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Strikers Call for $15 Minimum Wage

Fast food workers in 15 states are staging a strike demanding a $15 minimum wage and unionization, part of the “Fight for $15” movement.


Some activists and workers have long been pushing for a $15 minimum wage at the federal level. The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25. Twenty-nine states have higher minimum wages than the federal mandate, and 27 states, cities, or counties have minimum wages of at least $15 per hour.


The striking workers are calling on Congress and the president to increase the federal minimum wage. This is something that incoming president Joe Biden supports. With a Democratic-controlled Congress, this idea could become law this year.


Those pushing for a higher minimum wage say that every worker deserves to be paid a living wage. They contend that increasing the minimum wage will increase worker productivity and ensure more fairness in society. Those opposed to it counter that the government mandating that every worker must be paid $15 per hour will hurt workers with few skills and those entering the job market. They also argue that businesses are already struggling with the coronavirus pandemic and many cannot afford to see such a large increase in salaries.


If enacted, a $15 minimum wage would likely be phased in over a period of years.

Do you support a federal $15 minimum wage?

Gov. Northam Pushes to Legalize Marijuana in Virginia

If Gov. Ralph Northam gets his way, Virginians will soon be able to enjoy legal marijuana.


This week the Northam Administration outlined legislation that would legalize marijuana for recreational use. If enacted, this law would impose a 21% tax on marijuana products and establish a process for those who were affected by marijuana laws in the past could gain entry into the legal marijuana system.


Eleven states have legalized the possession and use of marijuana for recreational purposes: Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. Most of the legalization efforts succeeded through ballot measures approved by voters, but state legislators are beginning to embrace this cause, too.


Supporters of legalization say that marijuana prohibition hurts minority communities, giving many young men a criminal record and hurting their chance of success later in life. They say that legalizing and regulating the drug will keep people out of jail, with the taxes on marijuana products being used for health care and other government services. Opponents of legalization contend that marijuana is a gateway drug. They argue that legalization will lead to increased use of marijuana, which will have significant harms for society.


With both houses of the Virginia General Assembly in Democratic control, the prospects for marijuana legalization look good in that state. The governor's measure has been endorsed by the legislative black caucus, among other groups. 


Do you support legalizing marijuana?

House Impeaches Trump for Second Time

With a week to go until Donald Trump is scheduled to leave office, the House of Representatives voted to impeach him for a second time.


The 232-197 vote was historic for being the first time that the House has ever voted two times to impeach a president. Impeachment has only been used against three presidents -- Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and twice against Donald Trump. No president has been removed from office by the Senate.


The House approved a single article of impeachment, House Resolution 24, which stated, in part:


On January 6, 2021, pursuant to the 12th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the Vice President of the United States, the House of Representatives, and the Senate met at the United States Capitol for a Joint Session of Congress to count the votes of the Electoral College. In the months preceding the Joint Session, President Trump repeatedly issued false statements asserting that the Presidential election results were the product of widespread fraud and should not be accepted by the American people or certified by State or Federal officials. Shortly before the Joint Session commenced, President Trump, addressed a crowd at the Ellipse in Washington, DC. There, he reiterated false claims that “we won this election, and we won it by a landslide”. He also willfully made statements that, in context, encouraged—and foreseeably resulted in—lawless action at the Capitol, such as: “if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore”. Thus incited by President Trump, members of the crowd he had addressed, in an attempt to, among other objectives, interfere with the Joint Session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential election, unlawfully breached and vandalized the Capitol, injured and killed law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress, the Vice President, and Congressional personnel, and engaged in other violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts.


The resolution concluded that Donald Trump "has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security, democracy, and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law."


In a break with the previous impeachment of President Trump, this vote gained 10 Republicans to join the Democrats. These supporters of impeachment said that it was vital to remove President Trump from office immediately before he causes more harm. They also argued that impeachment and removal from office would deprive him of the ability to run for office in 2024. The majority of Republicans opposed impeachment. They said that although the president bears blame for the events of January 6, it was not an impeachable offense. They noted that he was leaving office in a week, so this vote was more about political theater than concern about the nation.


The Senate is not schedule to meet until next week. The trial that takes place will occur largely after Joe Biden is inaugurated as president. If the Senate votes to convict Trump, it will not have the effect of removing him from office, but it would bar another presidential run.


Do you support the impeachment of President Trump?

Schumer Wants Capitol Rioters Put on No-Fly List

In the wake of the riot at the U.S. Capitol, Sen. Chuck Schumer is calling on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to place the individuals involved on the agency's no-fly list.


Sen. Schumer, who will soon become Senate majority leader, contends that these individuals pose a threat to U.S. security. He says that these people may be planning on traveling to other states and committing further crimes, so they should be prevented from boarding aircraft.


The TSA maintains a list of individuals whom it has determined are connected to terrorist activity. To be included on this list, someone does not need to have been convicted of a crime. Instead, the list is compiled using a variety of sources of intelligence. Once on the list, a person can be removed, but the process takes a significant effort.


These facts about the no-fly list have led many on both the left and the right to question its use. They argue that air travel is essential to the modern world, so depriving someone of the right to fly without due process of law is a violation of their rights. They contend that only those who have been tied to terrorism in a court of law should be on the no-fly list. Supporters of the list argue that it is a necessary way to prevent a terrorist attack.


While a senator can call upon the TSA to add someone to this list, the TSA has its own procedures for doing so. While there have been reports of individuals tied to the riots being denied the ability to fly, it is unknown if these are accurate.


Do you think the Capitol rioters should be denied the ability to board U.S. airlines?

House GOP Blocks 25th Amendment Resolution

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants Congress to call on Vice President Mike Pence to help remove Donald Trump from the presidency. A congressional Republican objected to the effort, however, and Speaker Pelosi vows that the House will vote on impeachment on Wednesday.


On Monday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) moved that the House adopt a resolution calling on Vice President Mike Pence to exercise his authority under the 25th Amendment to convene the cabinet in an attempt to declare President Trump unfit and temporarily remove him from office. Since this resolution would be considered under a suspension of the House rules, any member could object to stop it. Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WV) did so.


The House will vote on this resolution on Tuesday.


Speaker Pelosi has said that she would prefer Vice President Pence act instead of the House impeaching Trump for a second time. However, if he does not do so by Wednesday, the speaker would lead the House in an impeachment vote. Democratic House members have already drawn up an article of impeachment, saying that the president should be removed from office for inciting the Capitol riot.


Under the 25th Amendment, if the vice president and a majority of cabinet officers declares that the president is unable to discharge the duties of his office, the vice president assumes the presidency. The president can dispute this and it would ultimately be up to Congress to determine if the president should be removed from office. Some scholars contend that this option can only be involved if the president is incapacitated in some way. Others say that President Trump's actions indicate that he is in no state to be making decisions, so his removal would be justified. Vice President Pence has said that he will not invoke this power under the current circumstances.


Do you think that Vice President Pence and the cabinet should temporarily remove President Trump from office using the 25th Amendment?

Congressional Democrats Considering Impeachment

In the wake of a riot in the Capitol, Congressional Democrats are considering a second impeachment against President Trump.


Accusing President Trump of inciting an insurrection, these members of Congress say it is appropriate to impeach and remove President Trump from office as soon as possible. Although he will leave the White House when Joe Biden assumes the presidency on January 20, some Democrats and Republicans fear that he will do damage to the nation in his remaining two weeks in office.


Impeachment is usually a slow process, but it can also proceed quickly. Speaker Pelosi can call the House of Representatives into session next week and pass articles of impeachment within days. There are already multiple members of the House who say they will support impeaching the president a second time. If this occurs, then the Senate would take up the matter. While it is likely that most, if not all, Democrats would vote in favor of impeachment and removal, it is unclear how many Republicans would support it. A handful have said they are open to the idea.


Even if Congress works quickly on impeachment and removal, Donald Trump would only be taken out of office with a few days left in his term. Supporters of this action say that the main benefit of this process would be to prohibit him from ever running for president or any federal office again.


Do you think that Donald Trump should be impeached a second time?

After Riot, Congress Confirms Biden Victory

Meeting in a session that was interrupted by a large-scale riot and storming of the capitol building, members of Congress yesterday rejected attempts to throw out the electoral votes of a handful of states. After hours of delay, the joint session finally affirmed Joe Biden’s electoral college victory at 3:45 a.m.


Various members of the House of Representatives and Senate promised to object to the votes cast by electors in at least 5 states. A joint session convened at 1 p.m. to witness Vice President Mike Pence presiding over the counting of these votes. As Arizona’s votes were being counted, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) rose to object. Since his objection slip was signed by a senator, this led to the House and Senate meeting separately to deliberate on that objection.


During these meetings, a group of individuals who were protesting outside the capitol broke into the building, assaulted police, and drove the members of Congress into undisclosed locations. These rioters then broke into the Senate chamber and attempted to reach the House chamber. Capitol Police shot one woman. 


Hours later, Capitol Police and other law enforcement cleared the capitol building, allowing the electoral vote count to resume. Members resumed deliberations on the Arizona objection, with the House rejecting it by a vote of 303-121 and the Senate by a vote of 93-6. While House members also attempted to object to electoral votes cast in Georgia, Michigan, and Nevada, but no senators joined them. An effort to toss out Pennsylvania’s vote was rejected by the Senate on a vote of 92-7 and 282-138 in the House. 


After these objections were defeated, the electoral count continued and Vice President Pence declared that Joe Biden had won the presidency. 


The meeting of the joint session of Congress is generally little more than a formality, with members being present to witness the counting of votes. While there had been objections to electoral votes in the past, there had never been this many members of Congress who supported them.


What do you think about the riot that took place in and around the capitol building yesterday?


Massachusetts Aims to Ban the Sale of Gasoline-Powered Vehicles

This week Massachusetts officials announced a plan to phase-out the sale and use of carbon-emitting vehicles by 2050.


Under the outline put forth by Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides, the state would ban the sale of new carbon-emitting vehicles used by most drivers by 2035. The state also has a goal of ensuring that half of the trucks and buses sold in the state are zero-emission by 2030. However, the state's goal is to have all of those vehicles be emission-free by 2050.


According to the report, "For the Commonwealth to achieve Net Zero, fossil fuel use must be all but completely eliminated in on-road vehicles by 2050."


Critics of this ban note that consumers, not government, drive markets. They say that zero-emission cars are not attractive to consumers, and that innovation by the private sector will lead to more widespread purchasing of these cars. They also contend that this order will hurt consumers who want a wider choice in vehicles.


Other states have pursued similar goals. California's governor, for instance, issued an order earlier this year that aimed to transition the state to zero-emission vehicles. In both states, however, these plans are not solidified in law. Future administrations can alter or remove them.


Do you think states should prohibit people from buying vehicles that are not carbon-free?

Congress Counts Electoral College Votes on Wednesday

On Wednesday the members of Congress will meet in a joint session to count the votes cast by electors from the 50 states and the District of Columbia. While this is usually a session with little drama, some Republicans this year are planning on objecting to the votes by electors in a handful of states.


Under the Constitution and federal law, the House of Representatives and the Senate must meet in a joint session to count electoral votes. The vice president presides and opens the votes, announcing the tally. In most years, this is a pro forma session, with little being done but ratifying the votes that were cast. 


Members of Congress do have the power to object to a single electoral vote or a slate of electoral votes, however. To do so, they must present an objection to the vice president and that objection must be signed by both a member of the House of Representatives and the Senate. If this occurs, then each house meets in its own chambers to debate the objection for 2 hours. They then vote on sustaining the objection. Both houses must vote in favor of rejecting the electoral vote or votes in order for the attempt to be successful.


Some Democratic members of the House of Representatives attempted to do so in 2001, but no senators signed. In 1968 and 2005, there were successful objections but neither house of Congress voted to throw out the votes.


This year, Republicans from the House and Senate have said they would object to votes in states where there are allegations of fraud or disputes about the election practices. Members have different arguments in favor of their actions, from complaints about fraudulent votes or arguments that state legislatures, not courts or governors, should set election practices. Regardless of their rationale, these efforts will likely lead to multiple meetings of the House and Senate to vote on accepting or rejecting electoral votes.


Given the Democratic control of the House of Representatives and many Republican senators who have said they would not support these objections, it is almost certain that Congress will eventually accept the contested electoral votes. 


Do you think that Congress should reject electoral votes in states where Republicans say there was fraud or irregularities?

House Votes to Override Trump Defense Veto

In the waning days of his term, President Trump suffered a rare veto override in the House of Representatives. On Monday the House voted to reject the president's veto of legislation that reauthorizes the Defense Authorization Act.


Here is how VoteSpotter describes the vote:


To override President Trump's veto of a National Defense Authorization Act. The bill authorizes military programs for the year. Trump vetoed the bill because, among other things, it does not remove a provision of federal law that shields social media companies from certain lawsuits, and it limits the president's ability to remove U.S. troops from some foreign countries.


The Defense Authorization Act is legislation that must be passed every year to authorize military activities and set defense policies. Prior to passage, the president said he would veto this legislation unless it contained a repeal of a federal law that provides some liability protection for social media platforms, known as Section 230. Last week, he followed through on this veto threat. 


In his veto message, President Trump criticized Congress's failure to repeal Section 230. He also said that the bill "fails to include critical national security measures, includes provisions that fail to respect our veterans and our military’s history, and contradicts efforts by my Administration to put America first in our national security and foreign policy actions. It is a ‘gift’ to China and Russia."


A bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives disagreed, voting 322-87 to override his veto. In past veto overrides, most Republicans have stuck with President Trump. This time, however, only 66 voted to sustain his veto. For a veto override to be successful, it must obtain a two-thirds majority in each house of Congress. The Senate is expected to vote this week.


What do you think about the House of Representatives voting to override President Trump's veto of the Defense Authorization Act?

House Votes to Increase Coronavirus Checks By $1400

This week the House of Representatives voted to increase the amount of coronavirus aid checks going to most taxpayers from $600 to $2,000.


As part of a coronavirus aid bill that President Trump signed into law on Sunday, Congress had authorized a second round of stimulus checks. House Speaker Pelosi had been pushing for checks of $2,000 for most taxpayers, but Republicans resisted that idea. Instead, leaders of the two parties compromised on checks of $600. A large bipartisan majority voted in favor of the bill, which was packaged with legislation that funded the federal government through the end of the fiscal year.


After passage, President Trump began attacking the package, saying that the $600 checks were too stingy. He said that Congress should return and amend the bill to provide $2,000 checks. While he hinted he may veto the bill, he eventually ended up signing it. However, Congress did return to the Capitol to vote on an increase in the check amount, something that Speaker Pelosi had been pushing Republicans to accept.


By a vote of 275-134, the House passed HR 9051, The CASH Act. The Senate is now considering the legislation. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has strongly opposed increasing the stimulus check amount to $2,000, citing concerns about deficit spending. It is unclear how much support there is for this legislation in the Republican caucus.


Do you support a $2,000 coronavirus stimulus check?

Trump Signs Coronavirus Aid and Federal Spending Bill

After blasting Congress for its spending priorities, President Trump signed into law legislation that keeps the federal government from partially shutting down as well as provides a new round of coronavirus aid relief.


Last week Congress passed legislation that funded the federal government through the end of the fiscal year (October 2021) and contained a new package of aid related to coronavirus. The coronavirus aid included these provisions, among other things:

  • A $600 check for most Americans
  • Continuing to allow self-employed workers and gig workers access to unemployment benefits
  • An extension of time limit for receiving unemployment benefits
  • An additional $300 boost in unemployment benefits
  • The Paycheck Protection Program, which offered forgivable loans to businesses affected by the pandemic, was extended and provided with more funding
  • An extension of the eviction moratorium that was set to expire within weeks



Trump Administration officials had worked with Congress to craft this legislation. These officials came to an agreement over this spending and aid package, which passed both the House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. After passage, however, President Trump began tweeting that he did not like the package. He said that it should include a $2,000 check for most Americans and a cut in foreign aid. The $2,000 aid check was a priority for House Democrats, so Speaker Nancy Pelosi attempted to suspend House rules to pass legislation to amend the legislation. Republicans, citing concerns over spending, blocked that move. 


On Sunday, the president signed the legislation into law. Doing so prevents the federal government from partially shutting down this week. However, he used a provision in federal law to set aside some spending for 45 days. During this time, Congress can consider cutting that spending. If Congress does not act, however, the spending goes into effect.


Do you support President Trump signing the federal spending and coronavirus aid bill?


Trump Vetoes Defense Bill

Following through with this threat, President Trump today vetoed the Defense Authorization Act, setting up a veto showdown with Congress.


The Defense Authorization Act is legislation that must be passed every year to authorize military activities and set defense policies. Earlier this month the president said he would veto this legislation unless it contained a repeal of a federal law that provides some liability protection for social media platforms, known as Section 230. President Trump and some Republicans have accused social media platforms and Google of liberal bias in moderating content. Democrats, on the other hand, say that these companies have not gone far enough to remove false or hateful speech. Congress has held hearings with officials from these companies where both Democratic and Republican members have criticized them for how they operate their businesses.


Repealing Section 230 would make it easier to sue social media companies for their moderating activities. President Trump has grown increasingly angry over what he perceives as unfair treatment from the platforms, and has made repeal a high priority. While there is bipartisan support for some sort of Section 230 reform in Congress, there is no agreement on what form that should take. Critics of repeal argue that easing civil suits would have a negative effect on free speech. 


In his veto message, President Trump also said that the bill "fails to include critical national security measures, includes provisions that fail to respect our veterans and our military’s history, and contradicts efforts by my Administration to put America first in our national security and foreign policy actions. It is a ‘gift’ to China and Russia."


Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) was quick to retort: "President Trump clearly hasn’t read the bill, nor does he understand what’s in it. There are several bipartisan provisions in here that get tougher on China than the Trump Administration has ever been."


Congress has recessed for Christmas, but has yet to adjourn for the year. Members can return next week in an attempt to override the president's veto. This takes a vote of 2/3 in both chambers. The Defense Authorization Act passed with larger margins than this, but some Republicans may be reluctant to directly confront the president on this. 


Do you think that Congress should override the president's veto of defense legislation?


Looking Back at Congressional Coronavirus Aid Bills

With the passage of a new coronavirus relief bill by Congress this week, 2020 will be ending with the federal government authorizing nearly $4 billion to be spent on dealing with this pandemic. This spending has been approved by overwhelming bipartisan majorities, it has come after significant wrangling by Democrats and Republicans in Congress and the Trump Administration. 


The aid packages began shortly after the seriousness of the pandemic was becoming apparent to the U.S. public. In early, March the House of Representatives voted 415-2 and the Senate voted 96-1 to send a $8.3 billion spending bill to President Trump. The money in this legislation concerned vaccine development and use, prevention activities, preparedness for the virus, and for federal response if the virus spreads widely.


There was little opposition to this legislation in either the House or the Senate. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) offered an amendment to cut funding from international programs to offset the new spending in this bill. By a vote of 81-15, senators tabled, or killed, the amendment. Sen. Paul was the only senator to vote against the final version of the bill.


Congress quickly passed a second coronavirus-related bill that same month. Here’s how VoteSpotter described that bill:


To mandate that businesses with fewer than 500 employees offer paid sick leave for two weeks, increase federal unemployment insurance payments to the states by $1 billion, provide more federal money for food aid programs prohibit the Trump Administration from strengthening social welfare benefit work requirements, and provide waivers to insurance companies to give no-cost coronavirus tests, among other things.


The House passed that bill 363-40 while the Senate approved it 90-8.


That was followed in late March by the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act:This bill incudes:

  • Expanded unemployment benefits
  • A one-time $1,200 payment to Americans whose income is under $75,000
  • A $500 billion fund administered by the Federal Reserve to provide liquidity to businesses
  • A $367 billion small business loan program that becomes a grant if firms don’t lay off employees
  • $130 billion in aid for hospitals
  • $25 billion aid package for airlines


This $2.2 trillion bill is the most expensive single bill ever passed by Congress. While there was some disagreement about the details of the bill, it did not face a dissenting vote in either chamber. 


April saw another round of coronavirus aid, with the House passing an aid bill by a vote of 388-5 and the Senate approving it by a voice vote. This $484 billion bill contained these provisions, among other things:

  • $310 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program
  • $75 billion for hospital aid
  • $25 billion for coronavirus testing
  • $60 billion for disaster loans and grants


After this, the bipartisan consensus for coronavirus aid broke down. The House of Representatives passed another aid bill in May along largely partisan lines, with 208 members supporting it and 199 opposing it. This bill included:

  • Nearly $1 trillion in aid for state and local governments
  • $200 billion to provide hazard pay for front-line workers
  • Another round of direct payments to households
  • $175 billion in housing aid
  • $75 billion for more testing


The Senate did not act on this legislation or any coronavirus bill until September. Throughout this time, President Trump continued to push for a payroll tax cut to be a main focus of any new coronavirus relief bill. In July, an administration spokesperson issued this statement:


As he has done since the beginning of this pandemic, President Trump wants to provide relief to hardworking Americans who have been impacted by this virus and one way of doing that is with a payroll tax holiday. He’s called on Congress to pass this before and he believes it must be part of any phase four package.


This idea never gained traction with either Democrats or Republicans in Congress, however. Some expressed the idea that such a tax cut would do little in terms of economic stimulus and would make the fiscal problems of entitlement programs like Medicare worse.


On September 10, Senate Republicans attempted to pass what they called a “skinny” coronavirus aid bill. Here is how VoteSpotter described the bill:


To provide an additional $300-per-week payment in unemployment benefits, an expanded loan program for small businesses affected by coronavirus, $105 billion for schools to deal with coronavirus as well as to fund school choice, $20 billion for farmers and ranchers affected by coronavirus, $31 billion for vaccines, $16 billion for testing and contact tracing, and $10 billion in loan forgiveness for the Postal Service if it makes certain reforms, among other things.


By a vote of 52-47, the Senate failed to meet the 3/5 margin necessary to proceed to debate. 


Talks to put together a bipartisan aid bill did not make much progress prior to the November election. Many Democrats and Republicans were waiting to see what the election results would be, hoping that voters would give their party an advantage. Once the election occurred, however, there appeared to be renewed desire to pass a bill.


The legislation that emerged did not contain the state and local aid provisions sought by Democrats nor the business liability shield sought by Republicans. Each side dropped demands for its favored position in order to pass a bill that had a variety of measures with bipartisan support. The price tag for this new aid legislation is $900 billion. Among other things, it contains these provisions:

  • A $600 check for most Americans
  • Continuing to allow self-employed workers and gig workers access to unemployment benefits
  • An extension of time limit for receiving unemployment benefits
  • An additional $300 boost in unemployment benefits
  • The Paycheck Protection Program, which offered forgivable loans to businesses affected by the pandemic, was extended and provided with more funding
  • An extension of the eviction moratorium that was set to expire within weeks
  • Funding for schools to reopen
  • An expansion in the eligibility of Pell Grants
  • Funding to purchase vaccines
  • $16 billion for airlines
  • A prohibition on surprise medical billing


With the coronavirus pandemic likely to continue affecting workers and the economy for months to come, there will likely be another push for an aid bill once Joe Biden is inaugurated president.


Congress, Trump Agree on New Coronavirus Aid Bill

After weeks of negotiations, House leaders and Trump Administration officials have agreed to a coronavirus aid package.


The price tag for this new aid legislation is $900 billion. Among other things, it contains these provisions:

  • A $600 check for most Americans
  • Continuing to allow self-employed workers and gig workers access to unemployment benefits
  • An extension of time limit for receiving unemployment benefits
  • An additional $300 boost in unemployment benefits
  • The Paycheck Protection Program, which offered forgivable loans to businesses affected by the pandemic, was extended and provided with more funding
  • An extension of the eviction moratorium that was set to expire within weeks
  • Funding for schools to reopen
  • An expansion in the eligibility of Pell Grants
  • Funding to purchase vaccines
  • $16 billion for airlines
  • A prohibition on surprise medical billing


While Congress had passed three bipartisan coronavirus relief bills in the spring, there had not been an agreement on further legislation since that time. Republicans and Democrats disagreed on a variety of issues. One of the Democrats’ largest priorities was aid for state and local governments. Republicans wanted liability protection for businesses. Neither of those things were included in this legislation, with members of the two parties jettisoning demands for them to focus on issues where there was widespread agreement.


The legislation is packaged with an omnibus appropriations bill that finalizes federal spending through the rest of the fiscal year. This keeps the federal government open through October 1 of 2021. 


Most members of Congress support this legislation. Some, however, oppose it citing concerns about deficit spending. This legislation will bring the amount of total federal coronavirus aid to $4 trillion.


Do you support the new $900 billion coronavirus aid bill?

Senator Blocks COVID Aid over Price Tag

Senators are meeting to consider a new coronavirus aid bill. One of them is slowing down the process over concerns about the high cost of the legislation.


On Friday, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) objected to a motion that begin Senate consideration of a new aid package. Sen. Johnson expressed his concern that the Senate was rushing to enact a bill that was not well-written as well as legislation that would be "mortgaging our children's future."


Sen. Josh Hawley (R-IN) was attempting to begin Senate debate on legislation that would, among other things, provide another $1,200 check to most taxpayers. According to Sen. Hawley, "What I'm proposing is what every senator has supported already, this year...What I'm proposing will give working folks in my state and across this country a shot ... at getting back up on their feet."


This did not persuade Sen. Johnson. While he said, "I completely support some kind of program targeted for small businesses," he went on to say he "fear[s] we're going to do with this bipartisan package and what the senator from Missouri is talking about is the same thing, is a shotgun approach."


Sen. Hawley had been working with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to advance direct-payment legislation. Congressional leadership has been working with the Trump Administration to craft a new coronavirus relief bill as well as legislation that would fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year. There has been no agreement yet.


The motion by Sen. Hawley was a procedural motion asking unanimous consent for the Senate to proceed to consideration on his bill. An objection by one senator to the suspension of rules can stop that consideration.


Do you have concerns about the high cost of federal coronavirus relief legislation?

Google Faces Antitrust Suit from 38 States

Google is facing a third antitrust lawsuit, this time over allegations that the company manipulates its search results to give it a business advantage over competitors.


The suit, led by attorneys general from Nebraska and Colorado, involves 38 states and elected officials from both parties. It alleges that Google has used anti-competitive practices to become the dominant search engine. Among the practices the suit cites are deals that place Google as the default search engine on browsers and smartphones and the company's use of paid ads to drive search results.


This case joins another suit by state attorneys general and one by the federal government that attack the company for practices alleged to squelch competition. Democratic and Republican elected officials have complained the company is too powerful and manipulates the market in illegal ways. They contend that the company's actions have led to a situation where it faces no effective competition, something they say is dangerous.


Google and its supporters push back against these claims. They say that the company came to its dominant position by offering a better product than its rivals. They point out that pre-Google search engines were not very accurate and argue that the company grew by meeting consumer demand.


The separate suits by state attorneys general may be consolidated. It is unclear how the incoming Biden Administration will handle the federal suit against Google.


Do you think that Google engages in uncompetitive practices?

Cuomo Signs Confederate Flag Sale Ban

If you want to sell Confederate flags on government property in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has other plans for you. This week he signed legislation to prohibit the sale of "symbols of hate" on state-owned property. Critics say that this ban almost certainly runs afoul of the First Amendment.


Under this new law, no "symbols of hate" could be sold on public property, including state fairgrounds. These symbols are defined to include "symbols of white supremacy, neo-Nazi ideology, or the battle flag of the Confederacy." Even private sellers on public land could not sell them, which would encompass vendors at fairs or others who rent space on state-owned property. Museums and other educational institutions are exempt.


Gov. Cuomo defended his action, saying that "by limiting the display and sale of the confederate flag, Nazi swastika and other symbols of hatred from being displayed or sold on state property, including the state fairgrounds, this will help safeguard New Yorkers from the fear-installing effects of these abhorrent symbols." 


Critics note that this ban is likely unconstitutional. They note that courts have long held that hate speech is protected by the First Amendment. By focusing the ban on the meaning of a symbol, they argue that the law is discriminating against certain viewpoints. The Constitution does not allow this.


The governor acknowledges that certain aspects of the bill may need to be fixed to make them constitutional. However, he signed it regardless of these concerns.


Do you think that it violates the First Amendment to ban the sale of Confederate flags on public property?

Supreme Court Allows Religious Exemptions from some Coronavirus Rules

Officials in Colorado and New Jersey wanted to impose attendance limits on religious services, but the Supreme Court held that these states did not have the power to order this.


In both states, authorities had said that there must be limits on in-person religious gatherings. However, the states had different rules for other gatherings. The justices determined that the state must treat religious groups the same as these other gatherings. Failing to do so would violate the First Amendment.


These decisions were in line with a Supreme Court order from last month. In the Colorado case, the justices ruled against the state by a decision of 6-3. The three dissenting justices did not necessarily object to the rationale of the case. Instead, they held that since Colorado had already lifted its restriction, the case was moot. There were no dissents in the New Jersey case.


The issue of how stay-at-home orders and other restrictions related to the coronavirus apply to churches, mosques, and other religious gatherings has been a divisive issue during the pandemic. States often impose different types of restrictions on different types of businesses and gatherings. Religious groups have sued when restrictions on churches are more severe than restrictions on restaurants or other businesses.


These suits allege that when government is imposing restraints on religious exercises, it should do so as minimally as possible. They argue that treating religious gatherings more strictly than other gatherings is an infringement upon the freedom to worship. The Supreme Court has agreed with this reasoning.


Do you think that religious gatherings should be restricted in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus?

Electoral College Members Vote Today

The vote for president of the United States occurred today. Electors met in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to cast votes for president, a vote that is expected to place Joe Biden in the White House on January 20.


Under the Constitution, it is electors, not voters, who decide who is president. On Election Day, voters cast ballots for a slate of electors. These electors then meet in their respective state capitals in December to vote on who will be president and vice-president. Their only constitutional limitation is that they cannot vote for two people from the same state. Washington, D.C., and 26 states also require that electors vote for whomever won that state's popular vote. Each state has a number of electors equal to the number of its congressional delegation.


A joint session of Congress will convene in January to count the electoral votes and formally declare a winner of the presidential election. During that time, members of Congress can object to either a single electoral vote or a state's slate of electoral votes. Such an objection must be presented in writing and signed by a member of the House of Representatives and a senator. While individual members of Congress have objected during the vote counting, an objection has only been considered twice -- in 1968 and 2005. When this happens, the House and Senate meet in individual sessions to consider the objection. Both houses must vote to sustain it in order for the vote or votes to be thrown out.


Generally, the meeting of the Electoral College is a routine process. However, due to claims of voting fraud by President Trump and his allies, this year it is being watched more closely than in many other years. 


There have long been efforts to reform or eliminate the Electoral College. Critics claim it is a vestige of pre-democratic times, when a slaveholding class was looking to preserve its power. They say that the president should be chosen by popular vote. Supporters of the Electoral College argue that it provides an incentive for presidential candidates to pay attention to the entire country, not merely a few highly populated areas. They also note that it produces a clear winner, which may not happen if there are disputes over the popular vote.


What do you think about the Electoral College? Do you support abolishing it?

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