- “The incident follows two mass shootings in the past two weeks: one at three Atlanta-area spas that left eight people dead, including six Asian women, and another at a Boulder, Colo., supermarket in which 10 people were killed.”
TAXING CHALLENGE: President Biden is already moving on to a massive infrastructure plan. But his administration is still wrapping its arms around distributing payments from the economic stimulus plan that was Biden's first big legislative achievement.
An even bigger lift for the agency tasked with dispatching stimulus payments amid a massive tax backlog: The expansion of the 2021 child tax credit giving eligible parents $3,000 annually for children ages 6 to 17 and $3,600 to those with kids under age 6.
IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig told lawmakers in a hearing last month his agency intends “to do our best” to ready to send the credits to those eligible July 1.
But he conceded the challenges in launching an online portal so quickly so recipients can provide their current information. Lawmakers and outside groups are expressing concern that accessing the expanded credits will be a challenge for the millions of non-filing, low-income families who need them most.
- “ … eligibility does not mean access,” Bethany Lilly, the director of income policy at the nonprofit group the Arc, wrote in a statement provided to Power Up. “Tax filing obligations are making it extraordinarily difficult for the families in most financial need to access government programs, as the eight million low-income people who have not yet claimed the first rounds of stimulus payments highlight.”
During a closed-door briefing with lawmakers and staff last month, a Senate Democratic aide told us the IRS “voluntarily” explained it's working to follow the “spirit” of the policy to provide monthly payments as opposed to “periodic payments” specified in the bill between July and December — the duration of the program.
- “The real hope is that we are learning in real time from the first six month rollout of stimulus payments to inform what we hope to be a permanent policy that the administration will fight for in the infrastructure package,” the Democratic Senate aide said.
- Context: “With a massive backlog of 24 million tax returns accrued over the past few years — and other stimulus responsibilities on the horizon — Rettig raised the possibility that the IRS may not have the personnel to set up an online ‘portal’ for the new program,” our colleague Tony Romm reported.
Ramping up: Rettig noted to lawmakers the tax agency has low-income taxpayer clinics in communities to help ensure those eligible can access their benefits.
- “If I don't have income, why do I have to file a return? Unfortunately, the statute triggers off a filing of a return,” Rettig explained to lawmakers. “So, we need to get folks to actually file their returns … We have outreach materials. And, you know, I hope you can tell there's a lot of passion, not just myself, I'm just sitting here today, but the employees in our organization to make this happen.”
- In a statement to Power Up, the IRS cited its success with the implementation and distribution of previous stimulus payments: “We will work to build on the efforts we’ve taken on the Economic Impact Payments to reach people outside of the tax system. Last year, the IRS stimulus effort included reaching more than 8 million people who normally don’t file a tax return.”
$$$: Even with a functioning web portal, anti-poverty groups are already calling for additional federal resources to help raise awareness of the benefit that is expected to halve child poverty. Lily called for additional funding for “community assisters” — third parties that help people assess their eligibility for benefits and assist them with accessing payments – especially amid a pandemic that has stretched resources.
- “The IRS is directed by the [stimulus] to set up a portal for people to use to get the correct [child tax credit] to which they’re entitled,” a spokesperson for Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told us. “Sen. Brown is pushing the IRS to make that portal as widely-known about and as accessible as possible.”
Correction: The text has been updated to note that the Democratic aide intended to praise the IRS for following the “spirit” of the policy in distributing monthly payments as opposed to the “periodic payments” specified in the bill.
At the White House
IT REALLY IS INFRASTRUCTURE WEEK: “Biden made the opening pitch for his massive jobs plan on Wednesday, laying out what he called a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revamp the country’s infrastructure, reinvigorate the economy and prepare for the challenges of climate change,” our colleague Reis Thebault reports.
- “The president highlighted key features of the proposed legislation, which the White House unveiled earlier Wednesday, including repairing 20,000 miles of highways and roads, upgrading bridges, building new railway corridors, replacing ‘100 percent’ of the country’s lead pipes and making sure all Americans can access the Internet.”
- “This is not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” Biden said during a speech in Pittsburgh. “It is a once-in-a-generation investment in America, unlike anything we’ve done since we built the interstate highway system and the space race decades ago.”
- “The rollout of Biden’s infrastructure overhaul proposal … marks his latest overture to Rust Belt battlegrounds that Democrats increasingly see as critical to enacting their economic agenda nationwide,” our colleagues Tony Romm, Marianna Sotomayor and Justin Sondel report.
- “Party leaders have been aggressive about promoting their vision for bigger government, and higher spending" since the economic stimulus bill was enacted. "But they’ve taken that message directly and repeatedly to Pennsylvania, sensing the high stakes in proving to swing-state voters they are able to keep their word.”
Environmentally sound: “The linchpin of Biden’s plan is the creation of a national standard requiring utilities to use a specific amount of solar, wind and other renewable energy to power American homes, businesses and factories. The amount would increase over time, cutting the nation’s use of coal, gas and oil over the next 15 years,” our colleagues Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin report. “Biden’s strategy would amount to the most sweeping federal intervention in the electricity sector in generations.”
- But “many hardcore climate activists [said] the bill wasn’t radical enough on climate change and other urgent environmental issues,” Bloomberg’s Leslie Kaufman and Brian Eckhouse report.
- Not enough for green activists: “Many of the criticisms were summed up in a statement from Greenpeace USA. ‘The president’s ambition in this moment does not meet the scale of the interlocking crises facing our country,’ the group said. ‘It is not enough to go back to normal.’”
- Republicans also opposed: “Republicans and prominent business groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have come out against the plan, particularly the proposed tax increases, arguing they would damage U.S. investment and global competitiveness,” our colleague Rachel Siegel reports.
Biden’s case for big government. “It has been 40 years since President Ronald Reagan declared in his first inaugural address that ‘government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem.’ The infrastructure plan that Biden described on Wednesday is a bet that government can do colossal things that the private sector cannot,” the New York Times’s David E. Sanger reports.
- “It is clear [Biden’s initiative] is based on the gamble that the country is ready to dispense with one of the main tenets of the Reagan revolution, and show that for some tasks the government can jump-start the economy more efficiently than market forces.”
In the media
HUNTER BIDEN CHRONICLES ADDICTIONS IN NEW MEMOIR: “Beautiful Things” “chronicles in detail how the son of President Biden struggled with addiction and his deep descent after the death of his brother, Beau, of cancer in 2015. He recounts his many stints in and out of rehab, his family’s efforts to help get him sober and his countless drug-filled binges across the country,” our colleagues Tyler Pager and Ashley Parker report. The book comes out April 6.
- “In the last five years alone, my two-decades-long marriage has dissolved, guns have been put in my face, and at one point I dropped clean off the grid, living in $59-a-night Super 8 motels off I-95 while scaring my family even more than myself,” he writes.
- “Much of the book centers on his personal struggles, but Biden also defends his business career, which became a top target for Trump and his allies during the presidential campaign. Biden acknowledges his father’s political career aided him but maintains neither he nor his father did anything illegal, particularly as it relates to Burisma.”
- “There’s no question my last name was a coveted credential. That has always been the case — do you think if any of the Trump children ever tried to get a job outside of their father’s business that his name wouldn’t figure into the calculation? … I did nothing unethical, and have never been charged with wrongdoing.”
At the Pentagon
PENTAGON REVERSES TRUMP-ERA BAN ON TRANSGENDER TROOPS: “The Defense Department on Wednesday reversed a Trump-era ban restricting transgender troops from serving openly, outlining new policies that include greater access to medical care resources to help people transition while in uniform,” our colleague Alex Horton reports. “The policy takes effect April 30.”
From the courts
- “[The footage] underscores the nonchalance with which Chauvin responded to Floyd’s obvious distress. As Floyd begs for his life and says he can’t breathe, the officer says, ‘Takes a heck of a lot of oxygen to say that.’ When another officer says he can’t find Floyd’s pulse, Chauvin says simply, ‘Uh-huh,’” the Times’s Maggie Astor reports.
- The view from the ground: “The man who witnessed the entirety of [Floyd's] fatal arrest by Minneapolis police sobbed in court Wednesday and struggled to speak after seeing video of himself urging Floyd to get off the ground and go along with the officers,” reports the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “With 61-year-old Charles McMillian on the witness stand, prosecutor Erin Eldridge played surveillance and police body camera video of officers handcuffing Floyd and pushing him into the squad on May 25, 2020. When she paused the video, McMillian dropped his head, gasped and said, 'Oh, my God.'”
Outside the Beltway
GEORGIA SPORTS TEAMS AND COMPANIES CONDEMN STATE VOTING LAW: “Some of Georgia’s biggest companies — including Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines — and Atlanta sports teams the Falcons and the Hawks came out strongly against the state’s new voting law Wednesday amid growing backlash against the business world for failing to do enough to stop the measure from becoming law,” our colleagues Hannah Denham and Jena McGregor report.
- Likewise, 72 “of the most prominent Black business leaders in America are banding together to call on companies to fight a wave of restrictive voting bills being advanced by Republicans in at least 43 states. The campaign appears to be the first time that so many powerful Black executives have organized to directly call out their peers for failing to stand up for racial justice,” the Times’s Andrew Ross Sorkin and David Gelles report.
- “There is no middle ground here,” Kenneth Chenault, a former chief executive of American Express, said. “You either are for more people voting, or you want to suppress the vote.”
- Backlash in Ga. legislature: GOP Gov. Brian “Kemp and other GOP leaders say they were caught off guard by the opposition, and the Georgia House retaliated by narrowly voting to end a lucrative tax break on jet fuel during the final, frenzied day of the legislative session. The measure never came up for a final vote in the Senate, where leaders are more lukewarm on overtly punishing Delta," reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
JOHNSON & JOHNSON CONFIRMS MANUFACTURING ERROR: “Johnson & Johnson vaccine was contaminated by ingredients from another company’s vaccine at a manufacturing plant in Baltimore, ruining a batch of raw vaccine representing millions of doses and prompting a review,” our colleagues Christopher Rowland and Laurie McGinley report.
- “The mixing of ingredients for coronavirus vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca occurred at a plant operated by Emergent, which has not yet been certified by the Food and Drug Administration to produce the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”
- But a senior official working on the federal government’s covid-19 response told Politico’s Erin Banco, Sarah Owermohle and Rachel Roubein the Department of Health and Human Services has known about the botched vaccines since last week. “It was no secret that Emergent did not have a deep bench of pharmaceutical manufacturing experts,” the official said.
TOP ADVISER WARNED TRUMP ABOUT VIRUS SUPPLY SHORTAGE: Peter Navarro, who served as President Donald Trump’s trade adviser, “privately urged Trump to acquire critical medical supplies in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak — and after the warning was ignored, pursued his own ad hoc strategy that committed more than $1 billion in federal funds,” our colleague Dan Diamond reports.
- “There is NO downside risk to taking swift actions as an insurance policy against what may be a very serious public health emergency,” Navarro wrote to the president. “If the covid-19 crisis quickly recedes, the only thing we will have been guilty of is prudence.”
IT'S PEAK BLOOM! Our colleague William Neff writes about Japan’s other gift at the Tidal Basin.
- Watch Washington’s annual Cherry Blossom Festival online.