House Passes Stimulus Bill Without Republican Support

Emily Douglas

The House of Representatives this afternoon passed the economic stimulus package without any Republican support.

The House of Representatives this afternoon passed the economic stimulus package without any Republican support, the New York Times reports.  The total $787 billion package includes "$46 billion for transportation projects, $40 billion to
extend and increase unemployment benefits, and $115 billion in new
income tax credits for 95% of workers," writes USA Today.

Obama zealously sought Republican support for the bill. After Republicans deployed a misinformation campaign on the package’s provision to expand Medicaid family planning coverage to women who aren’t pregnant, Obama publicly asked members of Congress to jettison the expansion.  Democrats quickly dropped the provision from the bill.  And look how well that worked out!  The only ideological division between Democrats and Republicans really is about women’s health and equality.  Put that aside, and they’re signing Kumbaya.

The Senate will likely vote on the stimulus package tonight. President Obama hopes to sign the bill on Monday.

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Commentary Politics

Is Clinton a Progressive? Not If She Chooses Tim Kaine

Jodi Jacobson

The selection of Tim Kaine as vice president would be the first signal that Hillary Clinton intends to seek progressive votes but ignore progressive values and goals, likely at her peril, and ours.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, former secretary of state and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton has frequently claimed to be a progressive, though she often adds the unnecessary and bewildering caveat that she’s a “progressive who likes to get things done.” I’ve never been sure what that is supposed to mean, except as a possible prelude to or excuse for giving up progressive values to seal some unknown deal in the future; as a way of excusing herself from fighting for major changes after she is elected; or as a way of saying progressives are only important to her campaign until after they leave the voting booth.

One of the first signals of whether Clinton actually believes in a progressive agenda will be her choice of running mate. Reports are that Sen. Tim Kaine, former Virginia governor, is the top choice. The selection of Kaine would be the first signal that Clinton intends to seek progressive votes but ignore progressive values and goals, likely at her peril, and ours.

We’ve seen this happen before. In 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama claimed to be a progressive. By virtue of having a vision for and promise of real change in government and society, and by espousing transparency and responsibility, he won by a landslide. In fact, Obama even called on his supporters, including the millions activated by the campaign’s Organizing for Action (OFA), to keep him accountable throughout his term. Immediately after the election, however, “progressives” were out and the right wing of the Democratic party was “in.”

Obama’s cabinet members in both foreign policy and the economy, for example, were drawn from the center and center-right of the party, leaving many progressives, as Mother Jones’ David Corn wrote in the Washington Post in 2009, “disappointed, irritated or fit to be tied.” Obama chose Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff, a man with a reputation from the days of Bill Clinton’s White House for a reluctance to move bold policies—lest they upset Wall Street or conservative Democrats—and a deep disdain for progressives. With Emanuel as gatekeeper of policies and Valerie Jarrett consumed with the “Obama Brand” (whatever that is), the White House suddenly saw “progressives” as the problem.

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It became clear that instead of “the change we were hoping for,” Obama had started on an impossible quest to “cooperate” and “compromise” on bad policies with the very party that set out to destroy him before he was even sworn in. Obama and Emanuel preempted efforts to push for a public option for health-care reform, despite very high public support at the time. Likewise, the White House failed to push for other progressive policies that would have been a slam dunk, such as the Employee Free Choice Act, a major goal of the labor movement that would have made it easier to enroll workers in unions. With a 60-vote Democratic Senate majority, this progressive legislation could easily have passed. Instead, the White House worked to support conservative Democrat then-Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s efforts to kill it, and even sent Vice President Joe Biden to Arkansas to campaign for her in her run for re-election. She lost anyway.

They also allowed conservatives to shelve plans for an aggressive stimulus package in favor of a much weaker one, for the sole sake of “bipartisanship,” a move that many economists have since criticized for not doing enough.  As I wrote years ago, these decisions were not only deeply disappointing on a fundamental level to those of us who’d put heart and soul into the Obama campaign, but also, I personally believe, one of the main reasons Obama later lost the midterms and had a hard time governing.  He was not elected to implement GOP lite, and there was no “there, there” for the change that was promised. Many people deeply devoted to making this country better for working people became fed up.

Standing up for progressive principles is not so hard, if you actually believe in them. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D- MA) is a progressive who actually puts her principles into action, like the creation against all odds in 2011 of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, perhaps the single most important progressive achievement of the past 20 years. Among other things, the CFPB  shields consumers from the excesses of mortgage lenders, student loan servicers, and credit card companies that have caused so much economic chaos in the past decade. So unless you are more interested in protecting the status quo than addressing the root causes of the many problems we now face, a progressive politician would want a strong progressive running mate.

By choosing Tim Kaine as her vice president, Clinton will signal that she values progressives in name and vote only.

As Zach Carter wrote in the Huffington Post, Kaine is “setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.” Kaine is in favor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement largely negotiated in secret and by corporate lobbyists. Both Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose voters Clinton needs to win over, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren oppose the TPP because, in Warren’s words, it “would tilt the playing field even more in favor of … big multinational corporations and against working families.”

The progressive agenda includes strong emphasis on effective systems of governance and oversight of banks and financial institutions—the actors responsible, as a result of deregulation, for the major financial crises of the past 16 years, costing the United States trillions of dollars and gutting the financial security of many middle-class and low-income people.

As Warren has stated:

Washington turned a blind eye as risks were packaged and re-packaged, magnified, and then sold to unsuspecting pension funds, municipal governments, and many others who believed the markets were honest. Not long after the cops were blindfolded and the big banks were turned loose, the worst crash since the 1930s hit the American economy—a crash that the Dallas Fed estimates has cost a collective $14 trillion. The moral of this story is simple: Without basic government regulation, financial markets don’t work. That’s worth repeating: Without some basic rules and accountability, financial markets don’t work. People get ripped off, risk-taking explodes, and the markets blow up. That’s just an empirical fact—clearly observable in 1929 and again in 2008. The point is worth repeating because, for too long, the opponents of financial reform have cast this debate as an argument between the pro-regulation camp and the pro-market camp, generally putting Democrats in the first camp and Republicans in the second. But that so-called choice gets it wrong. Rules are not the enemy of markets. Rules are a necessary ingredient for healthy markets, for markets that create competition and innovation. And rolling back the rules or firing the cops can be profoundly anti-market.

If Hillary Clinton were actually a progressive, this would be key to her agenda. If so, Tim Kaine would be a curious choice as VP, and a middle finger of sorts to those who support financial regulations. In the past several weeks, Kaine has been publicly advocating for greater deregulation of banks. As Carter reported yesterday, “Kaine signed two letters on Monday urging federal regulators to go easy on banks―one to help big banks dodge risk management rules, and another to help small banks avoid consumer protection standards.”

Kaine is also trying to portray himself as “anti-choice lite.” For example, he recently signed onto the Women’s Health Protection Act. But as we’ve reported, as governor of Virginia, Kaine supported restrictions on abortion, such as Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law, which, he claimed in 2008, gave “women information about a whole series of things, the health consequences, et cetera, and information about adoption.” In truth, the information such laws mandate giving out is often “irrelevant or misleading,” according to the the Guttmacher Institute. In other words, like many others who let ideology rather than public health guide their policy decisions, Kaine put in place policies that are not supported by the evidence and that make it more difficult for women to gain access to abortion, steps he has not denounced. This is unacceptable. The very last thing we need is another person in the White House who further stigmatizes abortion, though it must be said Clinton herself seems chronically unable to speak about abortion without euphemism.

While there are many other reasons a Kaine pick would signal a less-than-secure and values-driven Clinton presidency, the fact also stands that he is a white male insider at a time when the rising electorate is decidedly not white and quite clearly looking for strong leadership and meaningful change. Kaine is not the change we seek.

The conventional wisdom these days is that platforms are merely for show and vice presidential picks don’t much matter. I call foul; that’s an absolutely cynical lens through which to view policies. What you say and with whom you affiliate yourself do indeed matter. And if Clinton chooses Kaine, we know from the outset that progressives have a fight on their hands, not only to avoid the election of an unapologetic fascist, but to ensure that the only person claiming the progressive mantle actually means what she says.

News Contraception

Funding Shortfall, Contraception Limits Mar GOP Zika Agreement

Christine Grimaldi

The Obama administration indicated that the latest House-passed Zika package is a non-starter for the president.

The $1.1 billion in Zika funding that Republicans railroaded through the U.S. House of Representatives around 3 a.m. Thursday underfunds the Obama administration’s request and limits access to contraceptive services, even though the disease can be sexually transmitted.

The largely party line 239-171 vote interrupted Democrats’ marathon, raucous sit-in demanding consideration of gun control proposals. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) called the House back into session shortly after 2:30 a.m. amid shouts of “No bill, no break!”

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) attempted to request a final debate, otherwise known as a motion to recommit, on the conference report for Zika supplemental funding and fiscal year 2017 military construction and veterans affairs funding. The speaker pro tempore presiding over the House at the time instead spoke over McGovern and, in an unusual move, proceeded to a recorded vote without allowing debate on the measure, then adjourned the chamber early for its scheduled July 4 recess.

Congressional negotiators attempted to reconcile the differences between the House’s $622.1 million and the U.S. Senate’s $1.1 billion in Zika funding levels. Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) in May called her chamber’s $1.1 billion “a bottom line, not a starting point for negotiations with the House.”

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Mikulski and other Democrats involved in the bicameral Zika negotiations ultimately refused to sign the final conference report (H. Rept. 114-640), slamming the Republican agreement for falling short of the $1.9 billion the Obama administration requested to combat Zika.

Democrats objected to the Zika package’s $750 million in offsets derived from leftover Ebola reserves, unspent Affordable Care Act funding for territories to establish health-care exchanges, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s administrative fund. “Offsetting emergency spending would set a precedent that will hinder our ability to respond to the next public health crisis, natural disaster, or national security event requiring emergency funding,” House Appropriations Committee Democrats, led by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), said in a statement.

The latest stalemate comes as Zika infections are on the rise in the United States, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracking. The CDC concluded that Zika causes microcephaly, an incurable neurological disorder that impairs brain and skull growth in utero, as well as other severe fetal brain defects.

Online requests for abortion medications have spiked in Latin American countries that issued warnings to pregnant people about Zika-related complications yet outlaw or restrict the procedure, according to a study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Contraception Restrictions Anger Democrats

Democrats also decried language that they said would restrict access to contraceptive services for women in the United States and Puerto Rico.

Page 118 of the full conference report routes $95 million in Zika funds through the federal Social Services Block Grant program toward public health departments, hospitals, and Medicaid Managed Care clinics. This move “limits access to health care” in a sprawling territory with only 13 Medicaid Managed Care clinics, according to a Democratic summary obtained by Rewire.

“Of the 78 municipalities in Puerto Rico, only 12 include a Medicaid clinic. Twenty-six of the municipalities are not even adjacent to another municipality with a Medicaid clinic, and geographical conditions on the island (e.g., mountains) make travel between certain municipalities difficult,” the summary said. “For many women in Puerto Rico, this bill would make access to contraceptive services more difficult.”

The language also precludes awarding subgrants to outside groups “that could provide important services to hard-to-reach populations, especially hard-to-reach populations of women that want to access contraceptive services.”

Democrats alleged the Zika package takes similar restrictive actions on the international front.

“The Republican conference report does not explicitly prohibit funding for contraceptives or family planning activities in global health activities, but takes away the money, limits the use of funds, and forces USAID to rely on reprogramming which is a mechanism to slow the access to funds,” the summary said.

Specifically, Page 125 of the full conference report directs $145.5 million toward global health programs—nearly 60 percent below the administration’s request, according to the summary. The shortfall, along with a mandate to prioritize funds for mosquito control and vaccines, in effect leaves nothing for contraceptives or family planning programs to prevent sexual transmission of Zika.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called the Republican agreement “more of the same anti-woman” tactics, including repeated votes to defund Planned Parenthood.

“Instead of responding to this emergency that is threatening American women, Republicans are using this awful virus as an excuse for another attack on women’s health,” Reid said on the Senate floor Thursday morning.

Response Indicates Rocky Path Forward

The Obama administration indicated that the latest House-passed Zika package is a non-starter for the president.

“This plan from Congressional Republicans is four months late and nearly a billion dollars short of what our public health experts have said is necessary to do everything possible to fight the Zika virus and steals funding from other health priorities,” White House Spokesperson Josh Earnest said in a statement.

“The fact that the Republican plan limits needed birth control services for women in the United States and Puerto Rico as we seek to stop the spread of a sexually transmitted disease is a clear indication they don’t take seriously the threat from the Zika virus or their responsibility to protect Americans.”

A Senate Democratic aide told Rewire it’s “extremely unlikely this gets through the Senate.”

Although the motion to proceed on the conference report will be privileged and not subject to debate, Republicans still need 60 votes for cloture to end debate on the underlying measure itself, the aide said.

“By preventing the funding from going to Planned Parenthood, suspending environmental safety regs, underfunding veterans, and making cuts from public health programs, Republicans have decided to go their own way and hold Zika funding hostage to their own extreme agenda,” the aide said.