WASHINGTON WATCH: February 8, 2022
THE LONG GAME: Bipartisan group nearing electoral reform deal; House to take up CR
Although Senate Democrats have been unable to pass a broader bill to protect voting rights, members of a bipartisan group are expressing optimism that legislation to address election procedures will win approval. The effort to reform the Electoral Count Act grows out of the attempt by then-President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 election. The new legislation, drafted by Sen. Agnus King (I-ME), would clarify that the vice president does not have the authority to throw out a state’s electors and would ensure that state legislators cannot appoint a new slate of electors after the election in an attempt to overturn their state’s results. In an appearance on CNN, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) predicted that “absolutely, it will pass” referring to the bill. He appeared alongside Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who said that the bipartisan group is also contemplating additional measures to enhance protections for election workers and safeguard ballots after they are cast. Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are said to be giving the group room to negotiate.
With a February 18 deadline approaching, Congress must act quickly to pass a stop-gap spending bill or an omnibus package. Lawmakers approved a continuing resolution (CR) in December that expires in less than two weeks. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said Sunday that the House will likely pass a CR this week to give negotiators “a little more time” to write the larger funding bill. If Congress does indeed pass a CR this month, it would be the third stop-gap bill passed to prevent a government shutdown since FY 2022 began in October. Aside from overall spending levels, the two parties are at odds over several specific issues, including the future of the Hyde Amendment and funding for the Pentagon and veterans’ programs.
Washington Watch is published weekly when Congress is in session. Published monthly during extended recess or adjournment.
Spotlight on Puerto Rico
The Week in COVID
COVID numbers continue their downward trajectory after their January peak. As of Monday morning, there were 300 people hospitalized, down from 505 last week. The current positivity rate is 15.28%, down from 20.01% last week. The seven-day average of new cases (including both confirmed and probable cases), meanwhile, has decreased from 1,499 to 830.
The rate of vaccinations has slowed down considerably as of late, despite existing mandates applying to students and public employees. “This last week, there was a noticeable decrease in the mobilization of all of our vaccination centers,” said Lilliam Rodríguez, president of VOCES, a coalition running several vaccination clinics and responsible for vaccinating 33% of the Island, to El Nuevo Día. According to vaccination reports, 76.1% of the total population of Puerto Rico—which includes the population that cannot be vaccinated—has obtained the original two doses of the vaccine; only 35.7% has obtained the booster dose.
Teachers take to the streets to protest for better pay
Approximately 4,000 public school teachers—about 20% of the total amount—were absent last Monday and Tuesday to bring attention to their call for higher pay, leaving some schools unable to open. This was followed by teachers’ protests, which culminated on Friday, with hundreds of educators taking to the streets calling for better pay and working conditions.
The protests come in the wake of the confirmation of the New Fiscal Plan, whose projected and conditional salary increase for teachers—the first one since 2008, when teacher base salary was raised to $1,750 per month—falls far short of what teachers had pressed for. Instead of raising salaries to $2,700, the Fiscal Plan would increase pay by $450 to $2,200 per month ($26,400), with half of that increase being conditional, based on the successful implementation of an electronic punch-in system that is already in place.
Cryptocurrencies increasingly in use for real estate transactions in Puerto Rico
Luxury properties in Puerto Rico, a segment of the real estate market which in past years had been lethargic due to Puerto Rico’s economic health, have seen an influx of interest from abroad, drawn by government tax breaks designed to bring people to the Island. The W Hotel, shuttered after Hurricane María and once the largest employer in the island municipality of Vieques, was brought by crypto billionaire Brock Pierce (he also brought a monastery for $5 million) and YouTube personality Logan Paul has bought property in Puerto Rico, worth $13 million.
These, however, are only the most famous of a new wave of people moving into the Island, including some who transact Bitcoin and Etherium—currencies which sellers are increasingly happy to accept. The phenomenon has grown enough to draw official attention. The Puerto Rico House of Representatives’ Governance Commission is currently researching the matter. While cryptocurrencies are considered property for tax and income, no final determination has yet been made on whether they represent taxable income.
View From The White House
President Biden announced on Wednesday that he is relaunching the “Cancer Moonshot,” a project he headed as vice president, to reduce the national death rate from cancer by as much as 50 percent by 2047.
The White House said Friday that it will extend Section 201 tariffs on solar-energy imports for four years, but with several changes to existing provisions that would double the amount of solar cells that can be imported without facing any tariffs.
The Biden administration restored a sanctions waiver for some of Iran’s civilian nuclear activities, a move that comes as talks continue in Vienna to bring both countries back into the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA.)
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