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WASHINGTON WATCH: December 14, 2021


THE LONG GAME: Child care tax credit on the line; House to consider bill to combat anti-Muslim bigotry

As if Democrats did not face enough pressure to pass President Biden’s Build Back Better Act, there is one more: the looming expiration of the expanded child care tax credit. The expanded credit for eligible families is the result of the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill signed into law in March. In July, the government began sending out monthly payments of $300 for each child under six years of age and $250 for children age 6 to 17. The final monthly payments are scheduled to go out tomorrow. Democrats face opposition not only from Republicans, but also reluctance from one of their own: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). According to the Washington Post, House Democrats already made a concession to Manchin by extending the credit for just another year in their version of the spending plan. Last week, however, Manchin told a group “if we keep spending checks, it’s going to be hard to stop the checks.” On the other side of the debate, Senate Finance chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) said he was “pulling out all the stops to make sure that there is no interruption,” The Hill reported.

Against the backdrop of offensive comments recently made by a Republican member of Congress about a Democratic colleague, House leaders today will call up a bill to combat Islamophobia. Last month, video surfaced in which Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) told supporters a story implying that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), one of only three Muslims is Congress, was a terrorist. Omar, along with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), introduced legislation that would create a special envoy within the State Department to monitor and combat Islamophobia across the globe. Despite the seriousness of the matter, some Republicans still mocked the bill during a hearing last week; Rep. Dan Meuser (R-PA) suggested sarcastically that the legislation should cover Pennsylvania Dutch and “skinny kids that get picked on,” reported Business Insider. Meanwhile, some progressives are keeping up pressure on leadership to penalize Boebert, including a resolution to strip the freshman lawmaker of her committee assignments.

Washington Watch is published weekly when Congress is in session. Published monthly during extended recess or adjournment.


Spotlight on Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico coronavirus statistics for December 13

On Sunday, December 12, the Puerto Rico Health Department did not register any new deaths due to COVID-19 and the total hospitalizations are 39 people. According to the Puerto Rico Health Department, 189,518 people are believed to have been infected with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. The total death toll is currently 3,276.

In term of vaccinations, the Puerto Rico Electric Immunization System (PREIS), indicates that there are 3,076,212 people in Puerto Rico who are eligible for the vaccine, and 84.6% has been fully vaccinated. A total of 18,470 people got their final doses in the last 7 days. Puerto Rico remains in a relatively solid position when it comes to handling COVID—the positivity rate is currently 2.58%—the global surge in cases and the emergence of the Omicron variant has spurred authorities to step up their efforts to contain the virus.

The Department of Health confirmed by genomic sequence the presence of the omicron COVID-19 variant in at least one of the three suspected cases in Puerto Rico. “So far, those three cases have had mild symptoms, none have required hospitalization and all were vaccinated,” Dr. Melissa Marzán, Chief Health Epidemiology Officer told El Nuevo Día. Given the arrival of the omicron variant in Puerto Rico, Governor Pedro Pierluisi indicated yesterday, Monday, that he will not give new mandates to address the COVID-19 pandemic, but his administration will remain "vigilant.” The chief executive announced that he does not rule out offering more economic incentives to encourage more people to get vaccinated or receive a booster against the virus.

Legislators look to crypto-technology to fight corruption

Puerto Rico is no stranger to corruption scandals; just last week, the mayor of Catano pleaded guilty to accepting more than $100,000 in bribes in exchange for millions in government contracts and a few days later, the Mayor of Guaynabo was arrested on public corruption charges. Now, the Island’s lawmakers are looking to emerging technologies in order to combat corruption and increase transparency.

According to Fortune Daily, the Puerto Rican legislature will soon hold meetings on the potential for using “blockchain” technology—the kind that makes possible cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin—when writing government contracts. The idea would be to create “smart contracts” on embedded computer programs. “We have a real credibility problem,” said Puerto Rico House Speaker Rafael “Tatito” Hernandez while attending a Puerto Rico Blockchain Trade Association conference. “And this might be part of the solution.” Hernandez said that the upcoming meetings could be part of a larger effort to stimulate the blockchain industry on the Island, adding that the cryptocurrency industry might have the potential to help grow the overall Puerto Rican economy. “Back in the 60s and 70s we had the niche of manufacturing. [...] This is a new niche, a new opportunity to create jobs,” Hernandez told Bloomberg.

So far so good for Puerto Rico on BBB

Even if there is no certainty regarding the immediate fate of President Biden’s Herculean efforts to have the Senate pass the Build Back Better (BBB) bill before Christmas, things are still looking up for Puerto Rico. Key initiatives that would greatly benefit the Island-- such as the extension of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to island residents, increased Medicaid appropriations for Puerto Rico, which have been part of the House-passed bill, and employment credits for U.S. corporations in the territories—remain in the legislation.

“The Finance Committee has made targeted improvements to the Build Back Bill and is ready to move forward in this process,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman, Ron Wyden (D-OR), who was already on record favoring initiatives for Puerto Rico and released Saturday night the language of the Budget Reconciliation Bill with Biden’s social initiatives. If BBB is approved this fiscal year, the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) will increase to 76 percent– up from the current 55 percent-- and to 83 percent starting in federal fiscal year 2023, which begins next October.


View From The White House

  • The Department of Homeland Security announced that it was soliciting public feedback on how the government can avoid separating families at the U.S.-Mexican border as a means of discouraging migrants from crossing illegally into the country.

  • The Biden administration on Wednesday urged the Supreme Court to decline to hear a case against Harvard University challenging the ability of colleges to consider applicants’ race as a factor in admissions as a way to increase diversity.

  • The State Department said that Secretary of State Antony Blinken held “productive” talks Friday with his counterparts from the United Kingdom, France and Germany on reviving the Iran nuclear deal.

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