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D.C. Memo: Deal with it

Biden announces a new compromise reconciliation framework, Facebook’s algorithms get exposed and a rally for Supreme Court reform.

photo of joe biden waving
President Joe Biden unveiled a new $1.75 trillion package in the hopes that it will appeal to “all Democrats” in the Senate and get past the House.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Hello and welcome back to the D.C. Memo. This week you can find me listening to my Prince vinyl records while writing this week’s edition — and there’s a D.C. connection, I promise. Here’s what else is going on this week: Biden announces a new compromise reconciliation framework, Facebook’s algorithms get exposed and Sen. Tina Smith and Rep. Ilhan Omar hold a rally for Supreme Court reform.

Biden attempts to save spending bill

All eyes on Capitol Hill have been on the budget package of late. As a reminder, this is the fiscal 2022 budget, which can be passed through a process called reconciliation, which means it only needs a simple majority vote in the Senate. This makes it easier for Democrats, who control the House, to push some of their major priorities through Congress without having to meet the usual 60-vote majority in the Senate, which is currently split 50-50 along party lines.

The original text of the bill was filled to the brim with democratic and progressive priorities like federally mandated paid family leave, universal child care, Medicare expansions, a major climate initiative and free community college.

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But some Democrats (especially Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona) have been whittling down the bill, originally set at a roughly $3.5 trillion price tag, to both cost less and do less.

This morning, President Joe Biden unveiled a new $1.75 trillion package in the hopes that it will appeal to “all Democrats” in the Senate and get past the House. Here’s what a White House memo says the new plan will include:

  • Free preschool for every 3- and 4-year-old in the U.S. and extending the Child Tax Credit, which gives families up to $300 per month per child.
  • Capping child care expenses for millions of Americans — families of four earning less than $300,000 per year will pay no more than seven percent of their income on child care for children under age six.
  • Reducing health care premiums by an average of $600 per year for over 9 million Americans who buy insurance through Affordable Care Act exchanges.
  • A framework to cut greenhouse gas emissions by “well over one gigaton” by 2030 and investing in a “21st century clean energy economy” with updates to buildings, transportation, electricity and agriculture.
  • Investing in affordable housing by funding rental assistance and expanding a housing voucher program.
  • Reducing immigration backlogs with an investment of $100 billion, though this wouldn’t overhaul the system or provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

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However, Biden’s new plan also cuts out some major parts of the original bill, including:

  • A fuller expansion of Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices.
  • Medicare coverage for dental and vision.
  • A “billionaire tax” that would have targeted unrealized capital gains for people with over $1 billion in assets or $100 million in income for at least three consecutive years.
  • A plan to provide at least four months of paid family leave to millions of Americans.
  • Two years of free community college tuition.
  • The Clean Electricity Performance Program, which would have provided financial incentives for electric utilities to transition away from fossil fuels.

The White House maintains that the plan will be fully paid for by raising taxes on large corporations and the “wealthiest Americans.” As of now, no one making less than $400,000 per year will see a raise in taxes to pay for this bill.

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Some Minnesota lawmakers have been working to get their priorities into this bill. Sen. Tina Smith has played a major role in the child care and universal pre-k portions of this bill, and joined with 15 other senators last Friday urging President Biden to include $450 billion for these priorities. Right now, the framework includes $400 billion for child care and pre-K, so they got pretty close.

Second District Rep. Angie Craig met with Biden and other top officials charged with enacting Biden’s economic agenda on Tuesday.

“In our meeting, I communicated my desire to prioritize provisions that would lower out-of-pocket health care costs for middle-class families, provide a substantial investment in rural communities and create good-paying jobs for hardworking Minnesotans. I also reiterated my support for extending the child tax credit and the Rural Partnership Program, which would empower local communities to grow and support family farmers. What I heard from the White House today was encouraging,” Craig said.

Eighth District Rep. Pete Stauber wrote to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader of the Senate Chuck Schumer demanding that they cut the Clean Electricity Performance Program, or carbon tax, from reconciliation negotiations and any future consideration. (This program did not appear in Biden’s newly announced plan today.)

“We need a reliable and resilient energy grid that provides low-cost energy to American families. This can only be accomplished by supporting an all-of-the-above approach, not picking winners and losers from Washington, D.C.,” Stauber wrote.

Open Facebook

It seems like every week we learn a little more about the internal workings of Facebook — earlier this month, Congress heard from a Facebook whistleblower who revealed how the company targeted kids and contributed to harmful behaviors like eating disorders, especially in young girls. This week, a new report from the Washington Post unveiled that five years ago, Facebook programmed an algorithm that pushes more emotional and provocative content to users, especially including content likely to make them angry.

Starting in 2017, Facebook gave its users emojis to react to posts, including “love,” “haha,” “wow,” “sad” and “angry.” The new ranking algorithm treated emoji reactions as five times more valuable than “likes,” internal documents reveal. “The theory was simple: Posts that prompted lots of reaction emoji tended to keep users more engaged, and keeping users engaged was the key to Facebook’s business,” the Post article said.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who has been a central figure in the fight to regulate tech giants like Facebook, issued a statement on the findings from the “Facebook Papers,” which were central to the Post’s article.

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“For too long, tech companies have said ‘Trust us, we’ve got this.’ Now the extent to which Facebook has put profits over people is becoming more and more clear. There’s a lot to discover in these papers about how the platform promotes extremism and hurts our communities, but here’s what is clear: Facebook knew. The time has come for action from all sides to rein in big tech. We need to revisit the laws and hold these companies accountable when they spread disinformation and target vulnerable users with harmful content,” Klobuchar said.

Facebook’s role in stoking extremism like that which fueled the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol is still being investigated by Congress. You can expect Klobuchar to continue playing a major role in those investigations and hearings.

Purple Rain, gold medal

Minnesota lawmakers want to make Minnesota music legend Prince Rogers Nelson a posthumous recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal.

The resolution was led by Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Ilhan Omar and introduced by the full Minnesota delegation, a move that might be the only time all eight representatives and two senators have actually agreed on anything. Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called…partisan tensions? Sorry, I tried.

The bill honors Prince for his “legacy of musical achievement and… indelible mark on Minnesota and American culture.”

“I remember when I first came to America being captivated by Prince’s music and impact on the culture,” Omar said. “He showed that it was okay to be a short, Black kid from Minneapolis and still change the world. He not only changed the arc of music history; he put Minneapolis on the map.”

Minnesotans at the Supreme Court

On Tuesday, Rep. Ilhan Omar and Sen. Tina Smith joined lawmakers and progressive activists for a rally in front of the Supreme Court to advocate for reforming the Court. The rally took place one year to the day of the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, whose confirmation was pushed through during the Trump administration after the death of former Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“Our democracy is on the line right now. Voting rights, reproductive rights, health care, racial justice, climate reform, dc statehood, and democracy itself are all under attack from Donald Trump and all of his republican cronies,” Omar said in a speech in front of the court. “Over the past few months, we have watched the 6-3 court as they gutted the Voting Rights Act, resurrected Trump’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ immigration policy, ended the COVID eviction moratorium and effectively ended Roe v. Wade in Texas…let’s not forget, these seats were stolen.”

Smith has also been vocal about expanding the Supreme Court, and was the first cosponsor on a bill to increase the number of justices in the Court that was introduced last month.

What I’m reading

  • “Red America’s compassion fatigue: A report from Mobile, Alabama,” The New Republic. A long read, but a good one. Reporter Marion Renault spoke with some people in the minority in Mobile: those who got their COVID-19 vaccines. Renault explores the nuanced reality of feeling as if a lifesaving choice is the most unpopular in one’s community. Even if the subject isn’t of interest to you, the writing is superb. Highly recommend.
  • “These 37-year-olds are afraid of the 23-year-olds who work for them,” New York Times. Gen Z has officially entered the American workforce, and they are shaking things up. According to this piece, they’re delegating tasks to their bosses, taking days off for mental health and period cramps and generally making their Millennial colleagues feel old. Kids these days, am I right? This story is funny to me, as someone exactly on the cusp between Millennials and Gen Z. I definitely identify more with Millennial culture, but something tells me the kids are doing something right when it comes to workplace expectations.

That’s all from me this week. Thanks for reading. As always, please feel free to send any questions, comments or your favorite Prince song to ahackett@minnpost.com, or find me on Twitter at @byashleyhackett.