Editorial Roundup: United States

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Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

Jan. 11

The Washington Post on “why Democrats should push hard on voting rights”:

Speaking in Atlanta on Tuesday, President Biden tried to reinvigorate Democrats’ push to pass two major voting-rights bills. “We want the people to rule,” Mr. Biden said, calling on Republicans to restore what used to be a bipartisan tradition of promoting access to the ballot box and, if they don’t, endorsing a change in Senate filibuster rules that would allow voting legislation to pass with a simple Senate majority.

Despite Mr. Biden’s stirring words, the legislation’s prospects are murky, at best. But the need is clear: In state after state, Republican legislatures have curbed voting access and chipped away at impartial election administration since Donald Trump began his campaign to discredit the democratic system that denied him a second term.

The scurrilous campaign continues. Partisan election “audits” are proceeding in swing states Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Trump allies in Michigan want their own investigation. Even in Texas, where Republicans swept elections in 2020, GOP lawmakers have forced a “full forensic audit.” Arizona Republicans are the inspiration for this folly, having ran a shambolic, conspiracy theory-fueled review that found nothing that should prompt any doubt that Mr. Biden won Arizona but nevertheless inflamed unfounded doubts about the count. Polling indicates that most Republicans believe, wrongly, that Mr. Biden’s 2020 victory was illegitimate.

Republicans cite concerns about election integrity — which they have stoked — to justify new voting restrictions. Texas Republicans crimped mail-in voting, criminalized proactively helping people apply for absentee ballots and cracked down on expanded voting hours and other voting-access policies that Democratic-leaning counties instituted in 2020. Georgia Republicans cut the absentee ballot request window, drastically scaled back ballot drop boxes, banned distributing water to voters waiting in line and curtailed provisional ballots for people who show up to the wrong polling place. More may be on the way. For example, Michigan Republicans might be able to impose new voting restrictions over Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s veto, exploiting a strange loophole in the state constitution.

As bad as these measures are, the greatest threat to democracy is that partisan activists will use bogus fraud allegations to meddle with election results they do not like. Georgia lawmakers put themselves in charge of the state election board and gave it the power to suspend county election officials. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) called on the Republican state legislature to take over election administration in his state. Republicans purged a Michigan official who certified the 2020 vote totals there. Trump stalwarts are running for many state-level offices, including key election administration positions.

More Republicans have started to push back, in part because litigating 2020 would be a sour message in this year’s midterms. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said Sunday that the 2020 election was fair. Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) declared last week that there is “zero chance” the state legislature would take control of his state’s elections. Yet, in the same breath, Mr. Vos promised votes on new voting bills later this year, after a conservative former state supreme court justice concludes a slanted GOP-backed vote audit.

States should be required to meet basic national voting standards, offering early voting, absentee ballot access, automatic voter registration and protections for nonpartisan election workers. Some U.S. Senate Republicans have recently signaled interest in limited election reforms that would insulate elections from partisan subversion. They have had months to come to the table. If a bipartisan deal is to be had, now is the time for them to put up.

State-level Republicans claim that making it harder to vote will safeguard democracy. In fact, they are imperiling it. Democrats’ efforts to make voting fairer and less complicated — and to make it harder to overturn legitimate election results — is the aid U.S. democracy really needs.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/01/11/this-is-why-democrats-should-push-hard-voting-rights/

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Jan. 11

The Wall Street Journal on “the Greening of the Federal Reserve”:

Jerome Powell faced the Senate Banking Committee at his confirmation hearing for a second term at the Federal Reserve on Tuesday, and it’s a sign of the progressive times that a leading issue was the greening of the central bank. Not green as in money, but as in climate regulation.

Mr. Powell didn’t break any news on monetary policy, which is his main job. He stuck to his recent talking points that inflation has run hotter than expected, though not because of any Fed mistake. It’s all the result of a supply and demand mismatch caused by the pandemic, not from an excessive supply of money to the economy.

The wheels seem greased for Mr. Powell’s confirmation if only because the alternatives are thought to be worse. We’re not sure about that, and on that score one issue to watch is how the Powell Fed uses its regulatory power to drive lending and investment out of fossil fuels and into renewables.

Mr. Powell seems fired up for the job. The Chairman on Tuesday endeared himself to progressive Senators by agreeing that the Fed’s role in climate change is “limited” but “important.” He also said climate stress tests for banks will likely “be a very important priority” in supervision.

“I think it’s very likely that climate stress scenarios, as we like to call them, will be a key tool going forward,” he added.

But why? Climate policy isn’t part of the Fed’s dual mandate, which is to ensure stable prices and maximum employment. Having botched inflation in 2021, you’d think the Fed would focus on that.

But Mr. Powell is nothing if not political, and the left is pressing the Fed to adopt climate bank stress tests. Their concern isn’t whether bank balance sheets can withstand extreme weather or warming temperatures. A New York Federal Reserve Bank staff study last fall found that banks benefit from extreme weather events because they spur increased lending.

Instead, the left wants the Fed to use stress tests to make banks reduce and eventually eliminate financing for coal, natural gas and oil development. Banks would have to adjust their balance sheets to take account of the risks from government climate policies like mandates, regulation or carbon taxes. To pass the climate stress tests, banks would have to liquidate fossil-fuel assets.

This is political allocation of capital, which also isn’t the Fed’s job and brings its own risks of financial instability. Last week news broke that President Biden is considering former Treasury official Sarah Bloom Raskin to be Fed vice chair for financial supervision. Ms. Raskin in September wrote an op-ed titled “Changing the Climate of Financial Regulation” for the Project Syndicate endorsing bank stress tests, living wills and risk-based capital standards to advance the left’s climate agenda.

Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse, the Senate’s leading wind producer, tweeted that her nomination would be “good news,” since she “really gets it on climate. When that bubble bursts, it’s going to be hell. We have to prepare, and she will try.” Sen. Sherrod Brown, the Banking Chairman, said she would be “terrific” on climate regulation and also “I assume, will be good on monetary policy too.”

For Democrats these days, an economist’s credentials on monetary policy are now second to climate for a position on the Fed Board of Governors. One irony is that government anti-carbon policies are driving what some economists call “greenflation”—an increase in commodity and energy prices on everything from oil and gas to lithium and copper.

Investment in fossil fuels has fallen sharply even though consumer demand hasn’t. Behold Europe’s climate crack-up, which has resulted in soaring energy costs. Meantime, government policies have boosted demand for green energy, but the supply of minerals needed to make batteries for electric cars, solar panels and wind turbines is lagging, driving prices higher.

European Central Bank executive board member Isabel Schnabel last weekend warned: “The combination of insufficient production capacity of renewable energies in the short run, subdued investments in fossil fuels and rising carbon prices means that we risk facing a possibly protracted transition period during which the energy bill will be rising. Gas prices are a case in point.”

Federal Reserve chairmen ought to stay out of the capital allocation game, but Mr. Powell seems to think this is now part of the Fed’s job. This is how central banks get into political trouble, which leads to financial trouble.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-greening-of-the-federal-reserve-jerome-powell-climate-11641941000

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Jan. 9

Los Angeles Times on how the U.S. "cannot afford to be stingy with parents":

Child poverty is bad for the United States. And we’re paying a terrible social and economic cost for allowing it to continue.

Children who grow up in poor families are more likely to struggle in school, suffer from stress and have poor health, compared with children in families living well above the poverty line. A growing body of research has found that adults who grew up very poor tend to have lower earnings, a heavier reliance on public assistance, have more health problems and are more likely to become entangled in the criminal justice system.

A landmark National Academy of Sciences report in 2019 estimated that childhood poverty costs the U.S. between $800 billion and $1.1 trillion a year through reduced adult productivity, increased costs of crime and health expenditures. The U.S. has one of the highest rates of child poverty among industrialized countries, and poverty here is disproportionately high among children of color, furthering systemic inequities.

So it’s deeply frustrating that one of the nation’s most potentially powerful tools to reduce childhood poverty — the expanded federal child tax credit — was allowed to expire this month without so much as a vote in the U.S. Senate.

From July through December, approximately 36 million households with more than 61 million children received monthly payments of up to $300 per child from the federal government. The longtime tax benefit that was increased and broadened for one year under President Biden’s $1.9-trillion American Rescue Plan passed last March.

The president and many Democratic lawmakers intended to extend the more generous child tax credit for several more years and make certain provisions permanent through the “Build Back Better” bill. That hope was dashed — perhaps temporarily — last month when Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, whose vote was crucial to passage, announced he would not support the bill. Manchin cited the cost and details of the child tax credit as one of his concerns.

Fine, debate the details. Even the outspoken supporters of the child tax credit have recommended changes to make the expanded version more sustainable. But abandoning this transformational expansion of the child tax credit would be a terrible mistake and set back efforts to lift the next generation out of poverty.

The child tax credit was adopted in 1997 as a middle-class tax cut. Over time and with bipartisan support, the value of the credit has increased along with who was eligible to receive it. As part of President Trump’s 2017 tax bill, Congress doubled the value of the credit, but the poorest families got nothing or only a partial credit because they didn’t earn enough to qualify for the full amount.

The American Rescue Plan increased the credit to a maximum of $3,000 for children 6-17 and $3,500 for children under 6, half paid in monthly installments and the other half at tax time.

And, most importantly, it made the maximum payment available to families who earned little or no income, transforming the child tax credit into a powerful anti-poverty program.

And it worked.

By November, the tax credit kept 3.8 million children from poverty, according to the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University, reducing the monthly child poverty rate by 29.4%.

During the six months of payments, researchers found that low-income families had higher checking account balances. As soon as the payments went out, there was a marked reduction in food insufficiency rates among low-income families.

Three out of four families spent the initial payments mostly on food, bills, clothing, housing, school and child care rather than save the money. Among families receiving food stamps, three-quarters said they used the child tax credit to pay overdue utility bills or prevent eviction or foreclosure. These are families living in constant stress, month to month, to keep a roof over their heads and the power on.

By the middle of the fall, nearly 70% of families earning $75,000 or less reported that the monthly payments “made them a lot or a little less stressed about money.”

And so far, researchers have seen no evidence that the monthly payments caused parents to stop working, which is opponents’ primary criticism of expanding the credit to poor families. Indeed, Manchin and GOP lawmakers have pushed for work requirements as a condition of the child tax credit.

What’s frustrating is that skeptics care more about the theoretical possibility that a small number of people will choose not to work as a result of the child tax credit payments rather than the proven reduction in child poverty and hunger during six months of payments.

Most other wealthy industrialized countries provide a child allowance to families as a recognition that raising kids is expensive and there is a larger societal benefit to having healthy and well-cared-for children. Unlike the U.S., most countries ensure the poorest families get the maximum benefit because they need help the most. It’s time for this country to value and support families across the income spectrum by reviving the expanded child tax credit and making it permanent.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-01-09/child-tax-credit

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Jan. 12

China Daily on how “any forthcoming US assistance for the Pacific region will be superficial”

It is a pity that having witnessed the damage the previous Donald Trump administration did to the United States’ relations with China and the rest of the world, including its allies, the senior Asian policy strategist for the Joe Biden administration has been unable to draw the right lessons from that.

In a speech US Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell delivered to an Australia-focused panel of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Monday, he admitted that the US “had not done enough to assist” the Pacific, a region in which it has “enormous moral, strategic, historical interests”.

But while saying that the US should do more to help the region, working with “partners like Australia, like New Zealand, like Japan, like France, who have an interest in the Pacific”, his speech was essentially little more than thinly veiled scaremongering about China. Campbell, who served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs in the former Barack Obama administration, was appointed to the post of “Asia Tsar” created by Biden due to the role he played in shaping Washington’s Asia policy during the Obama administration.

Repeating a call he made last week for the US to “step up its game” on economic engagement in Asia, he said that the US and its allies need to step up their game in the region “across the board”.

Given that he has also claimed that the cliques the US has formed in the Asia-Pacific, such as the so-called AUKUS pact and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue are causing China “heartburn”, it is evident that greater efforts to contain China are what he means by the US and its allies “upping their game”.

The fact that as Asia-Pacific coordinator his central task should be to help coordinate and strengthen the US’ relations with countries in the region, not divide the region or make it an arena for a tug-of-war over influence, seems to have escaped him.

In May last year, Campbell claimed the era of engagement with China was over. But he changed his position in July, stating that the US and China can seek peaceful co-existence, and called for the two countries to avoid confrontation in October. Now, he is once again adopting a tough stance against China. Such flip-flopping by a leading strategist of the administration highlights the inherent contradictory nature of competition-confrontation-cooperation trichotomy with which the Biden administration has summed up its China policy.

It also shows the extent to which the administration’s foreign policy is being held to ransom by the political situation in the US, as sticking to a tough line on China is a Band-Aid for his domestic agenda.

Campbell’s latest remarks only serve to expose that any forthcoming US assistance for the Pacific region will be superficial, divisive and self-serving.

ONLINE: https://global.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202201/12/WS61dec59da310cdd39bc80a88.html

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Jan. 10

The Guardian on the challenges confronting President Joe Biden's agenda:

Joe Biden wants to go down in history as a transformative US president. He began his time in office by passing a popular economic stimulus and Covid-19 relief bill. The Biden White House basked in comparisons with Franklin Roosevelt’s country-changing presidency. With Democrats in control of the executive and legislative branches of government, the sky seemed the limit. However, in recent months Mr. Biden’s agenda – most notably on climate change – has been buried in a legislative graveyard.

This is in part because the US Senate is a rare law-making body: it needs a supermajority for ordinary business. Its rules require 60 senators to give the green light for a bill to go to the floor for passage with a straightforward vote. This is the hurdle required to beat a filibuster, where debate is extended so that no vote on a bill can take place. Frustrated and hamstrung, President Biden has cooled on such mechanisms. He’s right to think about ending this maneuver, which is used to block legislation a majority wishes to pass. The 41 Republican senators needed to defeat “cloture” motions – those required to end a debate – could represent less than a quarter of the US population.

As EJ Dionne pointed out in the Washington Post last October, the filibuster “is now a barrier to normal governing … From 1917 through 1970 (53 years), there were only 58 cloture motions. From 1971 to 2006 (35 years) there were 928. From 2007 to now (14 years) there have been 1,419.” As the use of the filibuster has become more frequent, so have the threats for “the nuclear option” to change the rules and impose simple majority votes. When Barack Obama was in the White House, Democrats eliminated the filibuster on presidential nominations other than those for the supreme court. In 2017, with Donald Trump as president, Republicans got rid of those too. ...

The Democrats are pushing two bills to secure American democracy. This is a battle that Mr. Biden cannot afford to lose. However he will struggle because of the filibuster. This could be abolished by a simple majority vote but, absurdly, two senators on the right of the party – Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – won’t back him. The best Mr. Biden can do with his one-vote Senate majority is negotiate a filibuster carve-out for voting rights.

What the past year has taught Mr. Biden is that advances for economic and political rights will be dead on arrival in the Senate unless he can rewrite its procedural rule book. He must do so, and convince holdout Democrats that unless they back the party agenda, they risk dooming every legislative expedition. Electing Mr. Biden and Democratic majorities in Congress were meant to deliver the party’s agenda, not let it be obstructed by its opponents.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/jan/10/the-guardian-view-on-joe-bidens-agenda-buried-in-a-legislative-graveyard

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