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U.S. House passes Biden’s $1.75 trillion social spending bill, sending to Senate

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President Joe Biden’s $1.75 trillion bill to bolster the social safety net and fight climate change passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday and headed to the Senate, where divided moderates and liberals still need to reach agreement.

The House passed the measure in a 220-213 vote, which was postponed for hours by an angry overnight opposition speech from the chamber’s top Republican. Elated Democrats gathered on the House floor to cheer the vote with waves of applause, while disgruntled Republicans called for order.

“Now, the Build Back Better Act goes to the United States Senate, where I look forward to it passing as soon as possible so I can sign it into law,” Biden said in a statement following the vote.

Senate Democrats hope to reach agreement by the end of December with centrist Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who have raised concerns about the bill’s size and some of its provisions.

Deliberations over an assortment of prickly issues, ranging from tax policy to government-paid family leave benefits, are likely to alter the measure before it can pass the chamber. A defection by any of the Senate’s 48 Democrats and the two independents who caucus with them would sink the bill, which faces united Republican opposition.

“Good luck in the Senate,” Republican Representative Kat Cammack told Democrats, as she delivered a final set of Republican proxy votes against the bill.

An altered Senate version would require the House to vote again before Biden could sign the measure into law.

But with the initial House passage complete and the recent enactment of a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, Biden and his Democratic allies have considerable momentum as the measure approaches the finish line.

“At the end of the day we will have a great bill,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters after the vote.

The bill has been scaled down substantially from Democrats’ initial $3.5 trillion plan but would still invest billions to expand education, lower healthcare costs and tackle climate change.

Friday’s House vote came after Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spoke for a record-setting 8-1/2 hours starting late Thursday. He cataloged a list of Republican grievances – some related to the bill and some not – and at times shouted down Democrats in the House who were openly dismissive.

In a dig at McCarthy, Pelosi later raised chuckles with her own speech supporting the bill, saying: “As a courtesy to my colleagues, I will be brief.”

“If you are a parent, a senior, a child, a worker, if you are an American, this bill’s for you, and it is better,” said Pelosi, whom Biden later called to congratulate.

Only one Democrat, Representative Jared Golden of Maine, voted against the measure, saying its tax provisions were too generous to the wealthy. But Golden vowed in an early morning tweet to “keep pushing to make changes … so that it lives up to its goals.”

The House vote follows the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate that the bill would raise federal budget deficits by $367 billion over 10 years, but that additional revenues from improved Internal Revenue Service tax collections could generate a net increase in revenues of $127 billion through 2031.

The White House estimates the IRS changes will generate $400 billion in additional revenue and says the bill overall will reduce deficits by $112 billion over a decade.

Several moderate Democrats, including Golden, had said they needed the CBO’s assessment before they would vote. The others accepted the White House’s math.

The legislation follows the infrastructure investment bill that Biden signed into law this week – two key pillars of the Democratic president’s domestic agenda – and a separate $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that passed in March.

 

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, David Morgan and Moira Warburton, additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Katharine Jackson and Ismail Shakil; Editing by Scott Malone, Alex Richardson and Jonathan Oatis)

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Russia criticises U.S. over threat of escalation with Iran at IAEA

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Russia on Friday chided the United States for threatening a diplomatic escalation with Iran at the U.N. nuclear watchdog next month unless it improves cooperation with the agency, saying it risked harming wider talks on the Iran nuclear deal.

The United States threatened on Thursday to confront Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency if it does not give way on at least one of several conflicts with the IAEA, especially its refusal to let the IAEA re-install cameras at a workshop after an apparent attack in June.

“I believe that demonstrates that our American counterparts lose patience but I believe all of us need to control our emotions,” Russia’s ambassador to the IAEA Mikhail Ulyanov told a news conference with his Chinese counterpart.

“I don’t welcome this particular statement of the U.S. delegation (at the IAEA). It’s not helpful.”

Indirect talks between the United States and Iran aimed at reviving the battered 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers are due to resume on Monday after a five-month break that started after the election that brought Iranian hardline President Ebrahim Raisi to power.

The 2015 deal lifted sanctions against Iran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear activities. Then-President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the agreement in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions against Tehran.

Iran responded by breaching many of the restrictions, reducing the time it would need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb if it wanted to. Tehran denies that it would ever seek atomic weapons.

“The U.S. did not negotiate with the Iranians for a very long time and forgot that Iranians don’t do anything under pressure. If they are under pressure, they resist,” Ulyanov said, apparently referring to the fact that U.S. and Iranian envoys are not meeting directly.

 

(Reporting by Francois Murphy, Editing by William Maclean)

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Extremist Politics Threatens Chile's Economic Miracle – Bloomberg

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Chile has for decades been Latin America’s most stable nation and one of its most prosperous. Its pro-business outlook has drawn foreign direct investment and fueled economic growth, and its record in reducing poverty has been impressive. Much of that is now thrown into question. After the recent first round of elections, the two front-runners for the presidency are extremists — an ultraconservative who seems nostalgic for the dictatorial rule of Augusto Pinochet, and a leftist who promises not merely to reform but to dismantle Chile’s economic model. It’s hard to say which of these agendas might prove more toxic.

The candidate of the far right, José Antonio Kast, emerged with a narrow lead heading into the runoff vote on Dec. 19. His platform is thin on economics and heavy on social conservatism and authoritarian messaging. His counterpart on the left, Gabriel Boric, promises radical change to combat inequality, rein in capitalism and dethrone market forces. “If Chile was the birthplace of neoliberalism,” he explains, “it will also be its grave.”

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Now, more than ever, the N.W.T. government needs party politics – CBC.ca

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This column is an opinion by former Yellowknife MLA Kieron Testart. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

In 2019 near the end of my term as an MLA, I proposed implementing a caucus system that, among other things, would allow for political discipline of MLAs. At the time MLAs rejected any changes that would limit their jealously-guarded independence. What they failed to recognize was that this proposal was not about imposing discipline, rather it was about enabling politicians to effectively discipline MLAs when required. 

The Norn affair and the pronounced lack of any real accountability in the legislature over the government’s failings are the consequences of being governed by a gang of loosely aligned political independents who lack common vision and leadership.

This point was made by MLA Rylund Johnson who said, “In party systems, the party whip would probably make sure this never happens. Party caucuses would kick members out and make them irrelevant …Those aren’t tools that we have in consensus government.”

The consensus system is based on little more than good intentions and is powerless to address its own failings, with MLAs routinely using their constituents as a convenient smoke screen for their own bad behaviour. 

Sound familiar? It should, it happens all the time with the recent example of Steve Norn being the most spectacular failure of political will to date in the 19th Assembly.

Norn’s sustained attacks on his colleagues and the legislature were left virtually unchecked by MLAs, who stood by silently. Public confidence in elected officials has been shaken to the point that two former premiers have taken the extraordinary step of publicly criticizing sitting MLAs. Scandal and policy failures have become the chief commodity of the Legislative Assembly and Caroline Cochrane’s government.

While other provinces acted swiftly with new spending and policies to bolster their economies and attract new health-care workers, the Cochrane government has wrung its hands, paralyzed by bureaucratic inertia. We have watched in real time as our health-care system has buckled and broken under the strain of the pandemic, with no plan yet released for economic recovery after months and months of delay. And despite the outcry from Northerners for their government to act, the “unofficial opposition” of regular MLAs is absent, or at least silent, unable to muster the courage and unify to demand better government from the cabinet. 

In the Northwest Territories the people have a choice in who gets to take power but not in how that power is used, nor can they hold the powerful accountable during elections. MLAs appoint the premier and cabinet, who are solely accountable to each other. This means that voters have no say over who forms government or what that government does for its four-year term and cannot hold that government accountable for its decisions. This leaves accountability in the hands of an undisciplined committee of regular MLAs who lack resources, staff, and experience to provide alternatives to cabinet policies. Public policy development and implementation are the sole domain of unelected bureaucrats in the government’s senior management.

Despite the constant mythologizing of consensus government as a superior form of government, founded in the traditions of Indigenous Peoples, the fact is none of the N.W.T.’s self-governing Indigenous nations use consensus systems, nor did Indigenous people design the system when it was first implemented decades ago. That honour falls to federal bureaucrats when they devolved responsible government to our young territory. Despite their frustration, Northerners continue to consent to an undemocratic democracy where their electoral choices have been reduced to little more than an overblown hiring competition. 

A culture of silence has taken root in the N.W.T.’s democratic discourse. The fear of reprisal from those in power forces many to whisper in the back of coffee shops and speak anonymously to reporters, when they ought to be able to freely express their own views and see those views transformed into political action.

There was a time that the consensus system served Northerners well. But that time has passed, made clear by persistent scandal and public policy implosions that have not stopped since the last election. We’ve seen devolution create a modern N.W.T. granted nearly full responsibility over its land and resources. It is now time for evolution to transform our political system into a modern multi-party democracy that can provide unity and real action on the most pressing issues.

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