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Infrastructure Year: Dems brace for brutal slog to pass Biden’s $2.5T plan

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Infrastructure Year: Dems brace for brutal slog to pass Biden’s $2.5T plan

“Three votes. Three votes,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said in an interview. “It’s tough in the House with how tight things are, but I think it will be approved. … I don’t mean it will be approved easily and people will be laying outside on the grass while the vote’s going on, sipping on iced tea. It’s going to be hard work.”

The infrastructure debate amounts to a political ultra-marathon for Biden and his Democratic-led Congress, a stark contrast with the mostly breezy path to approving Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill. Party leaders will be under immense pressure from their base to deliver, while also protecting the political future of their most endangered members, some of whom are already anxious about GOP attacks on proposed tax hikes, ahead of the midterm elections.

Pelosi has privately told her caucus that she aims to get the package through the House by the Fourth of July — an aggressive timeline that would give leadership roughly six weeks in session to finish assembling the package and secure the votes. Some senior Democrats are already warning that timeline could slip.

“The bigger it is, the more finesse you’ve got to have,” centrist Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said in an interview. “Highways, infrastructure? Easy. Water projects? Easy. How you pay for it? Let’s take a look. And if you start adding climate? Well, what exactly are you talking about?”

Democrats so far have mostly praised the package, though some are already itching to put their own stamp on the bill. And with local projects at the center of the package, virtually every lawmaker will become a de facto lobbyist for their home-state priorities, from the $10 billion-plus Gateway Tunnel in New York to the $2.5 billion replacement for Cincinnati’s Brent Spence Bridge.

“I’m sure I’m like a lot of Democrats: I want to make sure that Virginia’s needs are taken care of in a package like this,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). “Every Democrat will be asking about the same thing.”

Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) pointed to Biden’s proposal to expand broadband access as one area he wanted to see accelerated. But, he stressed, lawmakers need to act as quickly as possible: “I believe that Congress needs to get it done this year.”

Biden’s rollout appeared designed to appeal to the GOP, and the president called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell ahead of the formal unveiling. But Republicans say the White House is just paying lip service to Biden’s bipartisanship pledge — or trying to redefine it altogether. The president’s party muscled its Covid relief bill through Congress without a single GOP vote, marketing the package as bipartisan because it polled well with 75 percent of voters.

Democrats haven’t fully given up on getting GOP votes for the infrastructure effort; several, including Kaine, said they would keep trying. But even if Schumer uses the filibuster-proof protections of the budget process to pass the massive bill, Senate rules may stop him from getting Biden’s complete proposal to a floor vote.

Perhaps the biggest elbow Biden’s infrastructure package throws at Republicans is its move to pay for new spending on roads, bridges and clean energy by partly undoing their 2017 tax cut bill, their signature legislative accomplishment in the Trump era. Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, the House Ways and Means Committee’s top GOP member, said the proposed business tax hikes are a non-starter for Republicans and only served as more proof that Biden isn’t serious about attracting their support.

“Democrats don’t give a flip discussing infrastructure with Republicans,” Brady said in an interview, or else they “would not have proposed a business rate that is worse than China and equal to Syria and France.”

“It is a major economic blunder,” he added.

Democrats defended Biden’s plan to pay for the package as only a partial easing of the corporate tax cuts the GOP passed. The White House’s proposal would raise rates to a level that’s still lower than the 35 percent corporate tax that Republicans slashed in 2017.

“If you talk to many of those in corporate America … I think the 28 percent corporate tax structure does not take away their competitiveness on a global scale,” Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) said in an interview, noting that the tax rate set under Trump was “far too low.”

But it’s not just the proposal’s tax hikes that frustrate the GOP. Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called the plan an “out-of-control socialist spending spree” and urged Biden to look at a bipartisan highway bill instead.

Biden’s first legislative rollout focused on the $2.5 trillion infrastructure plan, though his administration has told lawmakers that it will unveil the second phase in two weeks. That follow-up measure will include an expansion of healthcare access, including the Affordable Care Act, and other social welfare programs. Democrats have not yet decided whether to combine those two plans into a single package on the floor, though some Democratic Hill sources said it’s likely his best chance to get both priorities passed.

Bringing every Democrat aboard such a legislative ocean liner won’t be easy, and some fissures within the party are already beginning to surface.

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Politics

The GOP-Big Business Divorce Goes Deeper Than You Think

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The GOP-Big Business Divorce Goes Deeper Than You Think

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a legendary business professor and associate dean at the Yale School of Management, has watched this split grow in recent years, and has heard it from CEOs he knows and works with. What the GOP cares about and what major businesses care about is, increasingly incompatible, he says.

“The political desire to use wedge issues to divide — which used to be fringe in the GOP — has become mainstream,” Sonnenfeld says. “That is 100 percent at variance with what the business community wants. And that is a million times more important to them than how many dollars of taxes are paid here or there.”

Over the weekend, Sonnenfeld hastily organized a Zoom conference with roughly 100 major corporate executives to talk through the voter restrictions being considered by state legislatures throughout the country, and about the way top Republicans like McConnell and Ted Cruz are responding with attacks on businesses that speak up in opposition.

Most of the CEOs on the call were Republicans; Sonnenfeld himself has been an informal adviser to both Republican and Democratic presidents, but he has a longstanding relationship with McConnell, and spoke at the senator’s wedding to Elaine Chao. The CEOs “ranged from amused to outraged” in their reaction to the GOP attacks on businesses, says Sonnenfeld. “Their comments ranged from talk about ‘taxation without representation’ to the paradox of ‘cancel culture’: It’s OK if they speak out, but only as long as they stay on script?”

As the GOP tries to position itself as the home of “working-class values,” capturing loyalty with a steady campaign against the perceived excesses of progressive culture, it’s running afoul of a business community that can’t simply silo off “culture war” topics. In the eyes of major corporations, issues like voting rights, immigration and transgender-inclusive restrooms have economic impact, too. The millions of people alienated by those fights aren’t just their future customers, many of whom expect to support brands they believe in, they’re the companies’ employees.

“The bad news for Republicans is that they seem to have a 1920s view of who big business’s workforce is,” says Sonnenfeld. “That workforce is, at a minimum, highly diverse — and they get along. Trying to stir that up is misguided.”

The new Republican penchant for mocking corporations for being too socially aware — for instance, Sen. Ted Cruz’s Twitter threat to use the power of the state to harm Major League Baseball’s business, signing the message off with “go woke, go broke” — fundamentally misunderstands what matters to business in the 21st century, says Sonnenfeld. “Basically, business leaders believe that it’s in the interest of society to have social harmony… Divisiveness in society is not in their interest, short term or long term.”

If the marriage between the Republican Party and the business community is on the rocks, what does that mean for politics? What do we misunderstand about what really matters to CEOs? And why aren’t business executives more afraid of boycott threats from the right?

For answers to all of that and more, POLITICO Magazine spoke with Sonnenfeld this week. A condensed transcript of that conversation follows, edited for length and clarity.

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Pence has pacemaker implanted – POLITICO

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Pence has pacemaker implanted - POLITICO

Former Vice President Mike Pence had a pacemaker implanted on Wednesday, his office announced in a release Thursday.

After being named to Donald Trump’s ticket in 2016, Pence disclosed that he had been diagnosed with an asymptomatic left bundle branch block, he said. In the past two weeks, Pence’s office said he had begun to have symptoms related to a “slow heart rate.”

Pence then had the pacemaker inserted in a successful “routine surgery” at Inova Fairfax Medical Campus in Falls Church, Va., his office said in the statement. Pence is “expected to fully recover and return to normal activity in the coming days,” the statement said.

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Yang tweets about street vendors — and ignites fury on the left

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Yang tweets about street vendors — and ignites fury on the left

“No one is saying this but you,” the NYC chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, which has not endorsed in the race, tweeted Sunday. “We don’t need more cops arresting street vendors.”

The fight over street vendors in New York City encompasses multiple hot debates — from aggressive policing of women selling churros in subways, to the onerous fees lunch cart operators, often immigrants, pay to permit holders. Food trucks and carts are primary sources of income for many immigrants, and granting more permits to halal carts, hot dog stands and churros vendors has long been a fraught political battle — more so now as brick-and-mortar restaurants struggle to come back from the pandemic.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer, whose mayoral campaign so far has been lagging in the polls, headed to Queens Monday with leading Latina supporters to denounce Yang’s support for more enforcement.

“He wants to start a crackdown on vendors and send enforcement after the immigrant communities that powered us through the pandemic,” Stringer, a career politician running as a progressive, said at Corona Plaza, a popular spot in Queens for Latin American food vendors.

“How can you claim to love New York City and want to throw hardworking New Yorkers who make a living in jail? What is that about? Maybe he just wants to take their carts away, send them home with $10,000 fines they can never pay off,” he said. “This is a criminalization of poverty.”

He was joined by state Sen. Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, two politicians popular with progressives who have endorsed his campaign.

Ramos (D-Queens) said she was “hurt” and “offended” by Yang’s comments. “You can’t be mayor of the city of New York if you don’t know how the city of New York works,” she said. “It is not that [vendors] do not want a permit, it is that they can’t obtain a permit because there is a BS cap on the limited number of vending permits that are given out.”

Yang said Monday he regretted the tweet and his intent was not to antagonize street vendors.

“I love street vendors as many New Yorkers do. And I’m supportive of the measures to try and increase the number of licenses,” he said when asked to respond to the criticism at an unrelated campaign event. “I think we’re all actually aligned on the policy side. And I regret that I took on such a frankly complicated and nuanced issue on that medium. It wasn’t the right medium for it.”

The street vendor flap followed an onslaught of criticism Friday and Saturday, when a clip from a February 2020 interview surfaced on Twitter showing the former presidential candidate saying, Democrats shouldn’t be “celebrating an abortion at any point in the pregnancy.”

The clip did not include the question Yang was responding to, which was how he would win more political support for reproductive rights.

Much of the heat against Yang has come from rival campaigns. But POLITICO reported Monday that Gabe Tobias, head of the progressive political action committee, Our City, wants to “make sure that no voters go in voting for a conservative, nonprogressive candidate and that’s definitely Andrew Yang.”

Yang and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams have come in first and second respectively in early polls. Both are running on a platform that appeals to more moderate Democrats.

In Adams’ case, the former NYPD captain is emphasizing the importance of public safety and has rejected calls to defund the police. Yang has appealed to the private sector, specifically small businesses, and cautioned against raising taxes further on the city’s highest earners.

“We are more concerned about progressives voting for Andrew Yang than we are about them voting for Eric Adams,” Tobias said.

The street vendor issue is made more complex by brick-and-mortar restaurants and retailers devastated by the pandemic as city tourism dried up.

“The political commentators can dissect the Twitter debate but the fact is the vending system is broken and it comes at the expense of vendors, brick-and-mortar businesses and the public,” said Andrew Rigie, head of the NYC Hospitality Alliance which lobbies for restaurants. “The city recently passed a law increasing the number of vendor permits and creating a dedicated enforcement and support office, but we cannot debate the fact that the public deserves to expect safe food no matter where it is sold or by whom.”

The City Council voted in January for a sweeping overhaul to add 4,000 new street vendor permits over more than a decade. Many street vendors have long operated illegally or used expensive black market permits because they can’t get permits directly from the city, which has capped them at 5,100 since the 1980s.

Yang on Monday emphasized his support for that measure and pointed to his endorsement by City Council Member Margaret Chin, who sponsored the street vendor expansion.

“The goal should be to try to increase the number of licenses and support these vendors and bring them more into the formal economy,” Yang said. Still, he said the city should be more responsive to individual business owners’ complaints about unlicensed vendors.

“If the owner of a small business thinks that an unlicensed street vendor is somehow a nuisance to customers in some way, then that should be something that they can actually seek the city’s help with without doing anything untoward towards the street vendor, who could in many cases simply move like 500 feet, or in one direction or another,” he said.

Janaki Chadha and Sally Goldenberg contributed to this report.

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