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August 12, 2020

What to expect in Washington (August 12)

The Democratic ticket is set as presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden selected Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his vice-presidential running mate, capping months of speculation and making the two a team after tensely squaring off in the primary debates. The New York Times said Senator Harris "is the first Black woman and the first person of Indian descent to be nominated for national office by a major party, and only the fourth woman in U.S. history to be chosen for a presidential ticket. She brings to the race a far more vigorous campaign style than Mr. Biden's, including a gift for capturing moments of raw political electricity on the debate stage and elsewhere, and a personal identity and family story that many find inspiring."

The move puts a focus on Senator Harris's previous proposals, especially on the campaign trail, and she can be counted as among those Democrats to back ending the Senate filibuster that sets a 60-vote threshold for most legislation to act on priorities, in her case climate change, as Politico noted yesterday. She said in September 2019 if efforts to work with Republicans fail, "I am prepared to get rid of the filibuster to pass a Green New Deal."

She was also one of the only Democratic contenders to call for repeal of the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (TCJA); most others suggested only parts of the law be rolled back to redistribute benefits toward working class Americans. During a June 2019 debate, Senator Harris promoted her LIFT the Middle Class Act to provide a $500 monthly tax credit for families earning under $100,000 annually, and said on "day one" of her presidency, she would "repeal that tax bill that benefits the top 1% and the biggest corporations of America."

During a news conference August 11, President Trump said of Senator Harris, "she's a big tax raiser, she's a big slasher of funds for our military and she's got a lot of difficult things that she's going to have to explain," and also noted that she delivered some tough talk to Biden during the debates.

Coronavirus legislation

The New York Times also reported on the relative quiet in the Capitol, where both chambers technically were in session but there have been no talks of any consequence on a next coronavirus bill since Friday. "Pessimistic about getting back to the negotiating," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who offered up a package of relatively noncontroversial tax provisions for the talks July 27 that will have difficulty advancing absent a compromise on sticking points like state and local government funding and unemployment benefits.

While some had watched the difficult coronavirus negotiations with an eye toward government funding running out September 30 and the controversy that could surround efforts to enact an extension right before the election, that deadline is now seen as potentially serving double duty as a backstop to compel action on a virus relief package. "Adhering to the adage that Congress works best on a deadline, aides and lawmakers have already begun to note the next one they might use to force compromise: when government funding lapses in seven weeks," the story said.

The Washington Post reported that the Administration may be largely satisfied with the executive action taken over the weekend. "The president and his senior advisers have expressed optimism that the economy does not need an additional package following the White House's executive maneuvers," the report said. "White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows — the president's emissary in negotiations with congressional Democrats — left Washington this week for an unspecified amount of time."

On Fox Business today (August 12), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin again urged Democrats to agree to a smaller coronavirus package on areas where the parties overlap. "Let's spend a little over $1 trillion on areas of the economy that are going to be very impactful now that we can agree on," he said. Secretary Mnuchin said the payroll tax relief under the memorandum signed by the President on Saturday would be optional for employers — the Administration can't force them to act — and "we're going to create a level of certainty for employers that want to participate." President Trump said the Administration is looking at capital gains tax relief, but Secretary Mnuchin suggested that would not be the subject of an executive order. "The president would like to do capital gains tax, and we do need legislation to do what we want on that front," he said.

CNN reported that some House freshman Democrats are among those anxious about Congress not delivering more relief: "The members are calling for bipartisan talks to resume and want the Trump administration and their own party leaders to offer more in the way of compromise in order to get a deal that could reach President Donald Trump's desk."


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