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WASHINGTON WATCH: May 23, 2023



 

THE LONG GAME: Debt ceiling talks continue as deadline looms; GOP blocks Santos expulsion 

Just a little over a week remains before the White House and congressional Republicans must reach a deal to raise or suspend the debt ceiling to prevent the first-ever government default. President Biden, during his return from the G-7 summit in Japan, spoke with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and the pair agreed to meet on Monday. This followed on-again-off-again discussions that continued throughout the weekend. The talks had earlier broken down when Republicans balked at the administration’s proposal to freeze, rather than reduce, agency spending for the next fiscal year. Today’s round of debt ceiling talks ended with no signs of real progress. Meanwhile, far-right Republicans are increasing their demands. Members of the House Freedom Caucus are insisting that McCarthy reject any deal unless it includes every provision in a bill passed by the House several weeks ago, plus a new demand: a cut in funding for the FBI. Other disagreements remain over the potential for new work requirements for recipients of anti-poverty assistance, border security, plus funding for the IRS to go after individuals and corporations that avoid paying taxes. As if lawmakers needed extra incentive to strike a deal, legislation was introduced by Reps.


Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) to block members of Congress from getting paid if the U.S. defaults on its debt. Republicans blocked an effort last week to expel embattled Rep. George Santos (R-NY) from Congress, instead referring the resolution to the House Ethics Committee, known for its glacial pace. The measure to expel Santos was introduced by Rep. Robert Garcia (D-CA) but failed on a party-line vote of 221 to 204, with seven Democrats voting “present.” It would have required a two-thirds super majority to succeed. The vote came a week after Santos was indicted on 13 federal counts, including wire fraud, lying on public documents, and stealing public funds. A handful of Republicans, including some of Santos’ fellow New Yorkers, have called on him to resign.   Speaker McCarthy has largely remained silent on the issue, instead saying that Santos should not be punished until the Ethics Committee issues a formal report.


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


 



Spotlight on Puerto Rico


Climate change impacting the call of the coquí frog

UCLA researchers have been studying the croaks of Puerto Rico’s iconic male coquí frogs. They use their distinctive call to mark territory and warn off rivals, and now scientists are saying that the croak is changing. Research found that the frogs of El Yunque, whose tone shifts with different temperatures, are now croaking in the same high pitch. They are migrating from the bottom of the mountains to the top to escape higher temperatures at ground level. Scientists are concerned that, as temperatures increase and the frogs keep migrating, local ecosystem collapse becomes inevitable with a shifting, and shrinking, coquí population. 

Dengue virus infections increase in Puerto Rico, U.S. territories 

In an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that the dengue virus, which causes death in 1-in-4 infected people, needs to be better controlled in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories. Between 2010 and 2020, the CDC found nearly 31,000 dengue cases in U.S. territories, with 96 percent of these occurring in Puerto Rico. Half of the people infected were under 20 years old. A vaccine is available, and researchers write that widespread vaccination on the Island could prevent 3,000 hospitalizations over the next decade.

Top Puerto Rican officials meet with Wall St. investors 

As Puerto Rico nears one year since exiting bankruptcy, top government officials worked to persuade international investors to return to the Island at a conference called “PRNOW” held in Manhattan last week. The conference was designed to reacquaint Wall Street’s institutional investors with the opportunities in Puerto Rico, now moving toward a more positive economic outlook thanks not just to the bankruptcy process but also to billions in federal reconstruction money. Puerto Rico’s GDP hit a two-decade high with a 3.7 percent jump last year, and officials are optimistic such growth will continue for the foreseeable future, especially with international financial support.




 

View From The White House


  • During the G-7 summit in Japan, the Biden Administration announced that it would not stop allied countries from supplying Ukraine with American-made F-16 fighter jets.

  • Under a proposal released by the Education Department on Wednesday, for-profit colleges and some traditional universities could lose access to federal funds if they leave graduates unemployed or buried under crushing debt.

  • In what is billed as the largest investment in rural electrification since 1936, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced nearly $11 billion in grants and loans to enable rural utility and energy providers to bring clean energy to their communities.


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