D.C. Memo: Fox and the Hill

Hello and welcome back to the D.C. Memo. This week you can find me mourning the loss of the Capitol Hill Fox, who led a brief but dramatic life in the public eye this week. That’s right, a mother fox and her kits were documented roaming around the Capitol grounds this week. Normally, this would be cute. Unfortunately for at least nine people, though, the fox was a bit aggressive. Animal control captured the fox, and she was humanely euthanized to check for rabies. Even more unfortunately for those nine people, the fox was indeed rabid. My condolences to everyone going through rabies treatment this week. Politico reporter Ximena Bustillo was one of the unlucky nine, but she had a sense of humor about it, tweeting, “you’re telling me I survived three years of a pandemic to be bit by a rabid fox.”  You really can’t make this stuff up. The rest of this week in Washington was relatively chill … well with the exception of a historic confirmation. Other than that, Biden extends the student loan payment moratorium, Rep. Tom Emmer wants to rein in government spending and Rep. Dean Phillips tries to resuscitate the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

SCOTUS confirmation

After divisive hearings in the Senate, Ketanji Brown Jackson was officially confirmed as the next Supreme Court Justice Thursday afternoon in a 53-47 vote. Jackson makes history as the first Black woman and the first public defender to serve on the country’s highest court, and she will replace Justice Stephen Breyer when he officially retires this summer at the end of the term.

Jackson is a trailblazer for many, but perhaps most of all for other Black women in the legal field. The New York Times published a great piece Thursday morning with interviews from Black women attending her alma mater, Harvard Law School, on what Jackson’s confirmation means to them.

The student loan conundrum

President Joe Biden has yet again extended the student loan payment freeze, which until this week had a deadline April 30. After the extension, the new date when loan payments will begin again is Sept. 1. 

“I know folks were hit hard by this pandemic. And we’ve come a long way in the last year. We’re still recovering from the economic crisis it caused,” Biden said in a video statement. “This continued pause will help Americans breathe a little easier as we recover and rebuild from the pandemic.”

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However, many Democratic lawmakers are pushing the president to cancel student loans altogether. (The most likely outcome is that Biden will extend the payment moratorium until after the Midterm elections. Reinstating student loans is a great way to ensure many of your constituents hate you.)

Fifth District Rep. Ilhan Omar (D) has been an outspoken advocate of forgiving student loans, and has called on Biden to wipe out “all student debt” in the past. This week, she told The Hill she thinks “inaction is going to be really dangerous for us in the midterms.”

“Enthusiasm is really low,” Omar said of Democratic voters. She added that ‘it’s important to listen to the people who have sent us to represent them and then us, and I know that student debt cancellation is a priority.”

Emmer: Time to rein it in

Sixth District Rep. Tom Emmer (R) introduced this week the Responsible Budget Targets Act (RBTA), a bill that would “rein in the growth of federal spending in the coming decades by implementing flexible budget caps.” It’s accompanied in the Senate by Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN).

Previous attempts in Congress to establish fixed spending limits have fallen short, and according to Emmer, they often failed to account for fluctuations in the growth of the economy or federal receipts. The RBTA establishes what Emmer and Braun call a  “dynamic formula that fluctuates with the expansion or contraction of our economy.” If followed, the lawmakers said, “this model could put us in a position to balance the federal budget excluding debt in just fifteen years.”

“Our national debt ten years ago was $16 trillion,” Emmer said in a statement accompanying the bill. “Today, that debt has nearly doubled, to over $30 trillion. Our fiscal trajectory as a nation is unsustainable and threatens the future of our children and grandchildren.”

“We can still change course, but we must act now” Emmer continued. “The Responsible Budget Target Act offers a practical solution to our nation’s spending addiction that will help to balance our budget in the coming decades without causing major disruptions to government services. I am excited to partner with Senator Braun on this effort, which is a culmination (of) my work over the past year to return fiscal sanity to Washington.”

Solving the family glitch

This week, Second District Rep. Angie Craig (D) was joined by Allie and Bobby Krueger from Savage at a White House ceremony at which President Biden announced executive action to lower health care costs for more than 5 million Americans. For nearly a year, Craig has publicly highlighted the story of the Krueger family who, because of a gap in the Affordable Care Act’s subsidized marketplace, were facing insurance premiums that cost more than 25 percent of their household income – a price that Craig argued was more than unsustainable for working families in this country.

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The “family glitch” originated from a 2013 Internal Revenue Service and Department of Treasury rule, which determined that families are ineligible for financial assistance if a family member is offered “affordable” employer coverage. In 2021, the affordability threshold is 9.83 percent, which means that an individual qualifies for subsidized marketplace coverage if their employer health insurance premiums exceed 9.83 percent of household income. However, this threshold does not take into account the cost of covering the rest of the household, which can make coverage prohibitively expensive for many families.

At the event, Biden announced a proposed rule change officially closing the “family glitch” – a step Craig has repeatedly called for which could save 62,000 Minnesotans and 5 million Americans thousands of dollars annually on their health insurance premiums.

“Since the day I arrived in Congress, I’ve been fighting to lower out-of-pocket health care costs for Minnesotans,” Craig said. “And today, I’m happy to see that hard work pay off, as President Biden follows through on our promise to fix the family glitch that has made health care unaffordable for more than 5 million families nationwide. I’m so thrilled that the Administration is taking this long-overdue action to lower costs for working families like the Kruegers – and I couldn’t be happier that Allie and Bobby were able to join me at the White House on this special day.”

The return of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund?

Earlier this morning, the House voted in favor of a bill that would add more money to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which helped thousands of small restaurants stay in business during the pandemic last year. The new legislation, called the Relief for Restaurants and Other Hard Hit Small Businesses Act of 2022, would allocate $42 billion in relief funds to the RRF, as well as $13 billion for other businesses impacted by the pandemic.

Third District Rep. Dean Phillips (D), who has been pushing for more small business relief throughout the pandemic, released the following statement in support of the bill before the vote this morning: 

“This week, the United States Congress has an opportunity to make good on a commitment we made to American small business owners during the height of the pandemic. We promised then that help was on the way, and that the entrepreneurs who needed financial support would receive it on an even playing field. There would be no special program only for the wealthy and the well-connected. The government would not pick winners and losers.

“However, an uneven economic recovery and underfunded relief programs have allowed some businesses to flourish as others struggled. Industries that depend on public gatherings–such as restaurants, gyms and live events–were hit the hardest. Many didn’t survive. Those that did have done so by accruing significant to severe debt burdens.”

Phillips along with his colleagues Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Brain Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) will join the Independent Restaurant Coalition this afternoon to urge action from the Senate and get money into the pockets of small business owners.

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What I’m reading

  • “How LinkedIn’s ‘career break’ feature could help normalize caregiving,” Washington Post. LinkedIn is rolling out a new feature that lets people designate periods of time with non-career positions such as full-time parenting, caregiving, bereavement, career transition and health and well-being. Users can also add details about what led to the career break and what they’ve done during that time. Advocates of this move say that it will overwhelmingly benefit women and people living with chronic health conditions and disabilities, and I think it’s pretty awesome.
  • “A gentler, better way to change minds,” The Atlantic. We all have probably wondered how best to get through to someone who disagrees with us. Shocker: aggression and one-sided approaches are not the answer. Author Arthur C. Brooks explores the Moral Foundations Theory and how it might help you in your next ideological conflict.

That’s all from me this week. Thanks for reading. As always, please feel free to send any questions, concerns or foxy rabies experiences to ahackett@minnpost.com.



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