WASHINGTON WATCH: September 28, 2021
THE LONG GAME: Big week on Capitol Hill with infrastructure, spending bill, tic toc on shutdown; Subpoenas for Trump aides
Congress enters a pivotal week, with major pieces of legislation on the floor and lawmakers needing to act by Oct. 1 to avoid a government shutdown. The House Budget Committee conducted a special Saturday session to approve the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion spending package. The bill, which represents much of President Biden’s domestic agenda, with funding for education, health care, child support and initiatives to fight climate change, could land on the floor this week. On Thursday, the House will vote on the roughly $1 trillion infrastructure bill, just before some surface transportation projects are set to expire. However, moderate and progressive Democrats are still divided on the larger spending bill. Friction between House and Senate Democrats centers on proposed Medicare expansions, the childcare tax credit, drug price reform and how to pay for the overall package. On Friday, the president conceded that negotiations had reached “a stalemate". All of this is happening against the backdrop of a looming deadline when the government could default on its debt now that Senate Republicans blocked the spending bill needed to avert a government shutdown.
The select committee investigating the January 6th insurrection issued its first subpoenas last week, targeting four members of former President Trump’s inner circle. The four individuals who are being subpoenaed include former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, former social media director Dan Scavino, former adviser Steve Bannon and Kash Patel. The subpoenas are part of the committee’s efforts to discover what Trump knew before, during and after the “Stop the Steal” rally that led up to the riot at the Capitol. The subpoenas follow on the heels of the committee ordering 35 communications and social media companies to preserve records connected to Trump allies.
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 September 27
According to the Puerto Rico Health Department, 317,982 people are believed to have been infected with COVID-19, an increase of 1,423 since September 20. This points to another significant decrease in the rate of new cases, as the increase between September 13 and September 20 was 2,209. The rate of deaths continues to decrease: the death toll is currently 3,133, with 57 of those registered since September 20. By comparison, 73 people died from the virus between September 13, when the death toll was 3,003, and September 20.
The Department no longer displays suspicious cases (as determined by serological, non-diagnostic testing) which at last count accounted for 137,262 of all recorded COVID cases in Puerto Rico. Still tracked are confirmed cases (as determined by molecular diagnostic testing) and probable cases (as determined by antigen testing); as of today, the cumulative number of confirmed cases since the virus arrived on the Island is 149,282 and the number of probable cases is 31,438. There are currently 173 people hospitalized due to COVID, a decrease of 84 since September 20.
According to the Puerto Rico Health Department and its Puerto Rico Electric Immunization System (PREIS), a total of 2,210,293 people on the Island have been fully vaccinated, while 2,465,339 have received at least one dose. Currently, there are an estimated 2,848,293 people in Puerto Rico who are eligible for the vaccine; 86.6% of that amount has been partially vaccinated, while 77.6% has been fully vaccinated. In terms of total population, 67.7% of Puerto Rico’s population is currently vaccinated.
Puerto Rico increases minimum wage
Last week, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi signed into law a bill to increase the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour— the first uptick in Puerto Rico’s minimum wage in twelve years, and one that could represent an additional $2,000 a year for a full-time worker. The new law also provides for subsequent increases if certain benchmarks are met; in the best-case scenario, the minimum wage would rise to $10.50 by 2024. "A payment of $7.25 an hour is no longer sustainable to live in Puerto Rico, so it was time to do justice to the working class," the governor said in a statement.
The minimum wage increase will take effect on January 1, 2022. It does not apply to government employees, farm workers, tipped workers or the self-employed. The government employee exception exists to make the bill revenue-neutral, since it would not require additional expenditures from the government.
Amid service interruptions, LUMA calls for 16% power bill increase; Congress expected to hold hearings
Although more than a hundred thousand people experienced power interruptions this weekend across multiple days, the company which last year took charge of keeping the lights on, has requested an increase of 2.49 cents per kilowatt-hour— a16% price hike—for this quarter. If approved by the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau, it would represent the fourth increase in the price of kilowatt/hour this year.
LUMA claims the increase would not benefit the corporation, and that it is necessary because of a requirement that it activate generators using more expensive fuel to meet demand. While Governor Pedro Pierluisi has chosen not to get involved in the situation, stating that the responsibility belongs to the Energy Bureau, the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce has come out against the approval of the requested increase, as has Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González. Meanwhile, talk continues of an October congressional hearing on this very subject.
View From The White House
The Biden Administration’s Safer Federal Workforce Task Force said Friday that federal contractors have until December 8 to comply with the president’s executive order that their workers must be fully vaccinated.
President Biden vowed that “people will pay” after photos emerged of border patrol agents on horseback violently confronting Haitian migrants at the Rio Grande.
A poll released by the Pew Research Center last week found that 49 percent of Americans favor the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package, with only 25 percent opposed.
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