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Biden Pushes for Assault Weapons Ban

In the wake of a shooting in Boulder, Colorado, President Joe Biden called on Congress to pass legislation that would outlaw certain types of semi-automatic guns and high-capacity magazines. He also wants federal background checks to cover more gun sales. Such legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate.


Banning semi-automatic weapons with certain military features, often labeled as “assault weapons,” has long been something that Democrats have wanted enacted. The House of Representatives also recently passed two bills that would mandate federal background checks on more gun purchases and transfers. However, there is resistance in the Senate to passing such legislation.


Proponents of these bills argue that they will help stop gun violence. They point to mass shooters using assault weapons to commit their crimes and argue that banning these guns would save lives. Opponents, however, contend that the only thing that makes a semi-automatic gun an “assault weapon” is how it looks, since the ban is focused on cosmetic features. They note that criminals and mass shooters will evade gun control laws, which will only disarm law-abiding people.


With the House of Representatives controlled by Democrats, it has been easy to move gun control legislation through that chamber. When the Senate was controlled by Republicans, they had no desire to bring up any of these bills for a vote. Now that the Senate is evenly divided, Republicans cannot block gun control. However, Democrats from states like West Virginia, Arizona, and Montana -- which all have significant gun-owning populations -- are reluctant to support bills that impose new federal laws on guns.


Do you think federal gun control laws should be stricter?

States Sue over Biden Carbon Order

President Biden wants to set the "social cost" of carbon at $50 per metric ton for now and determine a higher rate later. Twelve states are suing to stop him.


These states have filed suit to stop a January executive order that directs the federal government to determine the social cost of carbon and tie it to inflation. In the interim, the order sets that cost at $50 per metric ton. That is the same rate that was used in the Obama Administration but much higher than the $7 per metric ton rate used by President Trump.


The lawsuit contends that President Biden did not have authority to issue this order. In addition, the suit argues:


Setting the "social cost" of greenhouse gases is an inherently speculative, policy-laden, and indeterminate task, which involves attempting to predict such unknowable contingencies as future human migrations, international conflicts, and global catastrophes for hundreds of years into the future. Assigning such values is a quintessentially legislative action that falls within Congress’s exclusive authority.


Supporters of setting a social cost of carbon contend that it is a way to price the spillover effects of carbon use on the environment. They argue that the actual cost of carbon does not account for pollution and climate change, so the federal government should set a rate that properly captures these costs. 



The states filing the lawsuit are Arkansas, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah. Missouri's attorney general is taking the lead on the case and filed it in that state.


Do you think the government should set a "social cost" for carbon?

U.S. Re-enters Paris Climate Agreement

Today the U.S. formally re-entered the Paris Climate Agreement.


The day he took office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to rejoin the accord. However, the process to do this takes 30 days to complete, so today is the first official day the U.S. is once again a member.


The Paris Agreement has been controversial from its beginning. Signatories have pledged to take steps to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius based on pre-industrial levels. President Obama signed the accord but never submitted it to the Senate for ratification. Under the Constitution, any treaties must be approved by the Senate. President Obama argued that this was an agreement, not a treaty, so it did not require a Senate vote. President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement and now President Biden has re-joined it.


Critics argue that this agreement will hurt the U.S. economy by restricting the use of affordable fossil fuels. They contend that it will put the U.S. at a disadvantage. They also note that since it was not ratified by the Senate, it cannot be enforced. President Biden, however, argues that it's vital to cooperate internationally to combat climate change. He says that if the U.S. does not act it will lead to devastation for future generations.


Do you think the U.S. should be part of the Paris Climate Agreement?

Biden Dismisses Large Student Loan Debt Forgiveness

President Joe Biden this week shot down talk of him issuing an executive order on large-scale student loan debt forgiveness.


Some Democratic members of Congress have urged him to issue an executive order that eliminates $50,000 in student loan debt for each individual. On Tuesday he said he would not do that. Instead, he said he was open to forgiving $10,000 in student loan debt. This has prompted a backlash by more liberal members of the Democratic Party. 


President Biden argues that higher levels of debt relief would benefit wealthier Americans. He said that he would rather spend money on government programs like early childhood education than on forgiving debt of high-income earners.


Supporters of this debt forgiveness contend that student loans are crushing Americans and that even those who earn higher incomes deserve relief. They contend that this will free up money to stimulate the economy and help provide relief to working Americans. 


The idea of a unilateral executive action to forgive student loan debt is one that is growing in popularity among Democratic politicians and activists. Sen. Elizabeth Warren ran for president touting this idea. However, some legal experts argue that such action would not be legal. Others are worried that such forgiveness will imperil federal lending for future student loans.


While President Biden supports forgiving $10,000 in student loan debt, it is unclear if he will issue an executive order to do so or instead support legislation in Congress to accomplish this.


Do you think President Biden should issue an executive order to forgive student loan debt?

Sen. Manchin Wants Biden to Approve Keystone Pipeline

President Joe Biden's decision to revoke the Keystone XL Pipeline's permit has met with strong criticism from Republicans -- and at least one Democrat. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has written to the president asking him to reverse his decision.


The Keystone XL Pipeline has long been a source of controversy. The international pipeline was planned over a decade ago to bring Canadian crude oil into the United States. President Obama rejected an application to have the pipeline cross an international border. President Trump reversed course and approved this permit. During his first day in office, President Biden once again revoked the permit. This effectively stops the international aspect of the pipeline, although portions of it have been built in the U.S.



In his letter, Sen. Manchin wrote, "Pipelines continue to be the safest mode to transport our oil and natural gas resources and they support thousands of high-paying, American union jobs." He urged the president to consider these benefits and give the pipeline approval to be built across the U.S. Canadian border.


Opponents of the pipeline argue that its use will exacerbate climate change and perpetuate a dependence on fossil fuels. They also say that it will not benefit the U.S. but will instead be used to move oil for export. Supporters contend that the U.S. will be using fossil fuels for decades to come. As Sen. Manchin argued, this oil will be moved by pipeline or by truck, and pipelines are safer.


Sen. Manchin has long supported American fossil fuel energy, especially coal. This has often put him at odds with other elected Democrats, who often oppose oil, natural gas, and coal development. 


Do you think that President Biden should reverse course and approve the Keystone XL Pipeline?

Biden Bars New Fossil Fuel Leasing on Federal Land

There will be no new leasing of federal land for coal, oil, and natural gas -- at least for now. This week President Joe Biden will sign a moratorium on such leasing that will be in place for much of his term in office.


Fulfilling a campaign promise, Biden's order would place a halt on new leases for fossil fuel development on lands controlled by the federal government. This would include new offshore drilling leasing, too. Existing leases would remain intact. The federal government owns considerable property, especially in western states, and much of that is open for mining and energy development. Offshore oil and natural gas exploration is also permitted in some federally-controlled areas of the Gulf of Mexico and around Alaska.


The president and environmentalists consider such leases as giveaways to large corporations. They also say that this leasing helps perpetuate the use of energy sources that pollute the environment. Supporters of the leases argue that it is better to develop U.S. resources than rely on foreign nations for America's energy needs. They also point out that energy production on federal lands supports good-paying jobs in areas that have few other economic options.


This executive order is part of a larger Biden agenda that envisions the U.S. moving from the use of fossil fuels to the use of renewable forms of energy. Much of this plan must be enacted by Congress, but the president can take some steps via executive order. This order is not a permanent end to federal fossil fuel leases, which would require a change in U.S. law, but a temporary moratorium. A new president could reverse this action.


Do you support banning oil, natural gas, and coal leases on federal land?

Biden Mandates $15 Minimum Wage for Federal Contractors

Joe Biden supports a nationwide $15-per-hour minimum wage, something that must go through Congress to be enacted. This week, however, he took direct action to implement that minimum wage on a smaller scale by signing an order requiring federal contractors to pay that wage.


Under the Biden order, federal contractors must pay at least $15-per-hour. The order also has provisions that amplify collective bargaining rights and require these employers to offer emergency paid leave. 


According to President Biden, this order as well as others he signed this week are ways to help workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic. He has also unveiled a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, but this must go through Congress. Executive orders do not, but they also have a much more limited reach.


The president’s actions have garnered criticism from those who say they are placing more burdens on businesses that have been hit hard by the economic crisis. They contend that the president’s economic plans will hurt economic growth and ultimately lead to more job loss.


The movement on minimum wage is part of a broader push to raise the federal minimum wage to $15-per-hour. This has long been a goal of progressive activists. 


Do you think that federal contractors should be mandated to pay a minimum wage of $15?

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