Live Updates: Biden to Convene Cabinet for First Meeting After Rolling Out Infrastructure Plan
President Biden’s infrastructure proposal calls for spending in a variety of areas, including transportation, energy and housing, making a number of his cabinet members well positioned to help sell the plan in the coming months.,
President Biden is set to hold his first cabinet meeting on Thursday, convening his administration’s top officials for an in-person gathering at the White House a day after he rolled out his $2 trillion infrastructure plan.
The afternoon meeting comes just over 10 weeks into Mr. Biden’s presidency, a period in which the Senate confirmed all of his cabinet secretaries and almost all of his nominees to other cabinet-level positions. It will be held in the East Room, rather than the Cabinet Room, to allow for social distancing.
Among the topics slated for discussion are Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that was passed in March, called the American Rescue Plan, as well as his newly released infrastructure plan, called the American Jobs Plan.
Karine Jean-Pierre, a White House spokeswoman, said the meeting would address “working together to continue implementing and communicating about the American Rescue Plan” as well as “the role cabinet members will play in advocating for the American Jobs Plan.”
Mr. Biden’s infrastructure proposal calls for spending in a variety of areas — including transportation, energy and housing — making a number of his cabinet members well positioned to help sell the plan in the coming months.
Among those set to attend the cabinet meeting is Shalanda Young, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget. The White House withdrew the nomination of Mr. Biden’s original pick to lead the office, Neera Tanden, after she faced bipartisan opposition in the Senate. The president has yet to announce a new choice to lead the office.
The event is likely to strike a different tone from the cabinet meetings during President Donald J. Trump’s administration. At a memorable cabinet meeting early in his presidency, one attendee after another showered him with praise and gratitude. “We thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people,” Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff at the time, told him.
President Biden’s ambitious plan to increase corporate taxes does more than just reverse much of the overhaul pushed through by his predecessor. It also offers a profoundly different vision of how to make the United States more competitive and how to foot the bill.
When President Donald J. Trump and a Republican Congress rewrote the tax code in 2017, most of the benefits went to the wealthiest Americans, with lower rates on businesses and on profits from investments. The guiding principle, proponents argued, was that cutting taxes on corporations and investors would encourage businesses to expand, creating more jobs and generating more wealth for everyone.
By contrast, the animating idea behind the tax plan put forward by the Biden administration on Wednesday is that the best way to increase America’s competitiveness and foster economic growth is to raise corporate taxes to finance huge investments in transportation, broadband, utilities and more.
The Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers all welcomed the idea of pumping money into repairing and building the nation’s infrastructure, but recoiled at raising corporate taxes to do so.
“We strongly oppose the general tax increases proposed by the administration, which will slow the economic recovery and make the U.S. less competitive globally — the exact opposite of the goals of the infrastructure plan,” the chamber’s chief policy officer, Neil Bradley, said in a statement.
The biggest and most eye-catching proposal is to trim the sizable reduction in the corporate tax rate enacted under Mr. Trump. In 2017, Republicans shrank the rate to 21 percent from 35 percent. Mr. Biden wants to nudge the rate part of the way back — to 28 percent.
Even economists favoring low rates on business acknowledge that the 2017 tax cuts did not produce much of an increase in investment. Gross domestic product grew at a rate of 2.4 percent in the two years leading up to the law and 2.4 percent in the two years after it passed.
Debates about the tax code are really debates about who should bear the burden of paying for what society deems important — highways and bridges, clean water and high-speed broadband, basic research and development.
By shifting the tax burden, the Biden administration is saying corporations — among the biggest winners the last time around — should pick up more of the tab this time.
Economists have debated who actually bears the cost of higher corporate taxes — shareholders and owners or workers. Research by the Congressional Budget Office, the Treasury Department and the Brookings Institution has concluded that those who own the business generally pay about three-quarters of a tax increase, with workers picking up the rest.
It has been 40 years since President Ronald Reagan declared in his first inaugural address that “government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem.”
The infrastructure plan that President Biden described on Wednesday — $2 trillion in federal investment in poured concrete, electric car chargers, artificial intelligence and social engineering — is a bet that government can do colossal things that the private sector cannot.
In fact, when the long-awaited “infrastructure week” finally arrived in Washington, it turned out to be about a lot more than just new highways and the replacement of old lead pipes. Urged on by the left wing of his party, and reminded by historians that Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson went big, Mr. Biden is using the framework of rebuilding crumbling highways and bridges to try to reshape the American economy by focusing more on long-range problems like climate change and inequality that have been caught up in the culture wars.
It will take years to know whether Mr. Biden’s initiative will have the lasting power of the New Deal or the Great Society, or whether it can “change the paradigm,” as he argued a few weeks ago.
Yet it is already clear it is based on the gamble that the country is ready to dispose with one of the main tenets of the Reagan revolution, and show that for some tasks the government can jump-start the economy more efficiently than market forces. Mr. Biden has also made a bet that the trauma of the coronavirus pandemic and the social and racial inequities it underscored have changed the political center of gravity for the nation.
It is not the first time Reagan’s reliance on markets to fix the nation has been challenged, but no previous effort in recent decades was on the scale Mr. Biden presented on Wednesday.
A year after the pandemic turned the nation’s digital divide into an education emergency, President Biden is making affordable broadband a top priority, comparing it to the effort to spread electricity across the country. His $2 trillion infrastructure plan, announced on Wednesday, includes $100 billion to extend fast internet access to every home.
The money is meant to improve the economy by enabling all Americans to work, get medical care and take classes from wherever they live. Although the government has spent billions on the digital divide in the past, the efforts have failed to close it partly because people in different areas have different problems. Affordability is the main culprit in urban and suburban areas. In many rural areas, internet service isn’t available at all because of the high costs of installation.
“We’ll make sure every single American has access to high-quality, affordable, high speed internet,” Mr. Biden said in a speech on Wednesday. “And when I say affordable, I mean it. Americans pay too much for internet. We will drive down the price for families who have service now.”
Longtime advocates of universal broadband say the plan, which requires congressional approval, may finally come close to fixing the digital divide, a stubborn problem first identified and named by regulators during the Clinton administration. The plight of unconnected students during the pandemic added urgency.
“This is a vision document that says every American needs access and should have access to affordable broadband,” said Blair Levin, who directed the 2010 National Broadband Plan at the Federal Communications Commission. “And I haven’t heard that before from a White House to date.”
Some advocates for expanded broadband access cautioned that Mr. Biden’s plan might not entirely solve the divide between the digital haves and have-nots.
The plan promises to give priority to municipal and nonprofit broadband providers but would still rely on private companies to install cables and erect cell towers to far reaches of the country. One concern is that the companies won’t consider the effort worth their time, even with all the money earmarked for those projects. During the electrification boom of the 1920s, private providers were reluctant to install poles and string lines hundreds of miles into sparsely populated areas.
President Biden said on Wednesday that he would “strongly support” Major League Baseball moving its All-Star Game from Atlanta after the executive director of the players’ union said he was open to discussing such a move after Georgia Republicans passed a law last week to restrict voting access in the state.
“The very people who are victimized the most are the people who are the leaders in these various sports,” Mr. Biden said in an interview on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” the night before Opening Day. “And it’s just not right.”
His comments came on the same day that major companies like Delta Air Lines, Georgia’s largest employer, sharply criticized the legislation in the face of mounting pressure from activists, customers and Black executives. The law introduced stricter voter identification requirements for absentee balloting and limited drop boxes in predominantly Black neighborhoods, and it expanded the legislature’s power over elections.
In the interview, the president also encouraged baseball fans to wear masks and abide by social-distancing protocols. While spectators are required to wear masks at every ballpark, policies have differed depending on the guidelines of each city or state. The Texas Rangers plan to open their stadium, in Arlington, to full capacity, allowing about 40,300 fans to fill in.
“I think it’s a mistake. They should listen to Dr. Fauci and the scientists and the experts,” Mr. Biden said, referring to Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert. “But I think it’s not responsible.”
On Monday, Mr. Biden called for governors and mayors to reinstate mask mandates. The administration has also been working to combat vaccine hesitancy in minority communities as well as among conservatives in rural areas, with an advertising campaign and by relying on community leaders to promote the benefits of the coronavirus vaccine.
Asked what he would say to athletes who are hesitant to be vaccinated, Mr. Biden said: “I’m president of the United States. I got vaccinated.”
“Would I take the vaccination, the vaccine, if I thought it was going to hurt me?” he added.
The Trump administration was so slow to prepare for the coronavirus pandemic that a top aide to President Donald J. Trump took matters into his own hands.
That aide, Peter Navarro, Mr. Trump’s deputy assistant and trade adviser, personally steered hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for pandemic supplies to politically connected or novice companies, a preliminary investigation by House Democrats has found.
Mr. Navarro sounded an early alarm about supply shortages, according to emails and other documents released by a House committee overseeing the federal coronavirus response. In a memo dated March 1, 2020, he complained that “movement has been slow.”
After that, documents show, he prodded the Federal Emergency Management Agency to award a $96 million sole-source contract for respirators to AirBoss Defense Group, a defense industry supplier, telling a company executive “everything you requested is OK,” even though no contract had been signed.
The agency awarded the sole-source contract six days later. AirBoss was represented by a retired Army general, Jack Keane, who had been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Mr. Trump just days before the contract was issued.
In a statement, Mr. Navarro said he wanted to move aggressively to combat the threat of the virus.
“In a war, you need to move with warp speed,” he wrote. “My mission was to assist the president in saving lives, which we undeniably did. Given the same set of facts, I would do everything exactly the same. Full stop!”
But the Democrats, led by Representative James C. Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 House Democrat, questioned Mr. Navarro’s efforts.
They noted that officials in Mr. Navarro’s office had coordinated with executives at the Eastman Kodak Company, best known for its photography business, which then entered into a letter of intent in June 2020 to collaborate on the domestic manufacture of pharmaceutical agents, even though the company had no experience in that field.
Mr. Navarro also pushed for the Trump administration to award a $354 million contract to Phlow, a brand-new company in Richmond, Va., to manufacture generic medicines and pharmaceutical ingredients — an effort aimed at building up an American manufacturing base for products that were needed to treat Covid-19 but were made overseas. The Democrats’ investigation found that Mr. Navarro had been introduced to Phlow’s chief executive in November 2019.
“My head is going to explode if this contract does not get immediately approved,” Mr. Navarro wrote to top federal health officials in March 2020. “This is a travesty. I need PHLOW noticed by Monday morning. This is being screwed up. Let’s move this now. We need to flip the switch and they can’t move until you do. FULL funding as we discussed.”
Ray LaHood, who served as transportation secretary for President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2013, took $50,000 from an associate of a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire in 2012 and failed to disclose it, federal prosecutors announced Wednesday.
Mr. LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, paid a $40,000 fine, according to the announcement from the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles. He also repaid the $50,000 he had received.
The office said that Mr. LaHood, who was “suffering financial difficulties” at the time, admitted to accepting a $50,000 check from an associate of the billionaire, Gilbert Chagoury. The memo of the check said “Loan,” the office said.
Mr. LaHood did not disclose the check on two government ethics forms because he “did not want to be associated with Chagoury,” and he later “made misleading statements” to F.B.I. agents, the office said.
Efforts to reach Mr. LaHood or a representative Wednesday evening were not immediately successful.
In a separate matter, the office said Mr. Chagoury had paid $1.8 million to resolve allegations related to illegal foreign campaign contributions.
Federal officials have reprogrammed Healthcare.gov, making new benefits available to tens of millions of Americans, weeks after Congress authorized spending billions on additional health law subsidies.
The Biden administration has doubled Obamacare’s advertising budget to get the word out, and will now spend $100 million telling Americans about newly affordable options.
Nearly everyone with an Affordable Care Act health plan can now qualify for increased financial help with premiums by going back to the website.
Many Americans who buy their own insurance outside the A.C.A. marketplaces may also qualify for substantial help, and may benefit from reviewing options and switching to an eligible plan. Uninsured Americans also qualify.
For some, the savings could be significant: A 64-year-old who earns $30,000, for example, would see monthly premiums drop to $85 from $195 for a midlevel plan. A family of four that earns $40,000 would go from paying a $136 premium to nothing at all.
About a third of uninsured Americans will qualify for financial assistance if they sign up. Nearly six million will be able to find free health plans (the government will fully pay the monthly premium).
“These changes are really important because there is a fair number of people who didn’t qualify before,” said Laura Packard, executive director of Get Covered America.
Maximizing subsidies will require enrolling in the right kind of plan, and getting financial help right away will mean logging onto Healthcare.gov. The federal government will not automatically apply the new subsidies to the existing 8.2 million enrollees’ premiums.
Instead, those who buy their own insurance will need to log into their accounts and re-enroll in coverage. People who fail to do so will still get the money, but they will have to wait.
Typically, the opportunity to enroll is only during a brief period in the fall. This year, people will have more time. Customers can buy insurance or switch plans until Aug. 15.
The additional subsidies are set to expire at the end of 2022.
There are 15 states that run their own marketplaces, and some will take slightly longer to update their websites with the new premium amounts. If you are uninsured, or are trying to decide whether to switch plans, this guide may be helpful.
A year after they first rocketed upward, jobless claims may finally be returning to earth.
More than 714,000 people filed for state unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was up modestly from the week before, but still among the lowest weekly totals since the pandemic began.
In addition, 237,000 people filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program that covers people who don’t qualify for state benefits programs. That number, too, has been falling.
Jobless claims remain high by historical standards, and are far above the norm before the pandemic, when around 200,000 people a week were filing for benefits. Applications have improved only gradually — even after the recent declines, the weekly figure is modestly below where it was last fall.
But economists are optimistic that further improvement is ahead as the vaccine rollout accelerates and more states lift restrictions on business activity. Fewer companies are laying off workers, and hiring has picked up, meaning that people who lose their jobs are more likely to find new ones quickly.
“We could actually finally see the jobless claims numbers come down because there’s enough job creation to offset the layoffs,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at the job site ZipRecruiter.
But Ms. Pollak cautioned that benefits applications would not return to normal overnight. Even as many companies resume normal operations, others are discovering that the pandemic has permanently disrupted their business model.
“There are still a lot of business closures and a lot of layoffs that have yet to happen,” she said. “The repercussions of this pandemic are still rippling through this economy.”