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Essential Politics: How the shape of Biden's spending plan could define its political impact – Los Angeles Times



Pressure on Democrats to slash the cost of the Biden-Harris administration’s $3.5-trillion spending bill is forcing them to reconsider how they structure and market the ambitious package of social and climate programs at the center of their agenda.

Does it make sense to focus on just a few programs with long lifespans, or is it better to fund a smorgasbord of initiatives over just a few years? What are the implications of targeting programs to those in need, or offering them to a broader section of the electorate?

Good morning and welcome to Essential Politics: Kamala Harris edition. This week I’ll look at how the White House and Democratic lawmakers are seeking to answer such difficult questions. Time is running out on President Biden, Harris and Democrats — they have just a few short weeks to enact complex legislation that could play a key role in determining their electoral fortunes in 2022 and 2024.

Plan will define Harris too

Let’s quickly establish a few points:

1.) This spending package is named for the Biden-Harris campaign slogan, “Build Back Better,” so it’s clearly the centerpiece of their governing agenda.

2.) If you believe Harris is running for president, either in 2024 or 2028, this bill will be a defining aspect of her campaign. If Biden runs for reelection in 2024, as he has indicated, Harris is likely to be his running mate, and the two of them will campaign on whatever they pass.

3.) Resistance from Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.V.) and other holdout Democrats is forcing Biden and congressional leaders to slash the package to around $2 trillion, give or take a few giant rounding errors.

4.) If Democrats can’t make a deal, they get nothing. That is a big problem for a party that is already facing a tough landscape in the 2022 midterm elections.

“There are choices that need to be made,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday. “That’s the point we’re at now, given there will be fewer dollars that will be spent.”

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The pros and cons of shorter programs

The political answers to structuring a deal may differ from policy answers, just as short-term considerations may be at odds with long-term calculations.

Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat and one of the lawmakers closest to Biden, thinks Democrats erred by focusing their sales pitch on the huge price tag of decade-long programs.

Coons said he favors a more limited approach that puts resources into “a few powerful programs and making sure over the next couple of years they have a strong enough impact on families all over the country that folks see what it’s done for them and their families and say, ‘That’s something I want to continue.’”

The senator told my colleague Jennifer Haberkorn, who has written extensively about these Democratic debates, that he would support funding programs only temporarily, out of necessity. That would set up a confrontation with Republicans in upcoming elections over whether to make them last longer.

Coons did not name the programs he would keep, but many Democrats believe those designed to help children — tax credits, childcare subsidies, universal pre-k programs — are among the biggest political winners.

The risk in Coons’ approach is that those programs could find themselves vulnerable to Republican attacks. It took several congressional election cycles for Obamacare, passed in 2010, to become politically popular. In the meantime, Republicans won elections on promises to repeal it, coming closest during the Trump administration.

One reason Obamacare was unpopular at the beginning is that it took time to roll out. Remember the website crashing? Some of Biden’s more ambitious plans could also take time to get going, leaving them at even more risk of political extinction.

Many progressives are willing to take the risk of short-term funding but don’t want to lose other aspects of the plan. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Freemont) told me he would fund things for just a few years. But he does not want to give in to Manchin’s demands to more narrowly target benefits to the poor and working class.

“What you’re talking about is a debate over whether the middle class should be included or not. And progressives say ‘Yes, you should include be included,’” he said.

Progressives like him worry that excluding people will weaken political support for the programs. Instead, he proposes raising taxes on higher earners, while ensuring they are also eligible for such benefits as childcare payments and family leave.

Haberkorn and I wrote about this debate last week. Several economists said that even if Democrats exclude more higher earners from getting paid leave, childcare and other benefits, they will still need to cut some additional pieces of their agenda, such as Medicare expansion, if they want to lower the overall cost to meet Manchin’s demands.

The exact math is still fuzzy because the spending bill has not been evaluated by the Congressional Budget Office.

Bear in mind that some programs on the chopping block are potential political winners. For example, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) champions an expansion of Medicare to cover dental, hearing and vision coverage. Policymakers say it may not be the best use of limited money. But older voters do show up at the polls.

Jason Furman, an economist who advised President Obama during the debate over the Affordable Care Act, told me the administration targeted most of that plan toward getting health insurance for the poorest Americans, those making less than 200% of the poverty limit.

But in a bid to make Obamacare more broadly popular, they sprinkled in a few things designed to please middle and upper middle-class voters. The biggest was guaranteeing that children under the age of 26 could get health insurance on their parents’ plans.

Was that enough of a sweetener? Critics on the left argue that Democrats could have done better politically, and sooner, with a broader program that gave more Americans access to lower cost healthcare.

Furman said the argument that programs targeting the poor are most vulnerable to getting eliminated is “massively overrated.”

He points to Medicaid and the earned income tax credit — programs geared toward lower income Americans that have thrived under both parties.

Furman, who is in touch with Biden administration officials, said the administration is gaming out all the options as it negotiates with Democrats.

“They have their priorities, but their biggest priority is to figure out the magic combination that gets this through Congress,” he said.

There is no evidence that Harris has been a central player in brokering a deal. Officials say she has called numerous lawmakers to win their support. But her main job has been selling the legislation publicly. Harris also plans to be on the road a lot ahead of next year’s mid-terms, helping Democrats run on whatever bill they pass this year.

“Her number one job and role is to help President Biden get this over the finish line,” said Donna Brazile, a former chair of the Democratic National Committee who is close to Harris.

Brazile said Harris has little interest in marking pieces of the legislation as her own. “At the end of the day, vice presidents tend to amplify the president’s message.”

Brazile has some advice on the marketing plan. Like Coons, she would like to see Democrats focus more attention on how regular people’s lives will change and less on the price tag.

“Whether it’s a 10-year program or five-year program, they shouldn’t describe it in terms of a program,” she said.

Instead, she said, Democrats should talk about how many people will be going to college or getting dental coverage or getting help with their childcare.

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The view from Washington

— The House raised the nation’s debt ceiling on Tuesday, averting a default for about three months but setting up a tougher political hurdle for Democrats at the end of the year, reports Jennifer Haberkorn.

— From Chris Megerian: The Port of Los Angeles will begin operating around the clock as the White House pushes to clear supply chain bottlenecks threatening the holiday shopping season and slowing the country’s economic recovery, senior Biden administration officials said.

— Biden will not block a tranche of documents sought by a House committee’s investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, setting up a showdown with former President Trump. Meanwhile, Trump intends to assert executive privilege in the investigation.

The view from California

— The latest in The Times’ extreme heat series from Anna M. Phillips: Major retailers are aggressively expanding their warehouses against a backdrop of increasing temperatures in Southern California. Workers say they’re boiling inside.

— When two of the fiercest rivals in all of professional sports — teams 400 miles apart in California — face off in a dramatic playoff series, what’s a politician to do? Choosing Dodgers or Giants is easier for some than others, writes Seema Mehta.

— Gov. Gavin Newsom has seen plenty of legislation this week, including a bill allowing cannabis advertising on freeway billboards (vetoed); one outlawing the sale of new gas-powered lawn mowers, leaf blowers and chain saws (signed into law); and others reducing prison sentences for people convicted of drug- and gang-related crimes (signed.)

Sign up for our California Politics newsletter to get the best of The Times’ state politics reporting.

Stay in touch

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Doug Ford says Ontario opposition playing politics over his 'bang on' comments about immigrants – CTV Toronto



Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he believes opposition parties are playing politics over his comments on immigrants and said he’s been told his remarks were “bang on.”

Ford was asked on Wednesday by Brampton East MPP Gurratan Singh in Question Period whether he is ready to apologize for the comments that “play into racist stereotypes about new Canadians.”

“Those comments were hurtful, divisive, and wrong,” Singh said.

Ford responded to Singh by saying he has been “inundated with messages from your community, the Sikh community, that said ‘You were bang on.'”

The comments about immigrants were made in Tecumseh while Ford was speaking to reporters about a labour shortage on Monday.

“We’re in such desperate need of people from around the world,” he said. 

The premier then specified that he only wanted “hard-working” people to come to Ontario.

“You come here like every other new Canadian. You work your tail off,” Ford said. “If you think you’re coming to collect the dole and sit around, it’s not going to happen. Go somewhere else.”

On Wednesday, Singh asked Ford if he was ready to apologize, adding the comments were “just plain wrong.”

“Stop playing politics and let’s speak the truth,” Ford responded to Singh. “You know the backbone of this province are great hard-working immigrants.”

“My phone is blowing up all night, all day, day before, from immigrants telling me their story … I’m the biggest pro-immigrant premier we’ve ever seen here.”

Ford told Singh he will “go to his community and door knock and see the response from the Sikh community.”

He said he’s been told already by the Sikh community that his comments were “bang on” and that he needs to “stay focused.”

Many Ontario politicians spoke out and demanded Ford apologize on Monday.

Ford was asked on Tuesday by the NDP to apologize for the “discriminatory” comments. He did not, and instead used the opportunity to say he is “pro-immigration.” 

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How green politics are changing Europe – BBC News



The Greens

An ocean of conservative blue blankets the electoral map in Germany’s southern state of Bavaria.

And yet the conservative vote actually fell across Germany in last month’s federal vote, while the Greens achieved their biggest success yet,.

In an election dominated by climate change, a speck of green has made a ripple in Bavaria. For the first time a Greens candidate was directly elected to represent Bavaria in the federal parliament.

It is symbolic of the creeping rise in support for European green parties, from Hungary to Finland.

Bavaria's electoral map

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The new MP, Jamila Schäfer, beamed with satisfaction when she recalled her surprise victory in Munich-South, by a wafer-thin margin of 0.8%. Only once before had the CSU lost the constituency since 1976.

“This is a major sign of change,” Ms Schäfer told the BBC.

A campaign ‘close to the people’

The Greens won 14.8% of the vote nationwide, appealing beyond their eco-protest roots with Annalena Baerbock standing as candidate for chancellor. Now they are in talks to share power as part of a three-way coalition.

Greens co-leaders Angelina Baerbock (L) and Robert Habeck (R)

Getty Images

Ms Schäfer, 28, is the Greens’ deputy federal chairwoman and typifies a party that has undergone a national makeover after years of power-sharing in several German states (Länder).

She rose through the ranks of Green Youth, taking part in school strikes against education reforms, long before Swedish activist Greta Thunberg made her name by skipping classes for climate protests.

Climate change was consistently ranked as the most serious facing Germany in opinion polls ahead of the election.

Even so, Ms Schäfer targeted her “close-to-the-people” campaign in Munich-South on housing, pensions and taxes.

Green shoots of success

Once ridiculed by many as idealistic hippies, Green parties increased their vote share in 13 European countries at the most recent national elections. In six of those countries – Austria, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg and Sweden – green parties have a share of power in coalition governments.

A map showing the countries where green parties hold power

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In all those cases, the Greens are pressing their partners to adopt more ambitious targets for lowering carbon emissions. Elsewhere, the green mayors of Amsterdam and Budapest are aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050 and 2030 respectively – to balance the greenhouse gases emitted and absorbed by their cities.

Despite last month’s election success for the German Greens, even co-leader Ms Baerbock admitted they had failed to live up to early opinion poll ratings: “We wanted more. We didn’t achieve that.”

Given the urgency of curbing emissions, what’s holding the Greens back?

Trust and fear of change

One explanation is that mainstream parties across Europe have elevated climate change to the top of their agendas.

“If you’re concerned about the climate, it doesn’t follow that you’re going to vote green,” Adam Fagan, a political scientist at King’s College, London, said. “It means you’re going to scrutinise the manifestos of the main parties for their green credentials.”

A map showing the percentage of votes for green parties in recent European elections

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Green parties tend to do better in countries with more proportional systems, as used by the European Union for its parliamentary elections. For example, the Greens/EFA bloc gained 25 seats with 10.8% of the vote in the 2019 election to the European Parliament.

“People think putting the Greens in power [in the EU] is less dangerous,” said Philippe Lamberts, co-president of the Greens/EFA.

“From the right and the left, there’s always a question hanging over us: can you really trust the Greens with the economy?”

National election results suggest the answer is no.

To reduce emissions, the Greens say big structural changes to the economy are needed. While those reforms are necessary, they scare people and put them off voting green, Ms Schäfer said.

“They’re worried they’ll be the losers of big transformation,” the MP said. “It’s a lack of control that people are afraid of. But we need to convince people that our politics is not about giving up control.”

‘Killing the planet’

It’s even more difficult in Southern and Eastern European countries, where support for green parties is fragmented or non-existent. Surveys show that climate change is far from a top priority in post-communist countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Lithuania.

Voters and political parties there are generally more concerned about economic development or migration, leaving environmental issues to civil society groups.

Mr Lamberts believes voters find the message that their country’s model is “killing the planet” unpalatable.

Unlike in many of the other former Soviet-bloc states, green parties have made inroads in Hungary.

Gergely Karácsony

Getty Images

The green LMP party has won seats in three consecutive national elections since 2010, while Dialogue received 11.9% of the vote in an alliance with the Hungarian Socialists in 2018.

Dialogue’s success came under the leadership of Gergely Karacsony, who was elected mayor of Budapest in 2019.

He defeated the nationalist incumbent by rallying opposition parties behind his liberal platform, and promising solutions not only to environmental issues, but economic and social ones too.

“In Hungary today, there are three different crises. A democratic crisis, a social crisis and an environmental crisis,” Budapest’s mayor told the BBC. “The advantage of the green movement is that we have proposals for all three.”

He linked green policies such as urban foresting and carbon-free public transport to Hungary’s poor record on air quality and other environmental problems.

Particularly in post-Soviet countries, the mayor said, social justice must go hand in hand with the green transition.

“We cannot put the costs of sustainability on disadvantaged segments of society.”

Jamila Schäfer speaking at an event

Andreas Gregor

What worked in Budapest may not necessarily follow elsewhere, but green candidates have achieved electoral success where they have channelled voter discontent, united the opposition and diversified their offer beyond the environment.

If the Greens can build on these gains, there is a future for them in coalitions, Professor Fagan said.

“Green politics in Europe is getting bigger and stronger, and I’m sure it will grow in the coming years,” Ms Schäfer said.

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Biden says he’s concerned about Chinese hypersonic missiles



U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he is concerned about Chinese hypersonic  missiles, days after a media report that Beijing had tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide weapon.

Asked by reporters as he was boarding Air Force One for a trip to Pennsylvania whether he was concerned about Chinese hypersonic missiles, Biden said, “Yes.”

The Financial Times said at the weekend that China had tested a weapon in August that flew through space and circled the globe before cruising down toward a target that it missed. China’s foreign ministry denied the report.


(Reporting by Nandita Bose; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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