Politics & Policy

The Federalist’s Forecasts Fall Flat

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Rep. Liz Cheney speaks during a news conference with other House Republicans at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., December 10, 2020. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

GOP Conference chair Liz Cheney “managed to cling” to her position as the third-most-powerful Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday by a margin of 84 votes, 145–61. Cheney’s decisive victory will come as a shock to those who take the likes of Florida representative Matt Gaetz seriously. Prior to yesterday’s vote, Gaetz took to Steve Bannon’s podcast to insist that “we have the votes to remove Liz Cheney.” However, he did worry that “somehow the Establishment’s going to find a way to kick the question” or “avoid a vote.” Cheney herself apparently called for the referendum on her leadership, so Gaetz’s already dismal batting average took another dip last night with an “0 for 2” spot.

Those who have been taking their political cues from The Federalist may be similarly surprised this morning. Ben Domenech, the site’s publisher, tut-tutted National Review for issuing an editorial “In Defense of Liz Cheney,” writing, “If National Review wants to die on the 197-10 hill with douchebro Adam Kinzinger, be my guest.” We’re still breathing over here, and in spite of his prediction that “There Is No Future For A Liz Cheney GOP,“ there most certainly appears to be room for Liz Cheney in the GOP. So much room, in fact, that she continues to serve — with a mandate — in party leadership.

The Federalist was so sure that Cheney was on her way out the door, however, that it even published an article titled “House Republicans Prepare To Oust Liz Cheney From Leadership” on Tuesday. Like Gaetz, its author mistakenly reported that “members of the conference have asked for the chance to give an ‘up-or-down’ vote on Cheney’s role in leadership. Cheney is reportedly fighting such a vote.”

The problem with abandoning principled arguments about what is right or just for those you think are most popular at any given moment is that you are destined to lose not only your moral credibility, but also your grip on reality.

Politics & Policy

Expanding Vaccine Eligibility without Expanding Vaccine Supply Doesn’t Help Much

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Governor Henry McMaster (R., S.C.) looks on at a rally in Columbia, S.C., June 25, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

I’m sure South Carolina governor Henry McMaster meant well when he announced that beginning Monday, any South Carolina resident aged 65 or older, regardless of health status or preexisting conditions, can begin scheduling appointments to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Right now, South Carolina is vaccinating front-line medical workers, long-term-care-facility residents and staff, and everyone 70 and older. McMaster’s order makes approximately 309,000 South Carolinians between the ages of 65 and 69 eligible.

The problem is this order creates big expansion of who is eligible for vaccination — one that may or may not be matched by a big expansion of vaccine availability.

South Carolina is administering 21,745 doses per day, ranking 22nd out of the 50 states, and has used just over 70 percent of its supply, ranking 11th out of the 50 states. By most measures, the state is vaccinating its citizens at a pretty good pace. But the Palmetto State just has a whole lot of older residents to get through in the coming weeks and months. The state is a popular destination for retirees and just has about 900,000 seniors, the tenth-highest percentage in the country.

Nine hundred thousand seniors, at a pace of 21,000 vaccinations per day, adds up to just under 41 days — assuming the pace is maintained on weekends and holidays. And keep in mind, until the FDA approves the other vaccines, everyone needs two shots. (At least South Carolina won’t have to worry too much about snowstorms canceling appointments.)

Maybe the upcoming addition of 17 CVS pharmacies will increase the pace of vaccinations in the Palmetto State, but this doesn’t sound like a game-changer: “Supply for the limited rollout in the state, which is sourced directly from the federal pharmacy partnership program, will be approximately 15,300 total doses.”

I recently heard of a 97-year-old South Carolinian who got a vaccination appointment . . . for April 23. Perhaps the silver lining for seniors who are told they’ll have to wait until March or April is that by then the Johnson & Johnson vaccine might be approved and distributed — meaning those seniors’ vaccinations would be complete after one shot.

Politics & Policy

Using Cancel Culture in Congress Would Hit Both Parties

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The House of Representatives has 435 members, and rest assured that at any one time there are several cranks and fanatics in the ranks of both parties.

But House Democrats want to make a special case of one member. They are pressing to censure or expel Marjorie Taylor Greene, a freshman Republican from Georgia, for outrageous statements she made before getting elected. Greene has praised the bizarre and toxic QAnon movement, and in a 2018 Facebook post, she alleged that the Rothschilds, a wealthy Jewish banking family, may have used a laser beam from space to spark a forest fire in order to profit from it.

Democrats should be careful in starting that game. Many of them have said things that could merit removal from their own committee assignments. Representative Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) once wrote that “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” (Omar did apologize for her remark, which was made in 2012.) Her campaign aides are also being investigated for a vote-harvesting operation that allowed non-citizens to vote.

California representative Maxine Waters, who in 2019 urged people to harass Trump administration officials at restaurants or gas stations, now chairs the Financial Services Committee.

What about the vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris, who will be the tie-breaking vote in the U.S. Senate? She has called the rioters in the street this past summer “civil-justice warriors.”

Inside Congress, there’s a saying: “He who is here without sin. . . . Well, never mind, let’s not go down that road.”

Politics & Policy

Really? We Need a Federally Run Face-Mask-Giveaway Program?

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For much of 2020, many of us noticed that while Joe Biden and Donald Trump said different things about the pandemic, their policy proposals were more or less the same. Biden’s much touted plan included a lot of generically worded proposals, like “ensure the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority are swiftly accelerating the development of rapid diagnostic tests, therapeutics and medicines, and vaccines” and “work with the CDC and HHS to ensure that health departments and health providers across the country give every person access to an advice line or interactive online advice.”

Biden avoided saying dumb things like the virus “is going to disappear,” the way Trump did. He instead said different dumb things, like, “I’m not going to shut down the country. I’m not going to shut down the economy. I’m going to shut down the virus.”

This morning, the Biden administration is unveiling another, er, “solution”:

The Biden White House is considering sending masks directly to American households, according to three people familiar with the discussions, an action the Trump administration explored but scrapped . . .

It’s unclear when the masks would go out to the public, how many would be included per residence and whether they would be disposable or made of cloth. It’s also not yet clear what the cost could be.

Is a lack of access to masks really the problem in this country? Are people not wearing them because they can’t find them or afford them? Judging from the grocery-store parking lots of America, we have a surplus of masks and people leave used masks all over the place. Masks are available for free from state governments, county health departments, local governments, retirement homes, car dealerships . . .

A federally run mask-distribution program feels like a solution in search of a problem.

Politics & Policy

Texas Successfully Defunds Planned Parenthood

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Planned Parenthood employees look out from their building, St. Louis, Mo., June 4, 2019. (Lawrence Bryant/Reuters)

As of yesterday, Texas is no longer funding Planned Parenthood, having successfully removed the abortion company from the state’s list of eligible Medicaid providers. The move comes a few months after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Texas had the right to determine for itself whether or not to fund a particular provider through its Medicaid program.

In that ruling, which I covered for NRO late last November, the Fifth Circuit reversed lower court rulings that had blocked both Texas and Louisiana from defunding Planned Parenthood. The decision came from the entire court, undoing a previous three-judge-panel ruling against Texas.

According to Judge Priscilla Owen, who wrote for the eleven-judge majority on the Fifth Circuit, the women who sued Texas over its decision to defund Planned Parenthood did not have standing to challenge the state’s determination that the abortion group was unqualified. Federal law “does not unambiguously provide that a Medicaid patient may contest a State’s determination that a particular provider is not ‘qualified,’” Owen wrote.

The decision affirmed that states and the federal government, not Medicaid beneficiaries, are the arbiters of whether any given group is qualified to be a Medicaid provider. In Texas, the Health and Human Services Commission first attempted to remove Planned Parenthood from the state Medicaid program after verified undercover footage revealed that the abortion provider had broken federal law by profiting from the sale of the body parts of aborted babies.

Writing at Hot Air, Karen Townsend notes that the largest Planned Parenthood facility in the U.S. is located in Houston. “Planned Parenthood facilities in Texas receive about $3.1 million in taxpayer funding from Medicaid annually,” she adds. “An estimated 8,000 Texans use its facilities every year in the state.”

Texas Right to Life points out that “seven federal circuit courts have now written opinions on whether Medicaid patients can sue states that have disqualified Medicaid providers.” Two of those courts decided in favor of the states, while five ruled against them. Eventually, the question will have to be settled at the Supreme Court.

Politics & Policy

It’s Time for Fiscally Aware Adults to Speak Out against Federal Spending

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(Michael Burrell/Getty Images)

I’m old enough to remember that there used to be quite a few Republicans and even some sober Democrats who said that the federal government needed to live within its means. Apropos of the Vietnam war, they told LBJ that we couldn’t afford both guns and butter.

Sadly, voices of fiscal sanity have become rare among Republicans, and they have completely vanished among Democrats. In Washington, the theory seems to be that the government can spend as much as politicians want without any adverse effects. To be against “stimulus” spending is to declare yourself a cold-hearted enemy of the public welfare.

But the truth is that wild federal spending, with Biden’s new $1.9 trillion package being Exhibit A for the prosecution, does have adverse effects. In this Liberty Unyielding post, Hans Bader points to some of them.

Bader writes, “Any additional stimulus spending is likely to do far more to increase the national debt, promote dependency on the government, and increase inflation in the future, than it is to help Americans who need help. A growing national debt menaces the economy, because more interest has to be paid on the rising debt. That drives up the cost of government, resulting in increased taxes, increased budget deficits, or both. Increases in either taxes or deficit spending crowd out private investment, as the government borrows money that would otherwise be used in the private sector, to do useful things like build factories or otherwise invest in the economy.”

The crucial challenge to those of us who care about the future of the country is to get through to everyone who will listen that the government has no money or resources of its own. Its vast spending comes at an equally vast opportunity cost. Moreover, it has nasty side effects, especially the way it leads to dependency on government. All of this spending is like booze or drugs: they make you feel good for a little while, but they distort your body and your perceptions, making you worse off in the long run.

The U.S. is becoming an addict.

World

Gina Raimondo’s Shaky China Policy Debut

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Governor Gina Raimondo, then-President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to be secretary of Commerce, speaks at Biden’s transition headquarters in Wilmington, Del., January 8, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo’s nomination to lead the Commerce Department sailed out of the Senate Commerce Committee in a 21-3 vote Wednesday morning, in spite of her refusal to commit to keeping Huawei on the Entity List, a U.S. government blacklist.

If she is confirmed, Raimondo will be a power player in the Biden administration’s China policy debates. During the Trump administration, Washington learned to use the Commerce Department’s tools to its advantage in its campaign against the use of CCP-linked tech in the United States.

Raimondo doesn’t seem wholly oblivious to the danger of allowing unfettered access to companies with close ties to Beijing. The Commerce secretary-designate walked a bizarre tightrope during her confirmation hearing in January in which she still promised to “protect Americans and our network from Chinese interference,” but still neglected to commit to keeping Huawei on the Entity List. For good reason, this drew criticism from House Republicans and more than a few of the Republican senators who will eventually have to vote on her nomination.

But it seems that she gave a clearer answer in a response to written questions that was published to the Congressional Record this week:

With respect to the Entity List, I understand that parties are placed on the Entity List and the Military End User List generally because they pose a risk to U.S. national security or foreign policy interests. I currently have no reason to believe that entities on those lists should not be there. If confirmed, I look forward to a briefing on these entities and others of concern.

Will the new administration opt to take Huawei off of the Entity List? It’s difficult to say, but Biden struck a fairly hawkish tone on Chinese tech on the campaign trail. What’s more likely is that Raimondo, who has a background in state politics rather than in national security, wasn’t properly briefed on the matter before her hearing. It’s also very likely that the written clarification following her confirmation hearing comments — which, while a step in the right direction, doesn’t amount to a commitment — is an attempt to telegraph her awareness of the issue without compromising the White House’s promise to formally review the previous administration’s policies before deciding whether to keep them.

But Raimondo could have saved herself a lot of trouble by just pledging to keep Huawei and other designated Chinese tech companies on the list.

Culture

As the Weird Wendy’s Comes to an End, the D.C. Area’s Transformation Continues

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(Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Since the 1980s, a Wendy’s has sat right in the middle of the intersections of New York Avenue and Florida Avenue NE in Washington, D.C. It really has no right to be there. But, then again, neither does the intersection itself. Originally the edge of the city proper and hardly accounted for in Pierre L’Enfant’s original design, it became a major thoroughfare only as the city itself grew.

The accidental nature of this growth enabled a kind of traffic island to develop in the middle of what are now two of the busiest streets in the city, contributing to one of the city’s busiest, most confusing, and most dangerous intersections. On this island the Wendy’s has sat for many decades, looking out onto the automotive chaos around it, and attracting a varied array of customers from its Northeast D.C. neighborhood and beyond — at least, those who can actually figure out how to drive or walk in. Though an unofficial — and haphazard — addition to the ranks of D.C.’s many traffic circles, the convoluted circuity anchored by this Wendy’s has been christened “Dave Thomas Circle” by locals, in honor of the chain’s founder; the location itself has earned the dubious appellation “Weird Wendy’s.”

Alas, weird no more. Earlier this week, the D.C. city government announced that it would use eminent domain to purchase the Weird Wendy’s property. “Almost every Washingtonian has their own Dave Thomas Circle horror story,” D.C. mayor Muriel Bower said. “Now, we are taking the necessary actions to transform this confusing intersection into a multimodal project that supports the current and future needs of DC drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians.” The ultimate plan is to rationalize the intersection, and to turn at least some of the land into a park.

There are some things to admit here straightaway. Dave Thomas Circle is not so much a traffic circle as a traffic labyrinth. It is confusing and dangerous for both cars and pedestrians. And there is nothing inherently worthwhile about a fast-food franchise with only a few decades at its current location. But it’s worth asking, for one, how much this intersection can be improved. Plans for its renovation don’t appear to do much in that regard; the area will still remain a chaotic quirk of the clash between older designs and subsequent development.

There are concerns beyond the practical here, though. Yes, it’s only a few decades old. But that’s plenty of time for it to have accumulated historical memory and cultural power that have made it one of the essential oddities of Northeast D.C. Urban planners often have grand designs for what cities should look like, but often things develop such that people find themselves attached to things that emerged almost randomly but then took root. The Weird Wendy’s, troublesome as it and the surrounding intersection may be, has such roots. The park (another park) or whatever layout — sure to be new and modern and different in the same way everything else of its ilk is these days — that replaces it will not.

Ah, but who has time for the old? Indeed, just as the news of the doom of the Weird Wendy’s emerged, Amazon, which settled (with the help of heavy local-government inducements) on nearby Northern Virginia as the location of its new headquarters, gave a preview of what its future building would look like. In fitting Amazon fashion, it will be huge and impressive-looking — but also dominate its entire area. (It will also have a somewhat-dubious shape.) As the ugly nexus of government and business has grown — and conquered not just the nation as a whole but especially Washington, D.C., and the area around it — what locals call the DMV (D.C., Maryland, and Virginia) has expanded as well, leaving behind the trappings of its past.

D.C. has always been a swampy place, but it has not been without its charms over the years. Above all, it has been smaller than most other important cities, with far greater scope that one might expect for small, out-of-the-way, and strange things to take root in the community around it. The end of the Weird Wendy’s in D.C. and the imminent arrival of the Amazon behemoth in Northern Virginia together seem like a definitive turning point in the story of the area’s modern transformation. As one fan of the Weird Wendy’s told the Washington Post, “It has been the story of D.C. — everything keeps disappearing.” A healthy conservatism inclines one to wonder whether what takes its place will truly be good for the character of the area — or for the country.

World

Navalny Speaks

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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, accused of flouting the terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement, attends a court hearing in Moscow, Russia, February 2, 2021. (Press service of Moscow City Court/Reuters Handout)

Via Radio Free Europe, the courage Alexei Navalny displays in this speech in court is breathtaking:

The Week provides some highlights and background:

Navalny began by the speech, which Meduza translated into English, by arguing he is on trial for a fabricated, seven-year-old embezzlement case, and that the real reason he was detained upon returning to Moscow from Berlin last month is Putin’s “hatred and fear” because “I mortally offended him by surviving.” Navalny added that he didn’t “run and hide” after the poisoning and ultimately went on to prove Putin was responsible for the murder attempt (the Kremlin denies any involvement.) As a result, Navalny said, Putin is “simply going insane” while he hides in a bunker.

“Murder is the only way [Putin] knows how to fight. He’ll go down in history as nothing but a poisoner. We all remember Alexander the Liberator and Yaroslav the Wise. Well, now we’ll have Vladimir the Underpants Poisoner,” Navalny continued, referring to the fact that he may have been exposed to the nerve agent through his underpants.

White House

‘Systemic Racism’ and the Biden Administration, Continued

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The campus of Yale University in 2012. (Michelle McLoughlin/Reuters)

As I noted yesterday, it’s expected that the Biden administration will reverse the Trump administration’s position supporting the appeal to the Supreme Court by Asian-American students who maintain that Harvard discriminates against Asian-American applicants in admissions (Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard).

Today, the Justice Department notified the U.S. District Court in Connecticut that the Biden administration was dropping a similar lawsuit filed by the Trump administration against Yale. The Trump Justice Department alleged that Asians and whites were only one-tenth to one-quarter as likely to be admitted to Yale as similarly situated blacks.

As a friend emails, “. . . it is . . . something . . . to do this [drop the Yale suit] a mere eight days after issuing a presidential “Memorandum Condemning and Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.”

Maybe this is what the administration means by “racial equity.”

White House

Biden: Tool of the Partisan Left, Not Socialism

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President Biden signs executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., January 20, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Although Politico’s flagship product, Playbook, is still recovering from Ben Shapiro’s problematic guest appearance a couple weeks back, today’s iteration of the morning newsletter still managed to scrounge together some interesting quotes from a longtime Biden aide, who remains unnamed. Per the aide, the White House’s decision to move forward with a reckless $1.9 trillion relief package instead of pursuing a less frivolous bipartisan bill, runs counter to Biden’s instincts. Noting the harsh tone of the statement Biden issued on the Republican proposal, the advisor mused that “I think it sounded more like Ron Klain than Joe Biden.” Klain, Biden’s chief of staff, is reportedly still bitter over Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act a decade ago, and his governing philosophy was warped by the experience. Politico’s source explained “Ron has this whole thing: ‘Remember how they rat-f—ed us on the ACA!,’” the expletive standing in for “disagreed with.”

One of the Trump campaign’s favorite attacks on Biden was that he would be a Trojan horse for socialism. Neither Biden’s affect nor his record lent itself to this message. What is true is that Biden is susceptible to having his back-slapping instincts overridden by the technocratic partisans he’s surrounded himself with. Partisans who are irrationally vexed by any pushback on their agenda, and who believe any such pushback to be obstructionism for obstructionism’s sake.

Biden may not be Bernie Sanders with a grin, but his is likely to be the Vox.com presidency, and any illusions of “unity” or a return to regular order in Congress should be discarded after his outright rejection of a good-faith effort at bipartisanship.

White House

Biden Transition Team Denied Parental Leave to Former Trump-Administration Officials

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President Joe Biden speaks at the White House in Washington, D.C., January 26, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In an article late yesterday evening, Politico reports that several former officials in the Trump administration who had been granted parental leave at the end of 2020 lost the remainder of their paid time off after the incoming administration took over:

After four years in the Trump administration, Vanessa Ambrosini was looking forward to three months of parental leave when she and her husband welcomed a baby a week before Christmas. The Commerce Department’s human resources office had given her approval for it. But then she was surprised to find out the benefit was no longer available because of the change in administration.

“I got completely screwed,” she said in an interview. “There were no caveats in that language saying anything about if the administration turns, you get nothing and of course, that happened and so I got nothing.”

According to Politico, Ambrosini is one of several former Trump-administration employees who found out unexpectedly, and contrary to what they had been assured, that their parental-leave benefits expired when President Trump left office. Several of those employees told Politico they asked Biden’s transition team honor the remainder of their leave, but the transition staff declined to do so.

“The Biden White House declined to speak about the issue on record,” the report notes. “Instead, an official noted anonymously that political appointees ‘do not enjoy the promise of federal employment past the end of the administration in which they choose to serve.’” The same official told Politico that “appointees have been advised that they have options including COBRA and the Affordable Care Act.”

Another couple, who had worked for the Department of Homeland Security under Trump, said they had been assured their parental-leave benefits would be treated as if they were career rather than political appointees. Shortly after their baby was born prematurely, they were informed that was no longer the case.

“It’s one thing if you have a household, if you have one family member who works for the government,” the father told Politico. “But we were both employed by the government so we’re losing both of our opportunities for health care and both our incomes, so it’s pretty scary to have a premature baby at home and not knowing if you’re going to have an income or health insurance.”

Biden’s transition team explicitly denied the couple’s request to roll over their parental-leave benefits into a few weeks of the next administration. As the Politico report notes, the Biden administration is under no obligation to extend the employment of former Trump officials in order to enable them to finish their time off. But given how often Democrats accuse conservatives of failing to care about the needs of families, it’s especially conspicuous that they chose not to do so.

The Economy

Stimulus Overkill

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The Capitol building at sunrise in Washington, D.C., January 11, 2021 (Erin Scott/Reuters)

It was the right thing to help those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic or the lockdown. It couldn’t have been stimulative, since the economy was shut down. And sure enough, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that the multiplier for the CARES Act was 0.58, meaning that for every dollar spent by Uncle Sam, the economy grew by 58 cents.

This is in part due to the fact that when people received money from the government, they saved a lot of it. So the money was not stimulative, but it was a way to alleviate pain. That’s if you ignore the over-the-top size of the relief and all the cronyism in the CARES Act — such as the airline bailout — and the many non-COVID-related items.

The size of the COVID-relief bill is another issue. In this morning’s WSJ, Phil Gramm and Mike Solon note that:

Commerce Department data show total employee compensation in the second and third quarters of 2020 was down by $215 billion compared with the first quarter. Yet government personal transfers were up $893 billion — four times the compensation lost. In the second quarter alone, real per capita disposable income was up 10.5% compared with the first quarter — 25 times as fast as the average quarterly income growth in the prior two years.

This surge in personal income was driven by government stimulus equal to $2.6 trillion, more than all the private wages and salaries paid in the first quarter of 2020. While preliminary fourth-quarter figures show that personal income declined from the previous quarter, real per capita disposable income in 2020 grew 5.5% — the highest growth rate since 1984, the peak of the Reagan recovery. All of this occurred before the $900 billion December stimulus took effect . . .

Quarterly savings rose by almost $800 billion. The historical savings rate of 7% to 8% of income reached an astonishing 26% in the second quarter. Preliminary data for 2020 show total savings for 2020 was $1.6 trillion higher than in 2019.

Congress passed another $900 billion in December 2020. That was unwise, but it was not as bad as trying to ram through another $1.9 trillion progressive COVID-relief bill with many barriers to employment — such as the $15 dollar minimum wage the Dems are doing right now.

New data show that the added $400 bonus desired by President Biden means that 62 percent of the recipients will be again be making more money unemployed than working. That number was 48 percent with a $300 bonus passed in December. In addition to the way this may slow down the recovery, what about the impact of continuing to pay people more than they make when working? Am I the only one worried about this?

Here is another point to observe with the latest $380 billion output-gap estimate, in light of proposed ($1.9 trillion) “stimulus” spending.

If the case for more stimulus is to close the output gap (return to pre-pandemic economic fundamentals), then a $1.9 trillion stimulus to close the gap would imply a fiscal multiplier of 0.2. But progressives have been telling us for years that the spending multiplier is 1.3, 1.5, or higher (which would imply the need for just $250 billion). With the CBO’s multiplier estimate of 0.58 for the CARES Act, stimulus totaling $600 billion (as proposed by the GOP) would close the gap fully in 2021. Which one is it? You can’t have it both ways.

At this point, I still think zero dollars is the correct amount of stimulus. Based on past experiences, we close the gap by encouraging growth in the private economy, not encouraging growth of government.

I will end with this from Gramm and Solon:

Policy makers are acting as if running up the national debt and printing money doesn’t matter. Yet all the factors are present to generate rising prices and eventually higher interest rates: excess fiscal stimulus, excessive money-supply growth, impaired domestic production capacity, and impaired international production and transportation capacity. To this volatile mix, Mr. Biden is promising to add regulatory assaults on energy, finance, small businesses, labor and health care.

Perhaps the resulting impairment of economic capacity will prove manageable, but given that such action is occurring at the very moment of excessive fiscal stimulus on top of a tinderbox of monetary expansion, it is putting the nation at risk.

Politics & Policy

A Rough Road Ahead for Democrats

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My new Bloomberg Opinion column goes into the obstacles to Biden’s legislative agenda.

A series of executive actions by President Joe Biden has pulled U.S. policy to the left on a range of issues including fracking, abortion and transgender athletes. Progressives should savor the moment, because it could well represent a peak in their efforts to change the country.

Biden came into office with a very progressive platform. But it is entirely possible, even likely, that he won’t deliver on much of it. . . .

Education

Ron Klain’s Excuse for Closed Schools Is Even Weaker Than It Looked

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As I’ve noted before — here and here, with the assistance of Dan Lips of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity — we have good reason to reject White House chief of staff Ron Klain’s argument that schools need more money to improve their safety before they can reopen. The federal government has already allocated $70 billion for the schools during the pandemic, far more than enough to implement CDC guidelines.

Alexander Nazaryan of Yahoo News caught something else. In an interview with Erin Burnett of CNN last week, Klain claimed that a recent, highly publicized study backed his contention. Here’s the exchange.

Burnett: So, today, I know you saw the CDC journal publishing yet another study saying, you know, you can open K-12 schools for in-person learning with minimal COVID transmission. Why do you think so many public schools across this country are still closed in places that the private schools are open?

KLAIN: Yeah, I’ll give you a word, money. That’s why the President of the United States se[n]t a plan into Congress even before he took office, to make the investments you need to make the school safe. What that study in Wisconsin from the CDC showed was, the 17 rural schools that got a sizable grant from a private foundation, to put in the kinds of safety measures that they needed.

Nazaryan called the foundation, which told him the “sizable grant” was $150,000. “They need more federal money to re-open” is an excuse, and not a good one.

Update: I originally, and incorrectly, typed in $150 million for the “sizable grant”; thanks to reader JK for alerting me to the error.

When Even Russia Is Beating You in the Race to an Effective Vaccine …

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For a long while, I’ve been open to the idea that a laboratory leak best explains the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. It’s something of an Occam’s Razor approach; the notion that a novel coronavirus genetically similar to the one found in horseshoe bats naturally appeared in close proximity to not one but two laboratories researching novel coronaviruses found in bats, and had no connection to either of those labs, would be an astounding coincidence.

That is distinct from the idea that this is a “plandemic,” that the virus represents a engineered bioweapon, or that the virus

Politics & Policy

Cuomo’s Surrogacy ‘Protections’

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From the New York State Department of Financial Services:

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today reminded New Yorkers about new insurance protections and rights for surrogates and parents that will take effect on February 15, 2021. These new insurance protections and rights were part of the Governor’s FY 2021 Enacted Budget that legalized gestational surrogacy in New York.

These “protections and rights” include both life and health insurance for surrogates as well as financial insurance for parents, should the surrogate fail “to perform under the surrogacy contract.” Sounds promising, doesn’t it?

Of course, what this does not include is insurance against being separated from one’s birth mother, nor protection from abandonment or abortion, all of which occur in the surrogacy industry and are known to be harmful to children.

Education

Reply to Louise Dube of iCivics

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Social-distancing dividers in a classroom at St. Benedict School in Montebello, Calif., July 14, 2020. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Louise Dube, executive director of iCivics and the CivXNow coalition, takes issue with my two recent pieces, “Beware: New Civics Mandates Will Be Woke,” and “Ultra-Woke Illinois Mandates Are Top Threat to U.S. Education.” In calling on Americans to “seek common ground, and abandon the culture war,” Dube follows President Biden, who appeals for unity even as he signs a slew of radical left-wing executive orders and calls America systemically racist.

Dube herself says iCivics is committed to “pointing out institutional systemic racism in teaching about our institutions,” even though this “will alienate some.” That doesn’t sound like abandoning the culture war to me.

Dube is eager to distance herself from the civics nightmare now playing out in Illinois, but she can’t. Her organization and her coalition have held Illinois up as a model for the nation, as I showed in my most recent piece. Dube doesn’t deny any of the points I made there about support for the Illinois model from iCivics or the CivXNow coalition. (Check out the links, and you’ll see why.) Instead, she denies what I never asserted.

In my first piece I said, “iCivics was closely involved in the development of that Illinois Civics campaign to bring so-called anti-racism and Critical Race Theory into the classroom.” As we’ll see in a moment, that is correct, and the details say a lot about iCivics and its actual stance toward the culture war. Dube says, “We had no involvement in this [Illinois civics] legislation whatsoever,” but that doesn’t rebut me. I never argued that iCivics pushed for passage of the original Illinois civics law, but rather that iCivics has been closely involved in the recent campaign by the Illinois Civics website to bring so-called anti-racism and Critical Race Theory into classrooms in Illinois.

You can see the collaboration between iCivics and the key leaders of the Illinois civics experiment for yourself on video. Amber Coleman-Mortley is the director of Social Engagement for iCivics. After the mass demonstrations and riots of this past summer, Coleman-Mortley joined with Shawn Healy, the leading figure behind the enactment and implementation of the Illinois civics law, to present two hour-long webinars, one on “How to Raise a Socially-Conscious Anti-Racist Kid” (webinar No. 1). and another on “Culturally Responsive Teaching to Promote Anti-Racist Classrooms” (webinar No. 2). Those webinars are filled with endorsements of Critical Race Theory and its outgrowth, the practice of “Culturally Responsive Teaching.” When advocates refer to “anti-racism” nowadays, they mean much more than not being biased. The new “anti-racism” calls any policy stance not aimed at fundamentally transforming American society in a “progressive” direction, a tool of “systemic racism.”

Culturally Responsive Teaching is the guiding source for the outrageous new Illinois education standards I wrote about in my recent piece. Those standards force teachers to call America systemically racist, force teachers to affirm multiple and “fluid” gender identities, and force teachers to advocate and even organize student demonstrations on behalf of progressive political positions. If teachers refuse, they just might lose their licenses, or be forced into therapy designed to move them beyond their “whiteness.”

It’s also apparent from the webinars that Coleman-Mortley of iCivics had a leading role in designing the Critical Race Theory–permeated Illinois civics web pages I focused on in my initial piece (webinar No. 1, 57:19–59:05). Again, you can literally watch two hours’ worth of praise for Critical Race Theory–based materials as iCivics and Illinoiscivics.org collaborate on screen in the persons of Amber Coleman-Mortley and Shawn Healy. (You can then read the material they were endorsing and promoting here and here.)

In the webinars, Coleman-Mortley of iCivics endorses the #DisruptTexts movement (where “Even Homer Gets Mobbed”) (webinar No. 2 27–27:20), attacks colorblindness as an “erasure” that defines students from a “white normative stance” (webinar No. 2 44:30–44:50), praises Gloria Ladson-Billings, who first brought neo-Marxist Critical Race Theory into education and who invented “Culturally Responsive Teaching” (webinar No. 2 36:15–37:15), and draws on the concept of systemic racism and the consequent need to dismantle our allegedly racism system.

By the way, Coleman-Mortley does all of this engagingly and with grace. She has mastered the art of presenting highly contentious cultural issues in the smoothest and most sympathetic possible manner. It’s easy to see why Coleman-Mortley is an asset to iCivics. Nonetheless, this collaboration between iCivics and Illinoiscivics.org is pure culture war, and plenty of it.

One of the most (unintentionally) entertaining webinar segments (webinar No. 1 36–41:30) comes when Shawn Healy addresses the problem of parents who don’t want their children studying Critical Race Theory. Healy’s solution to these problematic parents is for teachers to show parents that they’re using “highly reputable sources.” The example Healy gives of a highly reputable source is . . . the 1619 Project of the oh-so-reputable New York Times. In fact, Healy credits Coleman-Mortley of iCivics with first alerting him to just how important and educationally useful the 1619 Project is.

In response, Coleman-Mortley tells the story of the time her daughter brought home some “questionable content” on Christopher Columbus from school. Apparently, this school neglected to purvey a Howard Zinn–like version of Columbus. That prompted Coleman-Mortley to fill in the gaps for her daughter. Coleman-Mortley then reflects on the need for “healthy skepticism” when looking at textbooks brought from school. Healthy skepticism for Columbus, embarrassing credulity for the 1619 Project. And this was long after truly reputable historians had exposed the project’s feet of clay.

Another striking webinar moment comes when Healy responds to yet another question on how to deal with parental opposition to controversial approaches like “Culturally Responsive Teaching” (webinar No. 2 50:40–52:14). Healy’s revealing reply is that the Illinois State Board of Education is about to mandate Culturally Responsive Teaching, so in addition to trying to persuade parents, tell them they have no choice. Precisely. That’s why I’ve been sounding the alarm about leftist educators like Healy trying to impose these perniciously politicized standards on teachers, students, and parents.

Dube says iCivics and its partners aren’t looking to impose a national civics curriculum on America. I say iCivics is eager to push the Illinois model on us all. Healy actually makes my point for me during one of the webinars (webinar No. 1 49:30–50:10). He says, “I think there really is a policy window that’s open for us to do something more. We’ve made some big strides [on action civics and “anti-racism”] in Illinois. Now we need to do this everywhere. Check out the work of the CivXNow coalition. Amber’s parent organization, iCivics, leads that. And we’re making both a state-based push but also a national push to strengthen civic education.” Not only a state-based but a national push. Healy is on the inside, part of the big coalition under iCivics’ leadership that’s about to make public recommendations on civic education. He ought to know.

Here’s my challenge to Louise Dube and iCivics. I have personally been told by one of iCivics’ leaders that iCivics has been in discussions about a civics bill for some time in Texas. Publish the text of the civics proposal that iCivics has been backing in Texas. Then tell me that iCivics doesn’t want to impose the Illinois action civics model on the rest of the country.

Dube concludes by citing a poll that says that civic education is the most popular solution to what ails our country. I don’t doubt those results for a moment. On the contrary, that’s what worries me. iCivics is cloaking progressive political activism and Critical Race Theory under the soothing and popular heading of “civics.” Exploiting public respect for traditional civics is iCivics’ strategy for pressing the entirely untraditional Illinois civics model on America. My plan is to remove the cloak and reveal what is actually going on in Illinois, and in Massachusetts, the other center of politicized “action civics.” Dube and iCivics were leading advocates of the changes that politicized and dumbed down the Massachusetts history standards and ushered in “action civics.” (I’ll have much more to say on Massachusetts down the road.) What “civics” has become in Illinois and Massachusetts — Critical Race Theory and progressive activism disguised as education — will mean irresolvable culture war in this country for the indefinite future.

World

Puberty Blockers Not So Reversible After All

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In November, London’s gender youth clinic, run by the National Health Service, was forced to stop administering puberty-blocking drugs to children under the age of 16. Newly published short-term outcomes research suggests that the effects of puberty blockers, specifically in relation to bone-mass density and height, are not as “fully reversible” as the clinic once promised.

Media

Marjorie Taylor Greene Is Filling the Void in Media’s Appetite Set by Trump

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Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R., Ga.) in Washington, D.C., January 3, 2021 (Erin Scott/Reuters)

My opposition to Marjorie Taylor Greene is so fervent and all-encompassing that if instantly vaporizing her headlines with the Jewish Space Laser that she believes exists were an option, I would endorse that galactic-level rebuke.

However, it is worth recognizing that a national political news media that have spent five and a half years enjoying wildly high television ratings, huge web traffic, and boosts in newspaper circulation, and that served up heaping scoops of  “Can you believe this crazy thing that Donald Trump just said?” now find themselves with a former president who is no longer on Twitter and who has been uncharacteristically quiet since leaving office. Since mid 2015, media organizations and their audiences became conditioned to expect a daily sugar rush of shock, outrage, amusement, and reassurance that the Democrats are the good, wise, ethical and sane party, and that Republicans are crazy and harmful.

Without Trump, that void needs to be filled — and Marjorie Taylor Greene is more than happy to step into that overhyped role in national political scene. She’s terrible, but the media that think it is exposing and denouncing her is, at least on some level, empowering her. She’s getting a hell of a lot more attention than, say, the 20 senators of both parties who put together a bipartisan alternative COVID-relief package.

The current allegedly denunciatory saturation coverage of her is akin to the national media’s coverage of Trump from 2015 to the end of the GOP primaries. CNN and MSNBC and the big network news institutions didn’t know or care that by making the overwhelming majority of their GOP primary coverage about Trump, they were helping him win support. CBS chief executive officer Leslie Moonves famously said the Trump campaign “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” That mentality has not departed from the nation’s newsrooms.

The craziest member of Congress is definitely newsworthy, but it’s not the biggest story in the country or even the biggest story in Washington right now. Congress has had plenty of nutty members in its history. Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia feared that the island of Guam would tip over if too many U.S. forces were deployed there. Sheila Jackson Lee famously asked if the Mars Pathfinder rover would be able to see the flag that Neil Armstrong had left there. Jim Traficant once admitted that he had taken money from the mob, but only so that his opponent wouldn’t get the money. Yet none of those examples of congressional lunacy dominated a news cycle.

That much more proportional attention from the national press couldn’t possibly be connected to the “D” after their names, could it?

Politics & Policy

Former HHS Senior Official Roger Severino Joins EPPC

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The Ethics and Public Policy Center, where I’m a visiting fellow, announced today that Roger Severino will be joining our team of scholars — a welcome and gratifying addition, and the first hire we’ve made at EPPC since Ryan Anderson succeeded Ed Whelan as president earlier this week.

Roger joins us at EPPC after three years as director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services, where he founded the government’s first division to monitor conscience and religious-freedom compliance and enforcement.

At EPPC, he’ll be putting that experience to good use heading up the HHS Accountability Project, which will monitor the work of HHS from the outside. Among the goals of the project: ensuring that all human beings are protected from conception until natural death and ensuring that abortion and assisted suicide are never considered health care. The project will also focus on conscience and religious-freedom rights in the health-care system.

Before HHS, Roger directed the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation and spent several years before that in the Justice Departments Civil Rights Division and at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. His expertise will be a boon to EPPC, especially as conservatives navigate the policy challenges presented by the Biden administration, and I’m grateful to welcome him as a colleague.

Impromptus

Politics and Values (and Snow)

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Central Park, New York City, February 2, 2021 (Jay Nordlinger)

I have an Impromptus column today. It begins with California, that heartbreaking subject, and goes on to Burma, AOC, QAnon, presidential dogs, the NFL, and other subjects. See what floats your boat, and doesn’t.

On Friday, I recorded a Q&A — really more of a roundtable — with two young NR-niks from the British Isles: Madeleine Kearns (Glasgow, Scotland) and Cameron Hilditch (Belfast, Northern Ireland, or not far away). Catch them before their accents fade. They will go on to American careers, I believe, and inevitably sound more like us (not that we Yanks all sound the same, thank goodness).

During our “roundtable,” we discuss matters political and cultural. Cameron explains the importance of “loser’s consent” in a democracy. We Americans have had a big lesson in that recently. Maddy recites Robert Burns, expertly. And she puts on a wicked American accent (speaking of those).

She also discusses Jane Eyre, a novel important to her, and many. Cameron discusses George Herbert, a poet important to him.

Time for some reader mail? One letter, please. It responds to another letter, actually — one I had in this post last Friday. The more recent letter goes,

I was struck by your reader who said, “There are people with whom I share values but not politics, and these people are closer to who I am than people whose policy preferences sometimes coincide with mine, but whose values are very different.” This is very much how I feel when I read your columns. You’ll forgive me, I trust, because most of the time my political views could be broadly classified as “Yankee liberal.” . . .

I shared the quote from your reader with an old friend of mine over a glass of something smoky and brown last night, since I felt it also characterizes the relationship I have with him. He and I disagree on almost every political issue that comes up (and so we know by now to avoid bringing those things up). He is what I once would have called with some (ignorant) derision a “Christian fundamentalist.” He’d just say he is a Christian.

He’s also the most ethically consistent man I know. Church is not something he does on Sundays, it’s how he lives his life. He lives in accord with a deeply held set of values. It’s inspiring.

We were in the Army together some years ago, and on the surface we may not appear to have much in common. On closer inspection, the opposite is true, since we share important values. We want to do right by our kids, by our wives, by the people we work with. (He’d add that he would like to do right by God; I’m still working that one out.)

Your post made me think of my friend, and so I shared it with him. When he asked where I’d gotten it, and I said “in National Review,” you can imagine his raised eyebrow!

Marvelous. Again, my column today is here. It closes with a couple of shots of Central Park, in the snow. I’ll throw one up top. Isn’t snow great (except when it isn’t)?

Education

Academic Freedom Should Allow Profs to Craft Their Own Syllabi, But …

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College professors ought to be able to write their course syllabi and teach as they think best. That’s how things have been since America’s Founding. Unfortunately, there is a new trend, with administrators demanding that they include various statements with “woke” sentiments and requirements that they conduct their classes in specific, “anti-racist” ways.

In today’s Martin Center article, Peter Bonilla of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) takes a look at this unfortunate development.

The University of Maryland was considering a mandate that professors include a statement that the school was sitting on “stolen land,” but decided to back away from that demand. At UCLA, a professor found himself in trouble for adhering to his own grading policy rather than a new one intended by the university to help black students.

Bonilla sums up, writing “There are few environments better situated for a wide-open discussion of antiracism and its related issues than the university. But universities are also troublingly susceptible to demands for orthodoxy and the squelching of dissent, perhaps never more so than in moments of national reckoning.”

Will we get over the “wokeness” mania and return to higher education that’s actually about education? Or will administrators who want to curry political favor continue pushing professors to do as they’re told?

World

More Proof of China Uyghur Atrocities

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The BBC is out with a horrific report detailing firsthand accounts of the brutality to which Uyghurs are subjected — particularly women. From the report, “Their goal is to destroy everyone”:

In separate testimony to the Uyghur Human Rights Project, Sedik said she heard about an electrified stick being inserted into women to torture them — echoing the experience Ziawudun described.

There were “four kinds of electric shock”, Sedik said — “the chair, the glove, the helmet, and anal rape with a stick”.

“The screams echoed throughout the building,” she said. “I could hear them during lunch and sometimes when I was in class.”

Another teacher forced to work in the camps, Sayragul Sauytbay, told the BBC that “rape was common” and the guards “picked the girls and young women they wanted and took them away”.

She described witnessing a harrowing public gang rape of a woman of just 20 or 21, who was brought before about 100 other detainees to make a forced confession.

“After that, in front of everyone, the police took turns to rape her,” Sauytbay said.

“While carrying out this test, they watched people closely and picked out anyone who resisted, clenched their fists, closed their eyes, or looked away, and took them for punishment.”

The young woman cried out for help, Sauytbay said.

“It was absolutely horrendous,” she said. “I felt I had died. I was dead.”

This is harrowing stuff, from which we cannot turn away.

We should also remember context. Uygurs are sent throughout China as part of a forced-labor program. Falun Gong are organ-harvested to supply the black market. Tibetan Buddhism is being subjected to cultural genocide. The pernicious social-credit system targets Christians, among others.

China’s government is evil. And yet, it offers the world huge business opportunities, and American business behemoths — which threaten to boycott states that pass Religious Freedom Restoration Act laws — happily benefit from doing business with a truly despotic system.

Some of these same companies cancel the accounts of people who make comments disagreeing with transgender ideology. Talk about splinters and logs!

Bottom line. If Big Tech and other businesses made clear that China had to change or they would pull out, China would at least ameliorate its worst brutality. But they don’t, and probably won’t. That’s on them!

Education

‘Systemic Racism’ and the Biden Administration

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The first two weeks of the Biden administration have been dominated by promotion of “racial equity” and eradication of “systemic racism.”

Setting aside the fact that structural/institutional/systemic racism is largely a canard, and the administration’s invocation thereof is primarily a tool to expand progressives’ power, there’s one inarguable case of systemic racism that the administration could address, but likely won’t: the blatant and staggering discrimination against Asian Americans in college and grad-school admissions.

The Trump Justice Department filed a brief supporting the appeal to the Supreme Court by Asian-American students who maintain that Harvard discriminates against Asian Americans in admissions. Evidence adduced in the case shows, e.g., that the combined SAT scores of Asian Americans admitted to Harvard between 2010 and 2015 were 218 points higher than those of similarly situated black admittees. Similar disparities, including those involving GPAs, occur in colleges throughout the country.

It’s widely expected that the Biden administration will switch the government’s position on the case, Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard. If it does, that will tell you all you need to know about the administration’s concerns about systemic racism.

Education

States Are Spending School-Reopening Money Slowly

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(maroke/Getty Images)

Dan Lips of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity reviews the numbers:

In March, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provided $30.75 billion to the U.S. Department of Education for an Education Stabilization Fund. The fund included $16.2 billion for K-12 education, including $13.2 billion for an “Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief” (ESSER) fund.

As of November 30th, state departments of education had only spent $3 billion out of the $12.8 billion in ESSER funds awarded last spring, according to Department of Education data. Only three states (Arkansas, Iowa, and Missouri) had spent more than half of their ESSER funding. Eight states had spent less than 10 percent. New York and Vermont had spent less than 1 percent of their funds. Overall, state education agencies had spent less than 25 percent of ESSER funds after the first three months of the current school year.

A month ago, as Lips points out, the Department of Education allocated an additional $54 billion among state school systems from the COVID-relief bill that passed in December. This is much more than should be needed to comply with CDC risk-mitigation measures. The Biden administration is nonetheless asking for more, and excusing teacher unions for dragging their feet until they get it.

Update: I forgot to note that Miguel Cardona, Biden’s nominee for Education Secretary, is the education commissioner for Connecticut, which had spent less than 19 percent of its CARES Act money by November 30. Tomorrow his nomination is before a Senate committee, which might want to ask about this matter.

White House

Biden Raises the Stakes on the Becerra Nomination

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President Joe Biden speaks during a brief appearance at the White House in Washington, D.C., January 25, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

At the same time that he rescinded the Mexico City policy last week, President Joe Biden also directed the Department of Health and Human Services to consider undoing another pro-life policy, which prohibits abortion providers from claiming federal funding under the Title X family-planning program.

Under the Trump-administration regulation, abortion groups must financially separate their provision of abortion from any other services or else forgo Title X funding. In all likelihood, that policy will be thrown out by the incoming HHS, especially if the Senate votes to confirm Biden’s nominee, California attorney general Xavier Becerra.

Evidently, the Biden administration chose Becerra to head HHS not because of any relevant qualifications — he has none — but specifically because of his reputation as a progressive culture warrior. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere on NRO, Becerra has essentially no expertise or experience in the realm of health-care policy, and he has built his political career by pushing for radicalization on nearly every social issue. Here’s a bit of what I covered in that piece:

As a congressman from California, he received a 100 percent rating from leading abortion-rights groups Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

. . . Becerra voted “against the Conscience Protection Act of 2016, which barred the federal as well as any state or local government from penalizing or discriminating against health-care providers that do not ‘perform, refer for, pay for, or otherwise participate in abortion.’” Becerra also voted against the Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act, which would have made it illegal to perform an abortion chosen on the basis of the unborn child’s sex.

As California’s attorney general, Becerra filed felony charges against pro-life activists who exposed Planned Parenthood’s involvement in illegally selling body parts of aborted babies. Becerra also has defended a California law that requires churches to cover elective abortion in their health-insurance plans. . . .

Becerra also led the way in enforcing a state law that required all pro-life pregnancy-resource centers in the state to advertise for California’s free or low-cost abortions. That law was such a blatant violation of free speech that it was overturned by the Supreme Court. He has also led coalitions of blue states in conducting a series of efforts to expand abortion access, attacking red states for enacting pro-life policies, attempting to undo Trump-administration restrictions on funding for abortion providers, and lobbying the federal government to loosen safety regulations on chemical-abortion drugs.

In other words, if confirmed, Becerra will gleefully heed Biden’s advice and wipe from the books not only the pro-life Title X policy but every policy on the books that encouraged moderation on the part of the federal bureaucracy. We can expect that, under Becerra, HHS will once again fund Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers through Title X, insist that Obamacare be interpreted to cover gender-reassignment surgery and abortion, and bring down the fist of the federal government against religious groups that refuse to subsidize abortion-inducing drugs.

Education

Civic Education Should Unite Americans, Not Divide Us

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(DONGSEON_KIM/Getty Images)

National Review has recently published two pieces that describe a movement to reinvigorate civics, and reestablish the subject as a centerpiece of K–12 education, as a move toward “woke” civics.

These two stories by Stanley Kurtz appear more interested in fueling divisions than they are in giving a factual accounting of what we are actually trying to accomplish: The goal of iCivics and the CivXNow coalition is to ensure that every K–12 student receives a high-quality civic education. To sustain our constitutional democracy requires that every new generation gain an understanding of our government, the rule of law, and our history.

Instead of divisions, we seek common ground — because the civic education for which we advocate is rooted in civil discourse. How we get through this conflict and come to agreement is a civics lesson in and of itself.

Civic discourse begins with knowing the facts, so that all parties can build their arguments based on truth. So, here are some of the truths about iCivics, the civic education nonprofit founded in 2009 by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and CivXNow, the cross-ideological coalition of organizations that are working together to bring civics back into the forefront of K–12 education.

We believe that civic education starts with explaining the fundamentals of how our constitutional democracy works. Why are our institutions and processes designed to operate as they do? What are the roles of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches? What powers are reserved to the states, and why?

We also believe that modern civics goes further and tackles the hard questions that we must ask ourselves as Americans in this precarious moment in our history: How can we have strongly differing partisan views yet talk them through civilly? How do we motivate civic agency and sustain our constitutional democracy? What is the spirit of both argument and compromise that the complex politics of our constitutional democracy is meant to foster? How do we reconcile racial injustice with our country’s ideals of equality? And yes, how do we give the complete narrative of America’s plural, yet shared story?

Here are some other facts about us that you should know so that we can have a productive conversation:

iCivics itself is non-partisan. Our mission is to ensure that every student receives a high-quality civic education and becomes engaged in — and beyond — the classroom. The schools that use iCivics content are all over the country, in districts that reflect the entire electoral map of the United States. iCivics serves all of them. The 120,500 teachers and 7.6 million students who use iCivics annually will attest to this.

CivXNow is a coalition of many diverse organizations. These include more than 150 institutions, foundations, universities, and civic education providers that span the ideological spectrum. And it includes such organizations such as the Ronald Reagan Institute, the Y, the Girl Scouts of the U.S., the American Bar Association, and over 150 other institutions and civics providers.

And let us dispel some of the mistruths that have recently been published by stating some other facts:

  • The articles state that iCivics and CivXNow were “closely involved in the development of that Illinois Civics campaign to bring so-called anti racism and Critical Race Theory into the classroom.” We had no involvement in this legislation whatsoever.
  • While some members of our coalition are action civics providers, the amount of action civics in schools today is extremely small compared with other civic education instructional methods represented in our coalition.
  • iCivics and CivXNow do not advocate — and have never advocated — the adoption of a national curriculum. The bipartisan “Educating For Democracy Act,” which we support, proposes that grants to improve civic education be given to states. The only requirement is that they participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (“The Nation’s Report Card) exam in history and civics. This is a bipartisan bill co-introduced by Senators John Cornyn (R., Texas) and Chris Coons (D., Del.), and Representatives Tom Cole (R., Okla.) and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut (D., Conn.).

Americans are troubled by the state of our country, and civic education offers a way forward. Frank Luntz — in a recent pro-bono poll conducted for CivXNow — found that civic education is the most popular solution to what ails our country among a representative sample of the American electorate. Because of disinvestment in civic education, we as a country are not giving our young people what they need to inherit our constitutional democracy. And we believe that we, working together, can fix that problem, but only if we put country first, seek common ground, and abandon the culture war.

Politics & Policy

A Biden-Appointed ‘Reality Czar’? Sure, No Way That Could Backfire

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Any time your defense of a particular proposal — say, the Biden administration creating a “Reality Czar” who would direct a “centralized task force could coordinate a single, strategic response” by the federal government to fight “disinformation” — requires you to write that the idea “sounds a little dystopian, I’ll grant. But let’s hear them out,” as Kevin Roose writes in the New York Times today . . . maybe that’s a good time to stop, take a deep breath, step away from the computer, and rethink whether that dystopian-sounding idea really is such a worthwhile proposal.

Because if you’re trying to fight paranoia, belief in conspiracy theories, and distrust of verifiable official sources, a presidentially appointed “Reality Czar” leading a government-wide effort to stamp out perspectives and arguments that a federal panel has determined is not part of reality is like pouring gasoline on to a fire. This is more or less announcing to people who believe that the government is out to get them that yes, the government is indeed out to get them.

Some of us can remember “Attack Watch,” the widely-mocked Obama-era effort to “help stop the attacks on the President before they start.”

Elections

It’s February, and New York’s 22nd District Still Doesn’t Have a Representative

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The U.S. House of Representatives has held 18 recorded votes so far this year. Three seats remain vacant. In Louisiana’s fifth district, Republican congressman-elect Luke Letlow died December 29, 2020, of COVID-19 before assuming office. In Louisiana’s second district, Representative Cedric Richmond resigned his office January 15 to become the director of the Biden administration’s Office of Public Engagement. Both Louisiana seats will be filled in a special election March 20; if no candidate wins a majority, the top two finishers will head to a runoff held April 24.

In Iowa, Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks won by six votes and was sworn in on January 3. Her Democratic opponent, Rita Hart, insists that 22 votes were not counted and that she won by nine votes. Hart filed a petition with the U.S. House to unseat Miller-Meeks and to seat herself instead.

And then there is New York’s 22nd district, where Republican Claudia Tenney has effectively won, but is still unable to be sworn in:

State Supreme Court Justice Scott DelConte on Monday decided to delay the results of the 22nd Congressional District race for about another week to allow debate on this question:

If the wrong person gets sent to Congress, what can be done about it?

DelConte, overseeing the last undecided congressional race in the country, made the decision to prolong the race even more after a last-minute challenge from Democrat Anthony Brindisi, who is fighting to keep the House seat from Republican Claudia Tenney.

At last count, Tenney led Brindisi by 122 votes of more than 316,000 cast for the two candidates. She appeared to pick up a handful more Monday morning during a court-ordered examination of several ballots that hadn’t yet been reviewed.

Right now, House Democrats enjoy a 221 to 211 majority. A Republican is extremely likely to win in Louisiana’s fifth district, and a Democrat is extremely likely to win in the second district. Thus, when Tenney is seated and the two Louisiana seats are resolved, the Democrats will have a 222 to 213 majority. Republicans will be aiming to win pick up at least five more seats in the 2022 midterms.

Politics & Policy

AOC’s Castigation of Capitol Police

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the floor of the House Chamber during the first session of the 117th House of Representatives on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., January 3, 2021 (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez held an Instagram Live event on Monday during which she described her experience in the days leading up to and on January 6, when the Capitol building was attacked. It’s about an hour and a half long and includes some very moving parts: Ocasio-Cortez explains that she’s a survivor of sexual assault and details what was running through her head when she believed that her office had been breached by rioters and that she was going to die. These harrowing, traumatic ordeals are deserving of the utmost sympathy and understanding. The congresswoman has mine, as well as my prayers.

Her use of her experience on January 6 to smear law enforcement more generally, however, still must be pointed out for what it is: baseless and inappropriate.

A little after 1:00 P.M. on the day of the attack — this is as things were heating up outside the Capitol, but before it had been broken into — Ocasio-Cortez was apparently trying to decide what to order for lunch in her House office when she heard what she describes as “violent” banging on her door: “Boom, boom, boom!” At that point, she ran over to her legislative director who told her, “Hide, hide, run and hide.” She took the advice and hid in her private bathroom, where she continued to hear banging. A few moments later she heard a voice, coming from within her office, repeatedly yelling, “Where is she?” Then the bathroom door opened up, with the congresswoman hiding behind it. It is at this point that Ocasio-Cortez believed her life was coming to an end.

Thankfully, the man in her office was not a rioter, but a member of the Capitol Police who had, as the congresswoman put it, “just open[ed] the door of my personal office and come inside.” Her legislative director yelled from the other room that she should come out and Ocasio-Cortez obliged. She tells the story like this:

I come out and this man is a Capitol police officer. But the story doesn’t end. It’s a Capitol police officer, there was no partner, [he] was not yelling, you know ‘Capitol Police, etc., etc.’ But then it didn’t feel right, because he was looking at me with a tremendous amount of anger and hostility. And things weren’t adding up. Like there was no partner there and no one was yelling, he wasn’t yelling ‘this is Capitol Police, this is Capitol Police!’ And he was looking at me in all of this anger and hostility and at first, in my brain, and in my mind, I’m thinking ‘OK I just came from this super intense experience just now, maybe I’m reading into this. Maybe I’m projecting something onto him, maybe I’m just seeing anger but he’s not trying to be angry.’ But I talked to G, my legislative director, after the fact and he said ‘No, I didn’t know if he was there to help us or hurt us either’ and G was actually like this man came with so much hostility that G was sizing him up and didn’t know if he was going to have to fight him. Like that is how aggressive the situation was in that moment and we couldn’t even tell, we couldn’t read if this was a good situation or a bad situation. Like so many other communities in this country, just that presence doesn’t necessarily give you a clear signal if you’re safe or not. And so the situation did not feel okay.

The officer then gave her instructions on where to shelter.

It’s more than understandable that Ocasio-Cortez and her staffer were frightened by the situation, especially with the crowd amassing outside. Moreover, it’s possible and even probable that the officer could have handled the situation better. And yet, her frustration at the officer and description of his “anger and hostility” seem shoehorned in to fit a political narrative rather than appreciative of the actual situation he and she found themselves in. It was the officer’s duty to protect the congresswoman and her colleagues that day, and the situation outside was quickly devolving. He was presumably given orders to go to members’ offices and provide instructions. With who knows how much time until the building was breached, he used a tone that was probably urgent and perhaps even agitated. As for the question of why he didn’t have a partner, it seems likely that most of the Capitol Police were needed for crowd control at that moment.

Ocasio-Cortez’s description of the incident and her legislative director’s rather disturbing developing plan to confront him physically are more reflective of their own biases than they are of systemic failure on the part of law enforcement. Her fear and confusion can be excused, but her castigation of a man whose life was at risk that day (one officer died during the riot, two more have committed suicide since) cannot be so easily brushed aside.

Using tragedies as a political hammer is never a good look; it’s a particularly ugly one when the nails are its heroes.

Capital Matters

Where the Economy Is Headed

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The Congressional Budget Office has a new report on the topic, with the usual caveat that it involves a lot of guesswork.

Two key indicators: Inflation-adjusted gross domestic product dropped 3.5 percent in 2020, but it’s expected to grow 4.6 percent this year and 2.9 percent next year before settling in around 2 percent annual growth. The unemployment rate, which was below 4 percent before the pandemic hit but averaged 8.1 percent last year, should be around 5 percent this year and gradually fall to 4 percent over the next several. For reference, 5 percent is a pretty low rate historically; it’s where we were in late 2015 and mid-to-late 2005.

After all that’s happened, it’s a decent outlook. The predictions are based on current law as of January 12, so they don’t include any further stimulus.

Science & Tech

Push on to Allow Expanded Human-Embryo Research

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(gorodenkoff/Getty Images)

Back when embryonic-stem-cell and other types of experimentation on early embryos commenced, “the scientists” promised they would always limit their activities to embryos in Petri dishes to the maximum of 14 days in development. Just a collection of undifferentiated cells, they sophistically maintained. We’ll stop when the nervous system begins to develop.

It was all a ruse. The “14 day rule,” as it came to be known, only prevented that which could not be done. You see, the state of the science was such that embryos could not be maintained for longer. But it assuaged the peasants. Besides, the scientists knew that the boundary wasn’t intended to be permanent. It was just a way station until embryos could be maintained outside a woman’s body for more than two weeks.

That time is now arriving, and so, of course, the push is now on to expand the limit to 28 days.

How is that justified, based on past assurances? Well, first deploy relativism.

Scientifically, an embryo is an embryo, wherever it might be located. But we’ll pretend that what really matters regarding moral value is geography. From “The Time has Come to Extend the 14-Day Limit”:

Elsejin Kingma considers the idea that the ‘location of an embryo—whether it is in a pregnant woman or in a petri-dish—may affect its moral status and/or value’. She argues that it is not just the stage of the embryo that is relevant to its moral status or value, but whether it is, or will be, in an environment that promotes its further development. She concludes that this means there is (further) good reason for a moral distinction between ‘research’ embryos and ‘reproductive implanted embryos’.

Given that almost all — if not all — of these bioethicists believe in abortion on demand, this is a load of hooey. Yes, that is the logic, and the paper goes there:

Notwithstanding the importance of the scientific basis for human embryo research, there are ethical and philosophical reasons why this rule is now ready for amendment.

In the UK, in line with the Abortion Act 1967, an abortion is legally permitted up to the 24th week of pregnancy. Conventionally, a human embryo is termed a fetus from 9 weeks after fertilisation. It is legal to abort an embryo or fetus substantially ‘older’ than 14 days, and, with appropriate consent, to do research on its tissues, yet it is illegal to experiment on an embryo beyond 14 days that was never to be implanted.

Why stop at 28 days? What are the limiting principles? What is the permanent line with regard to unborn life beyond which science will never be allowed to go regardless of the potential knowledge to be attained — especially in the U.S., where some states have removed gestational limits on abortion and that is the goal of the national Democratic Party and Biden administration? I can’t see any.

How is this excused? Princeton’s Peter Singer — the New York Times’ favorite moral philosopher — and other bioethicists claim that human life, per se, is morally irrelevant. What matters are capacities — such as self-awareness — that earn that human being the label of “person.”

Embryos are not conscious. Neither are fetuses. They are, hence, human non-persons. So why not permit experimentation and body-part harvesting through the ninth month since, in essence, unborn life are mere things? Indeed, before that time arrives, why not pay women to gestate longer before obtaining an abortion so we could get the parts — an odious idea already proposed in the bioethics literature.

This isn’t just philosophical musing. We may soon have the ability to maintain fetuses in artificial wombs. Once that happens, what is to prevent scientists from creating embryos, implanting them in artificial wombs and treating fetuses as a mere natural resource to be exploited and harvested?

Live fetal experimentation was conducted in the late ’60s, after all, and was only stopped (pre-Roe) because people still believed in the sanctity of human life. That great moral principle no longer holds sway over great swaths of society. The important thing now is preventing suffering by almost any means necessary.

I could go on and on, and probably will. But the bottom line for this post is this: When scientists and bioethicists promise to draw ethical lines about experimenting on unborn life, they don’t really mean it. It’s all a big con. They will only agree to forbid that which they cannot — yet — do. And once they can “go there,” the lines will be redrawn to permit them to do whatever they want.

And then they wonder, “Where is the trust?”

Health Care

Pay Providers More to Administer Vaccines

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How can the U.S. get more vaccine shots off shelves and into arms? “By harnessing the power of simple economics,” say economists Jeffrey Clemens and Joshua Gottlieb.

In an op-ed in The Hill, they note:

For a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine course, Medicare now pays providers $45, too stingy for this crucial service. The crisis calls for more. Even at $200 per course – over four times current rates – it would cost only $66 billion to fully vaccinate every American. For perspective, $66 billion is just 3 percent of President Biden’s proposed relief bill and less than half of a percent of the estimated cost of the pandemic.

Their proposal is simple: Increase reimbursement rates for vaccinations.

Clemens and Gottlieb:

Current incentives are failing to get vaccines administered. When reimbursements barely cover costs, pharmacies, doctors and hospitals have little incentive to act quickly. Through mid-January, the data on vaccine distribution reveal a widespread disregard for the urgency of this effort. Only half of the doses distributed to states have been administered — an appalling record.

Increased payments would motivate providers to pull out all the stops. When it’s lucrative to administer vaccines, providers will compete to find eligible patients and encourage vaccination. Because they know their local populations, they are better positioned than the federal government to overcome vaccine hesitancy and improve equity. They can operate longer hours, make the process more convenient and improve public outreach. For normal medical services, reasonable people can disagree about whether medical reimbursements have gone too far, leading to excessive medical costs. But in the case of COVID-19 vaccines, it is clear we have not gone far enough.

The time to write a detailed distribution plan was last spring. New plans, however, cannot erase past failures or restore the lives we have lost. But President Biden can avoid compounding President Trump’s errors. A repeated cycle of logistically complicated, centralized planning would risk doing just that. Such a plan would take months to work out and, because of messes the Trump administration made, would risk sowing additional confusion. Further, a new wave of centralized logistics planning could introduce as many hurdles as it removes. Research has shown that complexity can, by itself, deter providers from participating.

Religion

Twenty Things that Caught My Eye Today: Pregnant Women & COVID, Hong Kong, & More

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1. The New Yorker: The Coronavirus Vaccine Presents a Dilemma for Pregnant Women

A few days before the procedure, Amanda received an e-mail from hospital administrators saying that the vaccine would be distributed that week. She felt she had been forced to make an impossible choice: taking a vaccine that has not been tested on pregnant women and risking harm to a potential pregnancy, or skipping the vaccine and the protection it offers. “What if I should have waited? What if I do get pregnant and I get covid?” she recalled wondering. “There are just so many unknowns.”

2. Thousands flee Hong Kong for UK, fearing China crackdown

Some are leaving because they fear punishment for supporting the pro-democracy protests that swept the former British colony in 2019. Others say China’s encroachment on their way of life and civil liberties has become unbearable, and they want to seek a better future for their children abroad. Most say they don’t plan to ever go back.

3. Matthew Soerens: 2020 May Finally Be Over, But the Plight of Refugees and Other Immigrants Is Not

Some of the most egregious situations of family separation are likely to change with a new administration: President-elect Biden has promised to dramatically increase refugee admissions and to reunify children and parents separated at the border by the current administration, and he will have the authority to do so by executive action. He could immediately resume overseas visa processing, as evangelical leaders have urged him to do. But other changes – such as reducing backlogs for family reunification visas or any process to allow undocumented immigrants to earn permanent legal status – will require bipartisan congressional action.

A growing number of evangelical Christians, who historically have championed “family values,” argue that the best way to achieve those policy changes – to keep families together and reunite families without eroding the rule of law – would be a restitution-based immigration reform.

4. 

5. New York Times: 9 N.Y. Health Officials Have Quit as Cuomo Scorns Expertise

Even as the pandemic continues to rage and New York struggles to vaccinate a large and anxious population, Mr. Cuomo has all but declared war on his own public health bureaucracy. The departures have underscored the extent to which pandemic policy has been set by the governor, who with his aides crafted a vaccination program beset by early delays.

Continue reading “Twenty Things that Caught My Eye Today: Pregnant Women & COVID, Hong Kong, & More”

U.S.

Lizard People Update

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I very much enjoyed Jim’s post on the anti-vaccine nut in Wisconsin who “believes the Earth is flat and that the sky is not real.” Because I am as poisoned by politics as anybody else, my first thought was, “I wonder who he voted for.”

I have followed the flat-earthers for a while, off and on. They bear out my observation that every conspiracy theory ultimately is every other conspiracy theory, too: flat-earthers, anti-vaccine kooks, Holocaust deniers, 9/11 truthers, Obama truthers, etc., all drinking from the same bottle.

One of the lunatics who was arrested for threatening to murder prominent Democrats was a Trump guy who had been an Occupy Wall Street guy, and also an “Audit the Fed!” moonbat who read dark meanings into the design of the dollar bill. “Talk about a one-eighty,” the New York Daily News said of him, but the angle describing the turn on the journey from Occupy kook to “New World Order” kook to QAnon kook who thinks there are secret mind-control microchips in COVID-19 vaccines is a lot less than 180 degrees — more like 12 degrees or 15 degrees.

By the way, the sky is real — the super-high-frequency microwave radio implanted in my back molar by Bill Gates Soros Rothschild told me so.

Politics & Policy

A Deal Worth Trying

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Senator Mitt Romney (R., Utah) speaks as bipartisan members of the Senate and House gather to announce a framework for fresh coronavirus relief legislation at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., December 1, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Signs of life in the legislative branch are always welcome, and the move by ten Republican senators to propose an alternative to the Democrats’ pandemic-relief bill is certainly such a sign.

The group — which includes Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and Todd Young of Indiana — has offered a set of proposals much more focused than the Democrats’ on the actual needs of the pandemic response. Both substantively and strategically, what they’ve proposed is a smart move.

Substantively, they would accept the core of the administration’s direct COVID response proposal, including money for vaccine distribution, a huge testing expansion fund, and disaster-relief funds — all at the levels President Biden has asked for. Food-stamp funding would also increase at the level Biden requested. The proposal would extend unemployment benefits at their current increased levels through the end of June (rather than at Biden’s even higher level through September), and would replace Biden’s regressive and misguided subsidy for commercial daycare with more funds for the Child Care and Development Block grant — which gives the states flexibility in providing support for low-income families who need child-care options.

The proposal includes less money for schools than the Democrats’ bill, but would direct it specifically to enabling schools to reopen and stay open. It does provide another round of direct payments to individuals, but rather than an additional $1,400 for everyone who received checks in the last round, it would provide an additional $1,000 and would have it start phasing out at $40,000 of income for individuals or $80,000 for couples. And the Republican proposal does not include an increase in the federal minimum wage (which the Democrats would raise to $15 an hour) or an expansion of the Child Tax Credit, along with a few smaller items in the Democrats’ bill.

Strategically, the move could call the Democrats’ bluff, as their emerging strategy for this relief bill has depended on the premise that Republicans are unwilling to make a deal. Rather than start the new president’s term with a bipartisan relief measure (like the five such measures enacted over the past year), and so maybe putting some substance behind President Biden’s talk of seeking compromise, congressional Democrats have decided over the past week to push their bill through the budget-reconciliation process — an element of the congressional budget process intended to enable the passage of measures that touch on spending, taxation, and entitlement reform without facing the risk of a Senate filibuster.

Just a few days into the new president’s term, Democrats began telling themselves that they had waited long enough for Republicans to compromise and had to move on. As the Washington Post put it on Friday (either sarcastically or just amusingly):

A week and a half into the Biden presidency, Democrats are adopting a more muscular approach to dealing with Republicans, essentially declaring they will work with them if they can but are prepared to move past them if they must.

Well, if they must. The trouble of course is that they made no attempt to work with Republicans at all. In fact, President Biden’s first ten days were mostly a blur of divisive partisan stunts, from yet another “comprehensive” immigration proposal (this time, even further to the left, how could it miss?) to executive actions on social issues and the environment to backing away from a commitment to help get schools reopened, and then this use of reconciliation.

Some observers in both parties say Biden is just giving the Left’s activists some scraps, and doing it early to get it over with, but that it amounts to little and will then let him deal with Republicans on more substantive issues. Maybe. But what he is up to is substantive, and some of it (especially the bizarre way he has started off on immigration) will surely get in the way of potential compromise later.

In any case, it isn’t easy to see the case for using reconciliation (which can only be used twice, or at a stretch possibly three times in a legislative year) for a COVID-relief measure that should be able to get through a normal vote. The elements that make the bill controversial — especially the big minimum-wage hike — may have serious trouble getting through the rules of reconciliation anyway. And it’s not at all clear that the Democrats have the 50 votes they’ll need to break or change those rules for this purpose, or indeed that they have the 50 votes for the substance of this bill either. A fair amount of it has caught centrist Democrats off guard, and the administration’s aggressive tactics (including trying to pressure Democratic senator Joe Manchin by putting the vice president on television in his home state without letting him know) aren’t likely to be very effective.

Republican senators showing a willingness to strike a deal will make those moderate Democrats even less likely to support a reconciliation strategy. And of course, that’s part of the point. In a closely divided legislative chamber (and both the House and Senate are very narrowly divided now) each party should want to divide the other, not unify it, while also pursuing a policy course that appeals to voters and is good for the country. And these goals are complementary — a strategy that can divide both parties but garner a majority is likely to strike for the center and to make progress possible. Obviously this has more appeal to the minority party, since it creates the possibility of outcomes far better than those that would result from the majority getting its way alone. But when majorities are so tight that getting their own way is unlikely anyhow, a deal can appeal to the majority too.

This is just the basic logic of legislative dealmaking. But it has been so long since either party pursued a strategy that made any sense that both are out of practice in thinking legislatively. The Democrats have fallen right back into their failed Obama-era strategies (only with far smaller majorities), and too many Republicans are instinctively inclined to fall back to a strategy that lets them complain on talk radio rather than take part in governing.

It’s too soon to say if the proposal of these ten Republicans will get anywhere. They’re meeting with the president Monday evening, and we can see what comes of that. And if their idea isn’t summarily rejected, it will lead to bargaining, not to the outcome they’ve proposed here. The Democrats won’t simply accept dropping all of their most ideologically ambitious proposals from the bill.

There is surely room to deal on some of those. If the Democrats insist on including some increase in the minimum wage, for instance, Republicans could propose indexing the wage to inflation. Such a measure could raise the federal minimum wage to where it would now be if it had been indexed the last time it was raised (so around $9 an hour), and then increase it every year by the rate of inflation, to keep its purchasing power undiminished. That would provide meaningful help to minimum-wage workers while limiting the potential harm of a very large increase in today’s labor market, and also taking the minimum wage off the table as a political issue going forward. A deal on the child tax-credit increase could be even more straightforward, negotiating on its size or reach — though personally I think Republicans should actually support the increase in the administration proposal.

Both parties need to get used to the fact that the Senate is essentially tied, which means that cross-partisan deals will be needed to move legislation. That should define the sorts of proposals they make and the ways they react to one another’s ideas.

The core obstacle to the Democrats getting anything done isn’t really the filibuster at this point. Generally speaking, especially on divisive issues, a bill that can’t get to 60 probably can’t get to 50 either. Senators Manchin and Sinema aren’t sticking to the filibuster because they believe it’s a hallowed institution but because they would rather say no once on what feels like a procedural issue than say no again and again on substantive issues on which they and their voters disagree with their party’s left-wing activists. Bills that pass will generally need to get the support of the ten Democrats and ten Republicans most inclined to deal with the other party, and that bloc of senators has a lot of power and sway now.

This is a good thing, even if you tend to think (as I do) that ideal policy outcomes are to the right of where that block will tend to be. A recovery of legislative muscles, some clarification of the factional lines within both parties, and a return to at least some policymaking by bargaining and accommodation, is absolutely essential to the recovery of our political culture and our institutions. Republicans should try to respond to Democratic proposals by offering alternatives, and Democrats should try to respond to those by bargaining in return. That won’t make for dramatic policy action on controversial issues, but it will make for meaningful legislative action, which will be swifter on those issues that aren’t so controversial (such as pandemic relief and response) and more durable on those that are.

It remains to be seen if President Biden is interested in any of this. He has suggested he would be, and his inaugural address said as much, but his actions since have implied the opposite. If he is, and if he can resist the pressure coming at him from the left wing of his party, it will be worth the while of Republicans to take up real legislative work rather than persist on a path of pointless posturing and lunatic conspiracism.

Whatever becomes of the ten Republican senators’ counterproposal on COVID relief, it should offer a test of everyone’s intentions on this front. It may not work, but it is the path worth trying.

Politics & Policy

South Carolina Prepares to Pass a Heartbeat Bill

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Governor Henry McMaster (R., S.C.) looks on at a rally in Columbia, S.C., June 25, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

South Carolina’s state senate has passed a heartbeat bill to prohibit most abortions after the point that a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which usually takes place around six weeks’ gestation. Over the next few weeks, the state house will consider the bill, and if it passes, it will head to the desk of Republican governor Henry McMaster.

Most observers expect that the heartbeat bill will make it into law this year, as the state house has passed similar measures in previous sessions and McMaster has affirmed that he would sign the legislation.

This latest pro-life effort makes South Carolina one of about a dozen states that have attempted to prohibit abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detectable. In 2019, these laws were enacted in several pro-life states including Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. It was one of the most aggressive state-level legislative efforts to protect unborn children that pro-life lawmakers have ever attempted.

Nearly all of those heartbeat bills, including iterations that a few additional states had attempted to pass several years earlier, have been struck down by judges, who have ruled that the laws are unconstitutional restrictions on the constitutional right to abortion as articulated in Roe v. Wade and subsequent Supreme Court cases.

Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers and advocacy groups already have promised to fight the heartbeat bill in South Carolina if it does take effect. Unfortunately, until the Supreme Court chooses to take a new case addressing the constitutionality of state regulations to protect unborn human beings, it’s likely that further attempts to block heartbeat bills will succeed.

World

One COVID Case Shuts Down a City of Two Million

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A nurse tests a patient for the coronavirus disease at Westmead Hospital in Sydney, Australia, May 12, 2020. (Loren Elliott/Reuters)

We have arguments in the U.S. over the scope and scale of lockdowns, but other democracies don’t even tolerate a debate on the suspension of civil liberties.

In Australia, brutal lockdowns have kept people essentially confined to their homes for weeks and banned travel from one state to another.

Now the city of Perth in Western Australia (population 2 million) has been completely locked down for five days after a single person tested positive for coronavirus.

The afflicted person is a security guard at a hotel for quarantined travelers, and the three people he lives with have all tested negative for the virus. But that was enough to ban people from leaving their homes unless it was to buy food, exercise briefly, or keep medical appointments.

Courts in Australia have looked the other way in a country that was once one of the most respectful of individual liberty in the world. Now, freedom is turned on and off on the most arbitrary set of facts and in total disregard to science.

Burma’s Coup: What to Watch For

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Myanmar’s military checkpoint is seen on the way to the congress compound in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, February 1, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

Myanmar’s military staged a coup on Monday, taking power in the capital of Naypyidaw, declaring a state of emergency, and detaining Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto leader. Since the landmark 2015 election in Burma that ended over half a century of military rule starting in 1962, and brought Suu Kyi to power, much of the world has assumed that democracy in the nation of 54 million people was fully established in the country. The reality has been far different. The military has never fully been brought under civilian control. Nor has it been excluded from sharing in