WASHINGTON WATCH: July 20, 2021
THE LONG GAME: Dems’ $3.5 trillion package; GOP to filibuster infrastructure test vote
Democrats unveiled an ambitious $3.5 trillion budget resolution last week, a package that includes many of the core items in President Biden’s American Families Plan. The proposal calls for universal preschool for 3- and 4-year olds; an extension of the recent Child Tax Credit; free community college for all students; a comprehensive paid family and medical leave program; and expanded Medicare coverage to include hearing, vision and dental care. Democratic leaders envision passing the bill without Republican votes. Responsibility for shepherding the bill through the legislative process falls upon Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s plans for a Wednesday test vote on a bipartisan infrastructure deal ran into opposition Monday when GOP leaders said that they would likely filibuster the vote. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that his members “need to see the bill before voting to go to it.” The bipartisan group of Senators was continuing to draft the bill, which will call for approximately $600 billion in new spending. Among the specific complaints of Republicans is a proposal to help finance the package through increased enforcement by the Internal Revenue Service, which was likely to raise tens of billions of dollars to pay for infrastructure projects.
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 July 19
According to the Puerto Rico Health Department, 278,858 people are believed to have been infected with COVID-19, an increase of 2,014 since July 12. This points to a sharp increase in the rate of new cases, as the increase between July 5 and July 12 was 1,524. The death toll is currently 2,561, with 6 of those registered in the last week. Comparatively, 3 people died from the virus between July 5 and July 12.
Beginning on November 7, the Health Department changed the way it recorded cases, splitting them between confirmed cases (as determined by molecular diagnostic testing), probable cases (as determined by antigen testing) and suspicious cases (as determined by serological, non-diagnostic testing). Viewed through that prism, Puerto Rico has had 124,169 confirmed cases, 17,736 probable cases, and 136,953 suspicious cases since the virus arrived on the Island.
According to the Puerto Rico Health Department and its Puerto Rico Electric Immunization System (PREIS) a total of 1,823,733 people on the Island have been fully vaccinated, while 2,100,404 have received at least one dose. So far, 3,814,963 doses have been distributed, an increase of 84,520 since July 12, when the number was 3,730,443.
More than a dozen small tremors recorded in Puerto Rico, stoking fears about potential large ones
A number of tremors recorded in Puerto Rico over the weekend, consisting of a 4.4 quake and its aftershocks, are part of a pattern of seismic activity that began in December 2019 and resulted in the 6.4 earthquake that damaged much of the Island’s southwest region on January 7, 2020. While no damage has been reported, residents of Puerto Rico and seismographers have expressed concern that this is merely a preview of stronger seismic activity to come. “This may continue for an indefinite number of years,” seismologist José Molinelli Freytes told El Nuevo Día.
Natural Resources Committee votes to forgive nearly $300 million in FEMA Loans to Puerto Rican municipalities
As part of a larger bill dealing with climate change in U.S. territories, the House Natural Resources Committee voted last week on legislation authorizing the forgiveness of nearly $300 million in loansgranted to Puerto Rico’s 76 municipalities as a result of Hurricane Maria. “Insular territories are at the forefront of the battle against climate change,” stated Rep. Raúl Grijalva, (D-AZ), who chairs the committee.
While voting on the bill did not occur along strict party lines, the only Republicans who voted in its favor were Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González and Amata Radewagen, the delegate from American Samoa. The bill is expected to reach the House floor in the Fall.
Puerto Rico mayors appeal to Rep. Nydia Velázquez for assistance with infrastructure funds
This week, Miguel Méndez Perez, Pedro García and Josían Santiago—the mayors of Isabela, Hormigueros and Comerío, respectively—wrote to Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) to call for assistance in ensuring that Puerto Rico municipalities will have direct access to funds from the infrastructure investment bill proposed by President Biden.
“Mayors best know the local needs of their community and their constituents, and will use these investments in an efficient and transparent manner,” reads the mayors’ letters, which also state that president’s infrastructure plan “represents an opportunity to revitalize and strengthen Puerto Rico’s infrastructure to ensure it works for everyone, regardless of their zip code.” They also reminded the congresswoman about the possible elimination of the Matching Fund program, a recurring contribution from the central government that mayors consider vital to municipalities’ continued operations. A similar appeal had previously been made by Luis Javier Hernández, president of the Mayors’ Association, and Ángel Pérez, president of the Mayors’ Federation.
View From The White House
President Biden announced Saturday that the administration would appeal a “deeply disappointing” ruling by a federal judge that prohibits new applicants from filing for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
In the wake of several high-profile incidents, the White House announced the creation of a ransomware task force and a reward program which would offer up to $10 million for information on state-sanctioned cyber attacks targeting key infrastructure assets.
The Department of Energy is preparing to publish a proposed action in the Federal Register that would reverse Trump-era rules that rolled back water efficiency standards for showerheads.
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