the White House attempted to soften the blow ahead of the release of Thursday’s latest cost-of-living numbers, it took me back to my high school days.
It started with President Biden branding the recent sharp increase in the cost of gas — 75 cents and counting since Russia invaded Ukraine — as the “Putin price hike,” referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
And it continued as administration officials and Jen Psaki briefed reporters on the details of a ban on Russian gas, oil and energy imports.
But the numbers are a breathtaking economic gut-punch even if you knew they were coming.
The cost of goods spiked 0.8 percent in February after rising 0.6 percent the month before. Inflation was up 7.9 percent for the year, representing the largest uptick since the period ending in January 1982.
All you have to do is check your budget to see the largest contributors to the increases: Gas, housing and food:
Gas rose 6.6 percent last month and accounted for one-third of all the items in the monthly increase.
Food went up one percent and food at home (grocery store or supermarket food purchases) was 1.4 percent in February, both the largest monthly increases since April 2020 — one month after the US went into pandemic lockdown.
Housing costs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “was by far the biggest factor in the increase,” including those for recreation, household furnishings and operations, motor vehicle insurance, personal care, and airline fare
Another go-to high-school maneuver was to point to my exceptional grades in English in hopes they’d put my piss-poor math scores into a more flattering light.
That’s what President Biden did on Thursday when mentioned the strong jobs recovery, low unemployment claims and private-sector job growth we’ve seen in the past year.
“As I have said from the start, there will be costs at home as impose crippling sanctions in response to Putin’s unprovoked war,” Biden said in a statement. “I know that higher prices impact a family’s budget, which is why I am fighting to bring down the everyday prices that are squeezing Americans.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked what the administration is doing to provide immediate and short-term relief to the rising costs.
She said the inflationary pressures you’re experiencing were caused by the pandemic so getting and keeping it under control will make a difference.
Psaki also pointed to the task force Biden created to loosen the supply chain bottlenecks that led to empty shelves and late deliveries last year.
“Right now what we’re looking at is the pressure of the energy sector that is a direct result of President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine,” she said. “And what we are doing in that regard is leading the world in responding to that and looking at every option possible, including a coordinated release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to ensure we're increasing supply to reduce prices.”
The Senate is working on a competitiveness bill that would enable more products to be made in America and take steps to reinforce our supply chains, which the White House believes will lower costs. Biden also called on Congress to pass his plan to lower prescription drugs.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said lowering costs was the focus of his members’ annual retreat, which was held this year on Wednesday at Howard University.
“As the world continues to struggle with COVID, supply chain disruptions, and Russia’s war on Ukraine, Americans need relief on everything from energy costs, prescription drugs costs, groceries and so much more,” Schumer said. “Democrats will keep working these issues with laser-like intensity and unflinching focus.”
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The Transportation Security Administration announced on Thursday it extended its mask mandate across public transportation, airports and planes for one month through April 18.
The TSA said the announcement came at the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC is currently in the process of working with government agencies to help inform a revised policy framework with guidance on when — and under what circumstances — masks should be required on public transit.
“This revised framework will be based on the COVID-19 community levels, risk of new variants, national data, and the latest science,” the TSA said in a statement.
Jen Psaki said at Thursday’s press briefing that ending the mandate requires consultation because the current CDC policy doesn’t account for when you’re moving or picking people up from one zone to another, referring to the red, yellow and green zones the CDC announced last month to help people assess if the transmission levels of their locations.
This is the fourth time the TSA has extended its mask mandate.
The initial requirement was announced at the end of January 2021 through May of last year. In April, the agency continued the policy through mid-September. And in August, the TSA issued another extension, which would have expired on March 18 if not but for Thursday’s month-long deferral.
The US has seen an uptick in “air rage” incidents during the pandemic due in part to travelers choosing violence to express their frustration about the mask requirements. (Air rage, like its motor vehicle counterpart, is defined as violent anger directed mainly at inflight airline personnel and arising from the frustrations and stresses of air travel.)
Delta CEO Ed Bastian last month sent a letter to the Justice Department asking it to establish a no-fly list that would ban unruly passengers from boarding any commercial carrier. He followed up his DOJ letter with an op-ed in The Washington Post.
“The Department of Justice is continuing to prioritize the investigations and prosecutions of those who engage in criminal behavior that threatens the safety of passengers, flight crews, and flight attendants,” Joshua Stueve, a spokesperson at the Justice Department, said to Supercreator in February. “We are fully committed to holding accountable those who violate federal law.”
Eight Senate Republicans sent a letter to Garland in opposition to Bastian’s request, claiming it would equate opponents of mask mandates to terrorists.
“The [Federal Aviation Administration] welcomes input on additional steps we and our partners can take to stop unruly behavior that puts everyone at risk,” Kiiva Williams, FAA spokesperson said in a separate statement to Supercreator last month. “We will continue to work with other federal agencies, airlines, airports, labor and law enforcement to continue the downward trend in unruly incidents.”
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The White House on Thursday had a four-word message for Congress: “We need this money.”
Administration officials were referring to the $15 billion in supplemental COVID aid that was stripped from the comprehensive government funding bill Congress passed this week.
“Failing to take action now will have severe consequences for the American people,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said. “The reason we’ve made the progress we have at this point is because we have been ahead of where the pandemic is, in terms of having the preparations, for the most part, of vaccines, of supplies needed. And we want to continue to stay ahead of that, if we can.”
The White House said testing capacity will decline this month. (This is days after President Biden announced you can order a second set of free tests from COVIDtests.gov.) And free testing and treatments for millions of uninsured Americans will end in April. The following month, the US’s supply of monoclonal antibodies — therapies that bind to the spike protein of the virus that causes COVID-19 and the risk of hospitalization or death — will run out.
The money in the government funding bill was pulled from the legislation, as I explained in Thursday’s newsletter, because Republicans demanded that every dollar of additional COVID funding be “offset” or fully paid for.
Negotiators decided to reallocate dollars that were provided to the states from the stimulus bill that pass exactly one year ago today to accommodate the GOP’s red line.
This pissed off several House Democrats who couldn’t understand why their states had to lose money that in some cases was already set aside for local programs.
A source confirmed to Supercreator that the House next week will take up a standalone bill to pass the COVID funding.
Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, who chairs the Progressive Caucus, a critical voting bloc for the bill, said on Thursday that there are a number of Senate Republicans who support provisions for the US’s global vaccination campaign. We’ll see if that translates into support for a piece of legislation.
Jayapal acknowledged there will need to be pay-fors in order to get 10 GOP votes.
Psaki was asked if the administration could get money from other agencies to fill the gap.
“I think that if we had that money to move around, we would be moving it,” Psaki said. “And our assessment is that we need this additional funding in order to meet the needs of the American people.”
TODAY IN POLITICS
— President Biden this morning will receive his daily intelligencer briefing and then announce new actions against Russia. Biden will travel to Philadelphia to speak at the House Democrats’ retreat and tour an elementary school on the one-year anniversary of the American Rescue Plan. From Philly, the president will travel to Camp David for the weekend.
— Vice President Kamala Harris is still in Poland. She met with troops from the US and Poland this morning before traveling to Romania. This afternoon, she will participate in an official arrival ceremony and meeting with Klaus Iohannis of Romania. The two leaders will also host a press conference. Harris will then meet with staff from the US embassy in Bucharest, Romania’s capital city, before returning to Washington, DC.
— Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will travel to Denver to participate in events to celebrate Women’s History Month and mark the one-year anniversary of the American Rescue Plan. He will be joined by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
— The House is out.
— The Senate is out.
IN THE KNOW
— The Census Bureau said the 2020 count undercounted Black, Latino and indigenous people and overcounted white and Asian people. “Taking today’s findings as a whole, we believe the 2020 Census data are fit for many uses in decision-making as well as for painting a vivid portrait of our nation’s people,” Director Robert L. Santos said. “We’ll be exploring the under- and overcounts further. That is part of our due diligence, our pursuit of excellence, and our service to the country.”
— The Justice Department named Associate Deputy Attorney General as its special prosecutor for COVID-19 fraud enforcement, fulfilling a commitment President Biden made during his State of the Union address. Chambers will lead the Department’s efforts to prosecute large-scale criminal enterprises and foreign actors, including the creation of “strike teams” to prepare for the next phase of government actions against pandemic fraud.
— Related: Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois sent President Biden a letter asking him to establish a gasoline price gouging task force. Duckworth proposes Attorney General Merrick Garland chair the task force to carefully monitor and investigate oil and gas markets for potential violations of criminal or civil laws that cause high prices at the pump for working Americans. Currently, this falls under the Federal Trade Commission’s purview.
— The Internal Revenue Service announced it will hire 5,000 new employees in the next few months and another 5,000 by the end of the year to shrink the backlog of tax returns and unanswered phone calls caused the pandemic. The IRS says it hopes to reduce the more than 23 million unprocessed forms and requests to one million by the end of 2022. [Tobias Burns / The Hill]
— The Florida Senate voted to ban public schools and private businesses from teaching people to feel guilty for historical events committed by people of their race. The bill now goes to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s desk, who is expected to sign it into law. [Steve Contorno / CNN]
— A new dental tool uses LED light to spot the acidic conditions that lead to cavities. “Plaque has a lot of bacteria that produce acid when they interact with the sugar in our food,” Manuja Sharma, the lead author of the paper the findings were published in, said. “This acid is what causes the corrosion of the tooth surface and eventually cavities.” [University of Washington]
— Google introduced an update to its Messaging app that translates emoji reactions sent by iPhone users, replacing the weird text message that arrived separately. The company has also built a Google Photos sharing link directly into Messages to offer users a way of sending photos and videos to iPhones, added nudges to reply to unanswered messages and reminders to wish contacts in your phone a happy birthday if you’ve saved the date. [Jon Porter / The Verge]
— DoorDash is testing a feature that lets you return packages to post offices, FedEx or UPS. A DoorDash delivery person will arrive to pick up the package, which has to be fully sealed and labeled with prepaid shipping, and deliver it to the nearest physical store or post office. (They won’t drop off the packages at standalone drop boxes.) [Aisha Malik / TechCrunch]
Editor’s Note: Yesterday’s newsletter included a blurb in this section on a State Department partnership to provide support to humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The partnership is with GoFundMe.org, an independent nonprofit public charity, not GoFundMe, the online fundraising platform. I’ve updated the original post and apologize for any confusion.
READ ALL ABOUT IT
— St. Clair Detrick-Jules on how Black-owned bookstores safeguard our history as racists try to ban it:
If this is the state of our education system, where, then, do we go for real learning — for what bell hooks called education as the practice of freedom? If our schools are under the control of the same government responsible for treating Black learning as a fugitive act; if the curriculum teaches us to praise Founding Fathers who owned our ancestors, beating and raping them at will; if the well-intentioned white teachers who come into our inner cities through Teach for America et al. know nothing of us; if our politicians can suddenly make laws banning not just books about our real history but also any books that make white students uncomfortable — if this is the state of our education system, where do we turn? We turn, more and more, to Black-owned bookstores.
— Erin Einhorn, Annie Waldman and Beth Schwartzapfel on Acadiana Center for Youth, Louisiana’s harshest juvenile lockup:
Scrambling to respond to a wave of violence and escapes from other juvenile facilities, state officials quietly opened the high-security lockup last summer to regain control of the most troubled teens in their care. Instead, they created a powder keg, according to dozens of interviews, photo and video footage and hundreds of pages of incident reports, emergency response logs, emails and education records.
Though Louisiana policy considers solitary confinement for youths a rare last resort and many other states have placed strict limits on it because of the psychological harm it causes, teens in this facility, some with serious mental illness, were locked alone in their cells for at least 23 hours a day for weeks on end. They were shackled with handcuffs and leg irons when let out to shower, and they were given little more than meals slid through slots in their doors. Some teens took those brief moments of human contact to fling their feces and urine at the guards.
At least two of the teens in the facility harmed themselves so badly that they required medical attention. Some destroyed beds and shattered light fixtures, using the metal shards to hack holes in the cinder block walls large enough for them to escape.
— Emily Stewart on why it costs so much to get your own money:
From ATM fees to overdraft fees to maintenance fees, banks have all sorts of ways of extracting funds out of consumers. You go to an out-of-network ATM for cash and wind up paying a few extra dollars. You don’t have a ton of money in your checking account and notice your bank is charging you each month just to hold onto your (dwindling) funds. Maybe you screw up, accidentally try to spend money that isn’t in your account, and you get slapped with a $35 overdraft fee. Or you don’t have a bank account, need to cash a check, and the place where you do it winds up keeping a cut.
The whole thing can feel a little gross. Sure, banks are private businesses beholden to shareholders. At the same time, it’s hard not to look at the ways big and small they’re scooping up extra cash and think wait, what? Banks made $279.1 billion in 2021, up $132 billion from the year before.
— Dana Mattioli on how Amazon’s Washington strategy has won few friends in the Biden administration:
Amazon built itself into a tech-and-retail colossus with a bravado that it has wielded effectively against business rivals and partners. It has taken a similar approach in Washington, engendering a backlash with officials, regulators and lawmakers across both major parties. The company has frequently clashed with government agencies and fought with the lawmakers who have investigated it.
The combative strategy, guided from its Seattle headquarters, has also alienated many of Amazon’s executives in Washington, causing a number of departures at its D.C. offices, according to current and former Amazon public-policy employees.
Lawmakers are proposing legislation that could reshape Amazon or force a breakup of some of its businesses—proposals the company says are misguided and would hurt consumers and sellers on its platform. The FTC is considering whether to challenge Amazon’s proposed $6.5 billion acquisition of the MGM movie and television studio while continuing its broader antitrust investigation into the tech giant.
— Jennifer Rubin on why workers quitting rotten jobs is a good thing:
This past October, I argued that widespread unease over the high rate of quitting and proposed responses to “solve” a perceived problem — the right hollering that “unemployment benefits are too high!” — was misguided unless we knew why employees were quitting. We’re beginning to get the answer — and it’s not cause for worry nor for justification of major readjustments in the economy. Employees weren’t quitting to sit on the couch and watch soap operas; they were getting better jobs.
— Brian Resnick on how to treat pain in babies who can’t tell you when it hurts:
But now scientists like Inder are asking: Could one solution be as simple as skin-to-skin contact — loving touch — from a parent? The experience of pain in the NICU seems to shadow children as they grow up, leaving them at increased risk for developmental challenges and behavioral struggles. If there really is a healing power in touch, “that could make a lifetime of difference,” Inder says.
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