The GOP’s Texas platform is bonkers. You should see the rest of the party

Sure, the Republican Party is overwhelmingly backing a convicted felon, confirmed sexual assailant, business fraud, insurrectionist, and (alleged!) documents thief whose most endearing personality trait is his rascally inability to stop quoting Hitler, but have you seen what’s going on in Texas lately?

The Lone Star State, which has continually returned a criminally indicted attorney general to statewide office, is now looking to be a laboratory of new, exciting ideas, like “what if we shove all these unlabeled lab chemicals in a Hefty bag, light it on fire, and then stand around and see what happens?”

To read the Texas GOP’s recently passed, deeply un-American platform is to hate it—particularly if you’re a progressive ... or a moderate … or a moderate conservative who either has, knows someone with, or knows of someone with a womb.

As Karen Tumulty wrote in The Washington Post:

Just a few of the platform’s planks: that the Bible should be taught in public schools, with chaplains on hand “to counsel and give guidance from a traditional biblical perspective based on Judeo-Christian principles.” That noncitizens who are legal residents of this country should be deported if they are arrested for participating in a protest that turns violent. That name changes to military bases should be reversed to “publicly honor the southern heroes.” That doctors who perform abortions should be charged with homicide. That the United States should withdraw from the United Nations and that the international organization should be removed from U.S. soil.

Holy Mike Johnson! It’s enough to make you swallow your own tongue, assuming it wasn’t cut out years ago by your local Christofascists for uttering the sacred name of Barron Trump. What’s next, thought crimes? It won’t be long before Republicans seek to jail ordinary Americans for looking at pornographic images of consenting adults—or for not looking at pornographic images of Hunter Biden. (If Covenant Eyes hasn’t yet tweaked its filter to accommodate lurid photos of Hunter Biden, it really doesn’t understand its audience and should probably just shut down now.) 

And that’s not all! If you’re gobsmackingly horrified by the above, well, you should see what they want to do to democracy in Texas.

As reported in the Texas Tribune:

Perhaps the most consequential plank calls for a constitutional amendment to require that candidates for statewide office carry a majority of Texas’ 254 counties to win an election, a model similar to the U.S. electoral college.

Under current voting patterns, in which Republicans routinely win in the state’s rural counties, such a requirement would effectively end Democrats’ chances of winning statewide office. In 2022, Gov. Greg Abbott carried 235 counties, while Democrat Beto O’Rourke carried most of the urban, more populous counties and South Texas counties. Statewide, Abbott won 55% of the popular vote while O’Rourke carried 44%

So to review, Texas Republicans wants to jail abortion doctors while ensuring Greg Abbott can’t possibly lose the governorship, no matter how many killer mutant Sea-Monkeys he pours into the Rio Grande.

All of that is suitably horrifying, of course—and Texas Republicans are admittedly pushing the envelope further than other state parties—but Republican extremism and anti-democratic thinking have been running rampant of late, in case you somehow hadn’t noticed. And that’s a big opportunity for big-D Democrats.

First and foremost, the GOP is a party that embraces a literal felon who faces three more felony cases, all of which are arguably stronger than his first one.

It’s a party that, in newly red redoubts like Ohio, is brazenly attempting to thwart the will of voters on reproductive rights, vowing to do “everything in [its] power” to uphold restrictive abortion laws. 

It’s a party that’s rushed to pass new restrictive voting laws in response to Trump’s insistence that the racist, eternally demagoguing, pro-Putin candidate deserves to win every time.

It’s a party that, to a startling degree, has embraced and protected Putin, as well as openly autocratic Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban

It’s a party that, post-Dobbs, has eagerly passed new, restrictive abortion laws, even as it tries to pretend it’s moderate on the issue. 

It’s a party that keeps hinting it will take an axe to Social Security and Medicare, which remain vital to the well-being of millions of Americans.

It’s a party that elevates ambulant absurdities like South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem’s dog killing.

And it’s a party that’s apparently eager to ratify every fascist scheme that Trump wants to inflict on the American people. 

In other words, as Hopium Chronicles’ Simon Rosenberg tweeted, the current iteration of the Republican Party is “the ugliest thing any of us have ever seen.”

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg we’re about to crash into at full speed if we’re not careful.

In 2020, the GOP neglected to release a platform in advance of its national convention, perhaps reasoning that Trump’s surpassing charm and wit were all that they needed—or perhaps worried that Trump wouldn’t read it and would wildly contradict its key planks. Or, more likely, they were worried that the GOP’s awful policies—psst, if you want to live a long, healthy life, don’t live in a red state—would actually shake people loose from their tribal fealties long enough to notice that they prefer progressive policies. (Which, to be clear, most of them do. Turns out millions of non-billionaires actually support raising taxes on billionaires. Go figure.)

Of course, despite ample evidence that the electorate as a whole has no use for GOP policy prescriptions—on abortion and a range of other topics—Republicans across the country (not just in Texas) somehow can’t resist saying the quiet parts out loud. 

I say we hand them a megaphone and encourage them to Trump front and center as often as possible. Because every time he talks, an angel vomits into a pail, and there’s only so much mess God is willing to put up with, even from his chosen one.

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Frustration emerges among GOP spending ‘cardinals’ as conservatives push for cuts

The House Republicans who craft the conference’s government funding bills are showing signs of frustration as hard-line conservatives pressure leadership for further cuts to spending that some worry could be too aggressive.

Some of the 12 Appropriations subcommittee chairs — the so-called cardinals — told reporters that they are struggling to see where those additional cuts could come from, as September's shutdown deadline looms.

“I just don't see the wisdom in trying to further cut to strengthen our hand. I don't know how that strengthens our hand,” Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), a House Appropriations subcommittee chairman, said of conservatives’ push to further cut the already-scaled-back spending bills.

“I do think it puts some of our members in a very difficult spot, particularly those in tough districts, because they're going to be taking some votes that become problematic,” he added.

The House left Washington for a long summer recess Thursday after being forced to punt a bill to fund agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. 

Conservatives are dug in on their demand for steeper spending cuts, to the chagrin of moderates who are wary of slashing funding even more. The chamber has passed just one appropriations bill, funding military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The internal divisions are gripping the party as time is running out: The House has just 12 days in September to move the remaining 11 appropriations measures and hash out their disagreements with the Senate, which is marking up its spending bills at higher levels, setting the scene for a hectic fall that could bring the U.S. to the brink of a shutdown.

Those dynamics are putting GOP appropriators in a bind, leaving them searching for ways to appease conservative requests without gutting their spending bills.

“We’ve done a lot of cuts, a lot of cuts,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Kay Granger (R-Texas) told The Hill this week. “And so if it’s cuts just for cut's sake, I don’t agree with it. But if it’s something that we can do without, that’s fine.”

 ‘Not a lot of wiggle room left’

Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas)

Republican appropriators in the House announced earlier this year that they would mark up their bills for fiscal 2024 at fiscal 2022 levels, as leaders sought to placate conservatives who thought the debt ceiling deal struck by President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) earlier this year didn’t do enough to curb spending. 

The Senate is crafting its bills more in line with the budget caps agreed to in the deal, but House Republicans are already fuming about a bipartisan deal in the upper chamber that would allow for more than $13 billion in additional emergency spending on top of those levels.

House GOP negotiators also said they would pursue clawing back more than $100 billion in old funding that was allocated for Democratic priorities without GOP support in the previous Congress. 

While that move drew support from hard-line conservatives, the right flank was far from pleased when it heard appropriators planned to repurpose that old funding — known as rescissions — to plus-up the spending bills.

In a letter to McCarthy earlier this month, a group of hard-line conservatives called for all 12 appropriations bills to be in line with fiscal 2022 spending levels “without the use of reallocated rescissions to increase discretionary spending above that top-line.”

Otherwise, the 21 lawmakers threatened, they would vote against the measures. But that request could prove difficult for GOP appropriators to fulfill.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), chairman of the panel that proposes funding for the Department of State and foreign operations, said that appropriators are already “dramatically reducing spending,” suggesting that there are not too many remaining areas to trim from.

“My bill is below the 2016 levels,” he said, later adding, “When you’re below the 2016 level — and we're still confronting China — I think there's not a lot of wiggle room left.”

“It’s a challenge, but I think we’ll get through it. I really do,” he added. 

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who heads the subcommittee that oversees funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Interior, scoffed at the idea of even steeper cuts to his bill.

“Then you just drop it on the floor and stomp on it. What else do you do with it?” he told reporters. “You can’t make logical cuts in there.”

Republicans appropriators are voicing optimism that the conference will be able to sort out its differences on spending, but some also hope their levels will stick — even though they include rescissions.

Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) — whose panel handles funding for the Department of Energy, which is proposing offsetting billions of dollars in spending with clawbacks — said it would be “extremely difficult” to craft his bill without the rescinded funds.

“And given our priorities in my bill, national defense with the nuclear weapons portfolio, nuclear cleanup, Army Corps including, all the community-directed fundings, I feel good about my bill, and I hope my numbers hold,” he said.

“Because it's gonna have to be in negotiations with the Senate and the White House as well,” he added. 

Womack — whose subcommittee crafts funding for the IRS and the Treasury Department — said he doesn’t think “moving the goalposts on these numbers is helpful in strengthening our ability to negotiate with the Senate.”

August preparations for a busy September

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas)

Frustrations among appropriators are bubbling up as Congress inches closer to the fall, when lawmakers are facing a Sept. 30 deadline to approve funding or risk a government shutdown.

With time running out, some House lawmakers say conversations may continue over the long August recess to try to hash out remaining differences.

“We'll have to see,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said when asked about potential plans for talks between leaders and House Freedom Caucus members over the break. “I mean, we got a lot of work to do.” 

“I think a lot of work [has] got to be done behind the scenes,” he said. “If not, you know, here — You gotta beg the question about whether we should be gone for six weeks. We should be getting our job done.”

Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) echoed that sentiment, saying “I would think so” when asked if lawmakers will have conversations over the break.

Adding to the August workload, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) suggested earlier this week that bicameral negotiations could take place over the weeks-long recess as lawmakers stare down the shutdown deadline.

Not all Republicans, however, are viewing a shutdown as a risk.

During a House Freedom Caucus press conference this week, Good said “we should not fear a government shutdown,” claiming that “most of what we do up here is bad anyway; most of what we do up here hurts the American people.”

But that perspective does not jive with the view of McCarthy, who declared Thursday: “I don’t want the government to shut down.”

Multiple Republicans are ultimately expecting Congress to eventually pass what's known as a continuing resolution (CR), or a measure that temporarily allows the government to be funded at the previous fiscal year’s levels, to prevent a lapse at the end of September. 

But they also understand the task could be difficult in the GOP-led chamber, where Republicans aren’t happy about the idea of continuing funding at the current levels — which were last set when Democrats held control of Congress.

“I think there's a very good chance that we'll see a CR, but I know there's a lot of work to get a CR done,” Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), another appropriator, said Thursday, noting there are “a lot of members that don't want CRs that are tired of them.” 

But Aderholt suggested a CR could notch sufficient GOP backing if there’s a larger plan in sight that the party can support. 

“The Speaker’s been very good about having a plan,” he said, adding, “I think that's what he's good at, and I'm optimistic that he can come up with something.”

Emily Brooks contributed.

Surprisingly strong economy shifts political calculations

The U.S. economy is hitting a stride, growing at a 2.4-percent rate in the second quarter in a surprisingly strong showing that adds confidence to the idea that the nation may avoid a long-threatened recession.

The growing economy comes coupled with other good economic news: Inflation is slowing, and unemployment sits at just 3.6 percent. 

Markets have noticed. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up more than 4 percent over the last month and more than 6 percent this year, despite dropping Thursday. 

It's all good news for the White House and President Biden, who have used the recent string of positive economic announcements to tout their stewardship over the economy as they head into an election next year. 

But it doesn't mean the administration can breathe easy — over the economy or Biden’s political future.

Some economists think a recession is still possible, and Republicans, while more focused in recent weeks on probes into Hunter Biden's legal difficulties, have not dropped their economic criticisms of the White House.

“It's entertaining to watch the administration sit here and say, ‘Oh everything’s great now,” Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) said Thursday.

“Yes, inflation has come down, but the economy in no way is growing at the levels that it needs to be and we need to enact reasonable and responsible budget cuts going forward to right size our economy and get the country moving in the right direction,” added Lawler, who represents a swing district and is one of the more vulnerable House Republicans in next year’s election.

The White House rebuked GOP lawmakers, pointing remarks from to Fox Business Channel’s Cheryl Casone, who said Thursday: “There goes that recession talk, right?” 

“Even Fox Business is welcoming today’s blockbuster economic growth numbers, the latest in a long line of proof points that Bidenomics is delivering for middle class families,” spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a memo. “That’s because this strong growth report is objectively good news for the American people, which elected officials should support regardless of their political party.”

The resilience of the economy has been a surprise for a number of reasons.

Market commentators for most of Biden’s term have been worried about a recession, and as the Federal Reserve launched a series of interest rate hikes in response to rising inflation, the fear was that a downturn would be hard to avoid.

The Federal Reserve itself in March predicted a “mild recession,” before reversing its position Wednesday after raising interest rates another quarter-percent.

“The staff now has a noticeable slowdown in growth starting later this year in the forecast, but given the resilience of the economy recently, they are no longer forecasting a recession,” Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday.

That resilience has taken several different forms but has been nowhere more noticeable than in the labor market. Unemployment has remained near historic lows even as the Fed has undertaken one of the fastest interest rate tightening cycles on record in response to prices that climbed as high as 9.1 percent annually last June.

Lower employment is usually associated with lower prices due to how much businesses have to pay workers and still turn a profit. But that relationship has been called into question during the recent inflation, as prices have been steadily falling since last June while unemployment has remained near record lows.

The unusual nature of the post-pandemic inflation, driven in part by massive consumer savings during the lockdown era and supply chain shutdowns, was likely the primary reason. Price fluctuations occurred in different sectors of the economy at different times, and companies raked in record profits, choosing to keep prices high.

In making the case for its handling of the economy, the Biden administration Thursday pointed to investments it made when Democrats held majorities in Congress in 2021 and 2022. Those investments were mostly in the Inflation Reduction Act, a bipartisan transportation and infrastructure bill and a major semiconductor bill.

This has led to investments north of $190 billion as of May, much of it in green tech and industry, that is expected to lead to a factory construction boom.

The White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) touted the investment in plants and equipment in a blog post Thursday, noting its contribution to the beefy GDP number.

“Nonresidential private fixed investment accelerated, contributing 1 percentage point to [second quarter] growth. Private construction of manufacturing facilities alone, such as factories, contributed about 0.4 percentage point, this category’s largest growth contribution since 1981,” economists with the CEA wrote.

Some key factors do leave a number of economists wary of another ding on the economy later this year. Millions will see an end to the three-year pause in student loan payments later this year, which could put a crunch on consumer spending.

Interest rate hikes have also weighed heavily on the housing market for more than a year, driving high mortgage rates and dampening demand.

Demand is beginning to rise again, but so are prices with would-be sellers reluctant to give up their low mortgage rates and put their homes on the market. 

Powell said Wednesday that the housing market has “a ways to go” before it reaches a balance and prices cool.

The news of economic growth comes just weeks after the White House launched its “Bideonomics” messaging, which was met with speculation at the time about whether they were taking a victory lap too soon.

Throughout Biden’s presidency, Republicans have hammered him for high inflation, and they sought to use it against Democrats in the 2022 midterms. They are expected to focus on the economy, along with their investigations into the Biden family, again in 2024.

Biden celebrated that the GDP number Thursday, arguing that the economic progress “wasn’t inevitable or accidental” but was due to Bidenomics — a message voters can expect to keep hearing as Biden and officials traverse the country to tout their work on the economy.

“[H]ard-working Americans are seeing the results: Our unemployment rate remains near record lows, inflation has fallen by two thirds, real wages are higher than they were before the pandemic, and we’ve seen more than half a trillion dollars in private sector investment commitments in clean energy and manufacturing,” he said.

Democrats introduce bill to eliminate student loan interest for current borrowers

Congressional Democrats on Thursday introduced legislation that would immediately cut interest rates to 0 percent for all 44 million student loan borrowers in the U.S. 

While the Student Loan Interest Elimination Act, introduced by Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) and Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), would cover current borrowers, future ones would still be on the hook for interest, though under a different system. 

The interest rates for future borrowers would be determined by a “sliding scale” based on financial need, leading some borrowers to still have 0 percent on their interest. No student would get an interest rate higher than 4 percent. 

Furthermore, the bill will establish a trust fund where interest payments would go to pay for the student loan program’s administrative expenses. 

“Students and families are already saddling the rising costs of a college education. The federal government should not exacerbate the problem by making money off borrowers’ federal student loans,” Courtney said. "In fact, the average public university student who takes out a federal student loan today would pay $7,800 over the standard 10-year period in interest. That’s the difference between making mortgage or car payments, affording medical care, or saving for a stronger retirement."

All the co-sponsors for the bill are Democrats, and it will likely have a hard time getting the needed support in the Republican-controlled House. 

Student loan interest payments are set to restart in September after a three-year pause began under the COVID-19 pandemic. Borrowers have other options to try to handle their interest payments as they turn back on.

Under President Biden’s new SAVE program that will be implemented soon, borrowers who are making their monthly payments won’t be charged for unpaid monthly interest.

The legislation comes less than a month after the Supreme Court struck down Biden's previous student loan forgiveness plan, which would have provided debt relief of up to $10,000 for most federal borrowers and up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients. Republicans hailed the ruling as a just outcome, while Democrats have been pressing for more options to protect borrowers.

House GOP leaders to start recess early after being forced to punt funding bill

House Republican leaders punted plans to pass an appropriations bill to fund agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to September amid internal discord about funding levels and policy gripes, canceling Friday floor votes and starting August recess a day early.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) announced on the House floor that votes would no longer be expected Friday.

“We will be finished for the August work period” after last votes Thursday afternoon, Scalise said.

The move to punt the bill comes as House conservatives have pressured GOP leaders to further slash the funding levels in the bill — and in other funding bills. Moderate lawmakers, meanwhile, have taken issue with a provision in the ag-FDA legislation that would limit access to an abortion pill.

Punting a bill sets up a September scramble to fund the government after the House returns from a six-week recess. The House is scheduled to be in session for just 12 days before a Sept. 30 funding deadline.

Senate appropriators are also marking up spending bills at levels higher than the House GOP is, laying the foundation for a clash between the two chambers in the fall.

Indications that the ag-FDA bill would be punted emerged Wednesday, when the House Rules Committee — which had been preparing the bill to come to the floor — did not come back to finish considering legislation Wednesday evening as negotiations between conservatives and leadership continued.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House GOP appropriators had already agreed to set overall top-line spending levels lower than the caps set out in the debt limit bill that McCarthy negotiated with President Biden. That infuriated Democrats, who pledge to vote against the House funding bills — leaving McCarthy in the difficult position of getting the slim GOP majority on board with the bills to pass them alone.

The House on Thursday passed its first appropriations bill to fund military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs largely along party lines.

Another point of contention in the ag-FDA bill is a provision that would nullify a Biden administration rule allowing the abortion pill mifepristone to be sold in retail pharmacies and by mail with prescriptions from a certified health care provider.

Moderate Republicans have been vocal in their opposition to the provision, warning that they will not support the bill unless it is stripped. 

But one GOP lawmaker suggested those who object to the mifepristone measure are in no hurry to take it out because it gives them a reason to “delay the whole damn thing” amid disagreement with the Freedom Caucus members and other conservatives pushing for cuts.

“Freedom Caucus wants deeper cuts, we can’t possibly accept that,” the GOP lawmaker told The Hill.

House Democratic Whip Katherine Clark (Mass.) tore into Republicans for delaying the vote and piling up spending bill votes in September, arguing that lawmakers should stay in Washington to strip out the "divisive" measures in the bills.

"Extremists are holding your conference hostage," Clark said.

"This is a reckless march to a MAGA shutdown," she added.

House GOP approves first government funding bill amid intense spending fight

House Republicans on Thursday passed their first government funding bill, overcoming an initial hurdle in Speaker Kevin McCarthy's (R-Calif.) attempts to wrangle the GOP conference to approve all 12 appropriations bills amid intense pressure from conservatives to lower spending levels.

The bill — which allocates funding for military construction, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and related agencies — passed in a 219-211 vote. Two Republicans — Reps. Tim Burchett (Tenn.) and Ken Buck (Colo.) — voted with every Democrat against the measure.

The package now heads to the Senate, where it is dead on arrival. Senate appropriators are marking up their spending bills at levels different from the House GOP measures, setting the scene for a chamber vs. chamber showdown in the fall.

Lawmakers have until Sept. 30 to send President Biden legislation to fund the government or risk a shutdown.

In an effort to appease conservatives, House GOP appropriations marked up their spending bills at fiscal 2022 levels, below the caps set in the debt ceiling deal struck by President Biden and McCarthy. The Senate, on the other hand, is considering its appropriations measures at levels in line with the debt limit agreement.

Top stories from The Hill

Republicans have also pursued amendments Democrats have blasted as “poison pills” in the military construction bill and the other 12 annual funding bills, including policies targeting the Biden administration's orders on diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as restricting abortion access.

While Republican leaders saw success Thursday in mustering enough support to pass the Milcon-VA bill, they were also forced to punt consideration of another appropriations bill amid internal divisions over spending and a controversial provision.

The chamber was scheduled to vote on funding legislation for agriculture, rural development and the Food and Drug Administration this week, but party leaders scrapped those plans Thursday afternoon as disagreements continued to plague the measure’s passage.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) announced on the floor Thursday that the final votes this week would be in the afternoon.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., joined at right by Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., arrives for a news conference after a meeting of the Republican Conference at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 6, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Conservatives are pushing for steeper funding cuts in the legislation, and moderates are opposed to a provision that would nullify a Biden administration rule allowing the abortion pill mifepristone to be sold in retail pharmacies and by mail with prescriptions from a certified health care provider.

On the Milcon-VA bill, GOP negotiators proposed more than $317 billion in funding, which includes increases for the VA above current levels. The bill also calls for more than $130 billion for veterans’ medical care and a boost for Department of Defense military construction projects.

In a statement earlier this week, the White House said it appreciates the $121 billion in funding that appropriators proposed for VA medical care. The Biden administration said the funding would help support its priorities to end veteran homelessness and expand access to mental health care, among other measures.

But the administration did not hold back its criticism of policies in the bill it said would prevent VA medical centers from being able to perform abortions or “provide hormone therapies for the purpose of gender-affirming care.”

Other measures the White House criticized include sections Democrats say would prevent the VA from displaying LGBTQ pride flags and language that would limit administration efforts to advance equity and diversity. 

Burchett, one of the two Republicans to vote against the Milcon-VA appropriations bill, pointed to the ballooning debt in the U.S. in explaining his opposition to the legislation.

“Love the veterans: daddy fought for his country, my momma lost a brother fighting the Nazis, dad fought the Japanese, my momma flew an airplane during the Second World War, but we are $32 trillion in debt,” he said.

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Republicans are expected to ramp up efforts to pass the remaining funding bills when they return from recess in September. But the House faces a serious time crunch, with the chamber scheduled to have just 12 legislative days on the calendar before a shutdown deadline at the end of September. 

Scalise suggested Tuesday that bicameral negotiations could take place over the long August recess, but negotiators haven’t signaled any bipartisan talks are scheduled to happen before lawmakers are set to come back.

Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said on Tuesday that the Four Corners — the top leaders of both chambers’ respective appropriations committees — haven’t recently had formal talks, but her “goal is to have conferences.”

She told reporters she’s hopeful the Senate will begin bringing its appropriations bills to the floor “at the very first week in September.”

“I believe we should do everything to avoid a shutdown,” she said.

Updated at 6:42 p.m.

Billionaire Leon Black’s $158M payment to Jeffrey Epstein sparks Senate investigation

The Senate Finance Committee announced Tuesday that it is conducting an investigation into billionaire and Apollo Global Management co-founder Leon Black’s financial ties with disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein. 

The investigation’s findings allegedly include a “transaction Epstein devised to help Black avoid more than $1 billion in federal taxes raises.” The probe originally began as “part of a broader review of the means by which the ultra-wealthy avoid or evade federal taxes,” according to a statement from the panel.

“The committee’s investigation began in June 2022 and was prompted by inconsistencies in a report by the law firm Dechert LLP that Apollo’s board of directors commissioned to examine Black’s ties to Epstein,” the statement read. “The Dechert report found Black paid Epstein, who was neither a licensed tax attorney nor a certified public accountant, a total of $158 million in several installments between 2012 and 2017.”

According to the committee, Black, the former chairman and CEO of Apollo, has "refused to answer questions or provide any documents that could demonstrate how Epstein’s compensation for tax and estate planning services was determined or justified."

"Unfortunately, the inadequate responses you have provided the Committee only raise more questions than answers, and fail to address a number of tax issues my staff has uncovered over the course of this investigation," committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a letter to Black. "This includes understanding the amount by which you were overpaid income from assets placed in a trust while devising a scheme to ensure that those assets, worth billions of dollars, would remain outside your taxable estate. Additionally, you have refused to answer questions or provide documents related to payments you made to Epstein or substantiate how such payments were calculated or were compensation for services.

A woman filed a lawsuit in November accusing Black of raping her and accusing Epstein of having helped facilitate the attack. Black’s legal team denied the allegations at the time, and he stepped down from his positions at Apollo after they became public. 

Epstein was arrested in July 2019 in July 2019 on charges of abusing and trafficking minors but died by suicide in prison before trial. He was 66 at the time of his death at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City.

Ocasio-Cortez joins writers and actors on the picket line: ‘Direct action gets the goods’

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is taking part in what she’s dubbed “hot labor summer,” appearing on the SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America (WGA) picket line Monday outside of Netflix’s Manhattan offices.  

“We have workers all across the country — either currently on strike or gearing up to be on strike — because at the end of the day we are all facing the same challenge, which is an unacceptable, unprecedented concentration of wealth and corporate greed in America,” Ocasio-Cortez said, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

“But we know that the way that we bust that up is by standing together in solidarity,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Noting another potential strike after talks between shipping giant UPS and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters fell apart earlier this month, Ocasio-Cortez exclaimed, “Your fight right here is what’s gonna bust this thing wide open.”

“Direct action gets the goods, now and always,” she told the crowd to cheers.

“The only way that we can do this is by showing them that we are stronger — that our solidarity is stronger than their greed, that our care for one another will overcome their endless desire for more,” the 33-year-old lawmaker said.

The WGA strike began in May, while SAG-AFTRA, the actors guild, started its own in mid-July. Both of Hollywood’s two striking unions are attempting to gain wage increases and better working conditions for their members.

Ocasio-Cortez, a then-political newcomer, was the focus of a 2019 documentary that aired on Netflix, called “Knock Down the House.”

Outside Netflix’s offices Monday, she condemned “greedy” CEOs and other corporate executives.

“Frankly, while this is a fight against AI,” Ocasio-Cortez said, referring to artificial intelligence, which the unions have said is a potential threat to its members’ livelihoods, “more than AI, this is a fight against greed.”

“This is a fight against the endless pursuit of more wealth.”

—Updated at 3:33 p.m.

House, Senate divides over funding grow as time left for spending bills shrinks

Lawmakers are sprinting to finish as much work as possible on a dozen appropriations bills before a long August recess begins at the end of the week.

But major divides between the House and Senate on spending levels — as well as pressure from conservatives on Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — forecast messy spending battles when lawmakers return.

Most spending bills have advanced in the House and Senate appropriations committees. But House conservatives are pushing for even lower spending levels than what were approved in some of those bills in committee, numbers that were already lower than those agreed to in a debt ceiling deal between McCarthy and President Biden.

Senate appropriators, meanwhile, are not only approving bills at levels more in line with the spending caps in the debt ceiling deal, but also proposing additional emergency spending.

House leaders expect to bring the first two appropriations bills to the floor this week: one that includes the Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction, and another that includes agriculture, rural development and the Food and Drug Administration.

And McCarthy reiterated his commitment to not put an omnibus spending bill on the House floor — a key demand of House conservatives.

“I will not put an omnibus on the floor of the House,” he said. “We should do our work. We should do our job.”

But the funding gulf between the House and Senate is only getting wider.

Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) announced Thursday that she and Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), the top Republican on the panel, reached a deal to add $13.7 billion in additional emergency funding on top of their appropriations bills. The deal included $8 billion for defense programs and $5.7 billion for nondefense programs.

“Many of us have been clear since the debt limit agreement was first unveiled that we believed it would woefully underfund our national defense, our homeland security, certain security accounts and the bill before us at a very dangerous time,” Collins said at the time.

The announcement has already prompted pushback from Republicans in the lower chamber, where Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) called further spending “a non-starter in the House.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who serves on the Appropriations panel, also came out against the move, calling it “just plain wrong” and saying it would take Congress “off the promising path that we have started on to get our fiscal house back in order.”

Meanwhile in the House, conservatives are continuing to put pressure on GOP leaders to lower spending, and disputes remain about overall top-line spending numbers.

"Oh, there are going to be changes” to the spending bills already approved by the Appropriations committee, House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) said.

While conservatives have already succeeded in getting leaders to agree to approve overall spending levels below the caps laid out in the debt limit bill, disputes remain about whether recissions of previously approved spending count toward meeting target fiscal 2022 levels.

"This is a math discussion. And so you know, members are gonna have to get comfortable with a certain number on all sides of our conference,” Donalds said.

Donalds was among the group of 21 conservatives that sent a letter earlier this month pledging not to back appropriations bills “effectively in line” with the budget caps agreed to by McCarthy and Biden as part of the Fiscal Responsibility Act debt limit deal, while calling for a top line at fiscal 2022 levels.

The group also voiced opposition to the use of “reallocated rescissions to increase discretionary spending above that top-line,” decrying what some have called a “budgetary gimmick” to include recissions in getting to fiscal 2022 levels. 

But that marks a tough task for GOP appropriators, who have already proposed clawing back billions of dollars of funding previously allocated for Democratic priorities and repurposing them for areas like border and national security.  While they approve of spending increases in some areas — like defense, and to account for higher costs due to inflation — that would necessitate deeper cuts in other areas that Democrats will surely not support.

“You have to work to get the 218,” said Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio), a subcommittee chairman on the House Appropriations Committee and chairman of the moderate Republican Governance Group caucus. 

“You're not gonna get everything you want. But they are getting numbers-wise and policy-wise many of the things that are good for them,” Joyce said of the hard-line conservative members. 

And he advocated for passing bills that may not be perfect, but can have a major impact on administration policy.

More from The Hill

“It's important to pass appropriations bills that dictate the policies and procedures and how the money is going to be spent and where it's going to be spent,” Joyce said, adding that it's “certainly an understanding we haven't reached yet.”

Discussions have continued between the hard-line conservatives, GOP leadership and other factions of the conference over the holdups surrounding the spending bills, like overall top-line spending levels and recissions. But a source familiar with the discussions said that many of the issues being raised by members of the Freedom Caucus and their allies are also supported by members in other ideological areas of the conference.

But even as conservatives think they are making progress, the clock is ticking. The House is scheduled to be in session for just three weeks after the August recess and before the Sept. 30 funding deadline.

“I think this week, there's been some productive movement to put more downward pressure on spending,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). “So, I'm more worried about the timetable right now.”

McCarthy said Thursday that he expects the House to pass all of its 12 appropriations bills by Sept. 30.

At the same time, Senate appropriators are hurrying to pass out of committee their four remaining funding bills by next week, after the upper chamber fell slightly behind their counterparts in the House at the start of the process earlier this year. 

Each of the eight funding bills passed out of the committee so far have fetched overwhelming bipartisan support. But there is tricky legislation on the horizon as negotiators prepare to consider what some regard as their toughest bills next week, including measures to fund the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services.   

“This was never going to be easy,” Murray said Thursday, but she added she thinks appropriators are “all eager to finish strong.”

Negotiators anticipate bicameral negotiations to pick up in the weeks ahead, but fears are rising over whether both sides will be able to strike the deal to keep the government funded beyond the shutdown deadline in September. 

“We're gonna have a government shutdown because we're gonna fight between the House and Senate about appropriations. Maybe, I sure hope not. We keep coming right up close,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said this week.

“We are going to scare the hell out of you,” he said. “We're really good at that.”

Mychal Schnell contributed.

CBO Warns $15 Minimum Wage Will Kill 1.4 Million Jobs, House Dems Are All For It

House Democrats on the Education and Labor Committee voted to approve a $15 minimum wage proposal as part of the coronavirus relief package, despite warnings from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that it would put 1.4 million Americans out of work.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) celebrated the passage of a proposal to more than double the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour by the year 2025.

“It’s a wrap,” she tweeted. “$15 #MinimumWage passes the [Education and Labor] committee after more than 13 hours of debate.”

CNBC reports that it is unclear if the minimum wage provision would survive inclusion in the final $1.9 trillion aid package due to strict Senate rules.

Still, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is hoping to get it through.

“We’re trying to work as well as we can with the [Senate] parliamentarian to get minimum wage to happen,” he told reporters.

RELATED: Democrats Have A Back-Up Plan That Might Still Bar Trump From Running Again If Impeachment Fails

$15 Minimum Wage Would Cut 1.4 Million Jobs – CBO

The vote supporting a $15 per hour federal minimum wage comes within days of a CBO report indicating such a move would cost 1.4 million American jobs.

Raising the minimum wage would lift 900,000 Americans out of poverty, the report adds, but 1.4 million would presumably dip down in take-home pay considering they’d be out of work.

“Young, less educated people would account for a disproportionate share of those reductions in employment,” the CBO states.

Worse, they’d likely be out of the workforce for quite some time.

“In 2021, most workers who would not have a job because of the higher minimum wage would still be looking for work and hence be
categorized as unemployed,” they write.

“By 2025, however, half of the 1.4 million people who would be jobless because of the bill would have dropped out of the labor force.”

RELATED: CNBC: Americans Angry With Dems Over Stimulus Checks, ‘Targeted Attack’ On The Middle Class

President Biden Supports Raising the Minimum

If House Democrats don’t get their $15 minimum wage wish with this coronavirus relief package, President Biden has vowed to push for the pay hike at a later time.

“I put it in but I don’t think it’s going to survive,” Biden told CBS News in an interview this past weekend. “My guess is it will not be in [the stimulus bill].”

That doesn’t mean he’s about to give up.

“I’m prepared as the president of the United States on a separate negotiation on minimum wage to work my way up from what it is now,” Biden argued.

“No one should work 40 hours a week and live below the poverty wage and you’re making less than $15 an hour, you’re living below the poverty wage.”

A recent post by indicates the numbers could end up being better than the CBO estimates, but they could just as easily be worse.

“There also is a 33% chance that between zero and 1 million jobs would be lost, and a 33% chance that the decrease would be between 1 million and 2.7 million jobs,” they write.

A Biden adviser dismissed concerns about jobs being lost due to a $15 minimum wage.

White House Counsel of Economic Advisers member Jared Bernstein said “we have a tendency to focus on some of the big negatives.”

Being jobless would seem like a pretty big negative for most Americans.

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