Congress and the White House

“The tentative agreement reached tonight is an important win for our economy and the American people. It is a win for tens of thousands of rail workers who worked tirelessly through the pandemic to ensure that America’s families and communities got deliveries of what have kept us going during these difficult years.”

-  President Biden's statement on the tentative agreement to avert a railroad workers strike


The White House announced a tentative agreement between the railroad workers unions and the rail carriers that will avert a strike that could have occurred as early as tomorrow.  Nearly 40 percent on inland goods – including energy and food are moved by rail and it was estimated that a strike could cost the economy $2 billion a day.  The Biden Administration included 4 cabinet secretaries in the talks, including Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Transportation Secretary Peter Buttigieg.  The agreement takes one item off the congressional agenda.  If an agreement had not been reached, it would have fallen to Congress to intervene and prevent a work stoppage.  Congressional Democrats were reluctant to intervene against the unions, while Republicans pushed for quick congressional action.

The House and Senate will leave tonight leaving only 2 weeks left in the scheduled congressional session.  The week did not produce much progress towards a continuing resolution to keep the government open past the September 30th deadline.  As the deadline approaches the negotiations will get more serious.  For now, Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Sen. Manchin are insisting on including permitting reform on the CR.  Senate Republicans and dozens of House progressives are saying no.  The White House wants $22 billion for COVID related spending and Republicans are saying there is plenty of money from the American Rescue Plan left over that can be reprogrammed.  The Administration has also requested $13 billion for Ukraine, which appears to have strong support.  Funds for supplemental disaster relief also seems likely as well as an extension of the flood insurance program.  The FDA user fee program expires on September 30th and an extension is looking more likely to ride on the CR – although there is no agreement yet.

Senate Majority Leader Schumer and a bipartisan group of senators have not been able to get the support of the needed ten Republican senators for the Defense of Marriage Act that would codify same sex marriage.  Republicans are indicating they prefer to wait until the lame duck session to deal with the issue.

54 days until the midterm elections ….


U.S. Railroad Strike Averted as Tentative Deal Is Reached

President Biden describes tentative agreement as important win for economy and American people.  The White House said Thursday it had reached a tentative agreement to avoid a potential railway strike that threatened to shut down a crucial vein of the U.S. economy.  President Biden said the tentative deal “is an important win for our economy and the American people.” He credited the unions and rail companies “for negotiating in good faith and reaching a tentative agreement that will keep our critical rail system working and avoid disruption of our economy.”  The Biden administration had been holding talks with representatives from both sides to avoid transport disruptions that could have snarled supply chains, putting new pressure on prices when inflation has been hovering near four-decade highs.


Senate Democrats Struggle to Get Republican Support on Same-Sex Marriage Bill

A lack of GOP backing could push a vote that proponents had hoped to begin soon off for weeks or months.  Bipartisan Senate backers of a bill to codify same-sex marriage into law haven’t lined up enough Republicans to pass the measure after weeks of lobbying, potentially delaying Democrats’ plan to hold a vote on the proposal.  Senators from both parties advocating for the legislation had expected to turn to the bill on Thursday, with the first procedural vote as soon as next week after some changes were made to the text. But the legislation needs 60 votes to advance under Senate rules, and there aren’t 10 Republicans on board to join with all 50 members of the Democratic caucus, according to aides.  “Democrats are ready to make it happen, and willing to debate reasonable compromises on the specifics,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said Wednesday.


U.S.-Taiwan bill sails through Senate panel despite White House misgivings

The legislation that cleared 17-5 incorporated Biden administration tweaks, but it also drew bipartisan pushback and faces a murky path to law.  Legislation that would overhaul U.S. policy toward Taiwan easily cleared a powerful Senate committee on Wednesday, the latest chapter in the swift congressional response to China’s increasingly belligerent threats to the self-governing island.  The most comprehensive revamp of U.S.-Taiwan policy in more than four decades came together despite concerns from the White House and some senators in both parties that it risked upending U.S. policy at a time when tensions remain high between Washington and Beijing. Those worries grew acute after Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei prompted an unprecedented response from China’s military.


Latino Voters, Once Solidly Democratic, Split Along Economic Lines

Working-class Latino voters in particular are moving toward Republicans.  Latino voters are among the fastest-growing groups in the electorate, accounting for some 16 million voters in 2020—or more than 10% of the voter pool. Once a solidly Democratic bloc, Latino voters are emerging as a swing group available to both parties, with its voting preferences splitting along economic and class lines.  In 2020, Latino voters who backed one of the two major candidates gave Mr. Biden 63% of their vote, according to a detailed analysis by Catalist, a Democratic voter-data firm. That was 8 percentage points lower than Mr. Biden’s party had won four years earlier.  The movement away from Mr. Biden’s party was even larger—some 11 points—among Latinos who are working class, commonly defined as those without a four-year college degree.   Voters and analysts say the economic boom during much of Mr. Trump’s presidency, as well as today’s high inflation under Mr. Biden, have continued to lead to a more favorable view of the Republican Party and helped change the perception in many families that it’s socially unacceptable to consider backing GOP candidates.


Democrats dream of a drama-free fall

Sensing new midterms momentum, the party in power is motivated to avoid unforced errors. Energy permitting, policing and government funding are going to complicate that.  Democrats returned to Washington after an unexpectedly upbeat summer with a clear objective: Don’t screw it up.  Seeing their majority as back in play less than two months before the midterms, members of the famously fractious House Democratic caucus are now urging each other to stay unified and ignore distractions in their final month of legislating before the election.  Buoyed by unexpected wins in Alaska and elsewhere, they’re intent on avoiding any unforced errors that could break their recent hotter streak. Across the Capitol, Senate Democrats are similarly cautious, concentrating on judicial nominees and same-sex marriage legislation that has little political downside for the party in power. Taken together, the two slim Democratic majorities are living by a new credo of less is more after a breakneck two years of legislating.


The Economy

Eiffel Tower turns off lights early as Paris tries to cut energy costs

The symbolic gesture is part of a plan aiming to reduce the city’s energy bill by 10 percent.  The Eiffel Tower will turn off its flashing lights one hour earlier than usual, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced on Tuesday. This symbolic measure is part of a broader energy-saving plan as the city is bracing for rising energy costs.  The lights on the iconic tower will turn off at 11:45 p.m. instead of 1 a.m. However, the change will be mostly symbolic: The hourly light flashes are already fairly efficient, and only account for 4 percent of the monument's energy bill, according to its operator.  Other measures will be more impactful. Heating in city-managed buildings will be lowered from 19 to 18 degrees Celsius, except in nurseries and care homes for the elderly. It will also start a month later than usual. Public pools are also losing a degree down to 26 degrees Celsius. Some public pools in Paris and other French cities had already been shut down by a private contractor because of rising prices. Lighting of public monuments will also be turned down at 10 p.m., although street lights will remain on.


Households a Wild Card as Europe Moves to End Russian Gas Dependence

Economists are worried that the continent’s consumers won’t follow companies in reducing their energy use.  A painful push by businesses to cut their natural-gas use is bringing Europe closer to its goal of weaning itself off Russian energy. Getting consumers to follow suit might prove more difficult. Businesses, facing skyrocketing prices during a widening economic conflict running in parallel with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have ratcheted down their gas use in recent months. The reduction has exacted a significant economic cost, with slowing production at chemical plants and closed metals factories now widely expected to tip Europe into a recession.  The extent of reductions by households is harder to determine because data isn’t widely available yet, but initial indications are that the pullout has been smaller and more recent than for businesses.


New Data Show Broad Shift to Remote Work During Pandemic

Fewer people drove alone to work or took public transit as habits changed.  The number of Americans working remotely more than tripled in 2021 from 2019, according to new federal data, and the trend shows signs of persisting this year.  In 2021, 27.6 million people reported primarily working from home nationwide, up from 9 million in 2019, according to new 2021 American Community Survey estimates released Thursday by the Census Bureau. In percentage terms, that translated to 17.9% of employees who worked mainly remotely in 2021, compared with 5.7% in 2019. The vast majority of these are likely white-collar jobs; in many occupations such as those involving in-person customer interactions or operating machines, remote work isn’t an option.