Taxes, Debt, Spending

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Congressman Introduces Balanced Budget Amendment

The federal government has never been required to balance its budget every year. A U.S. House member wants to amend the Constitution to change this.


Rep. Mark Green (R-TN) has proposed a balanced budget constitutional amendment. This would require that the federal government have a balanced budget except in cases of emergency, such as war. Congress could vote by a super-majority to waive the balanced budget requirement in those times.


Supporters of this amendment argue that with a record federal debt -- over $28 trillion -- and high yearly deficits, it's clear that Congress and the president cannot be trusted to balance the budget. They contend that a constitutional requirement is needed to prevent fiscal catastrophe. Opponents, however, counter that deficit spending can be good in many instances, such as providing money to states that are struggling and who cannot borrow like the federal government does. They note that if the amendment took effect it would mean deep spending cuts and big tax increases, or both.


A balanced budget amendment is not a new idea in Congress. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was a prominent part of much of the discussion over federal spending. In 1982, the Senate passed the amendment but it failed in the House. In 1995, it passed the House but failed in the Senate.


It is unlikely that Speaker Pelosi will bring the balanced budget amendment to a vote during this session of Congress.


Do you support amending the Constitution to require that the federal budget be balanced?

Senate Working on $1.9 Trillion Stimulus Bill

Congress is considering legislation to spend nearly $2 trillion on economic stimulus as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.


Last week, the House of Representatives passed HR 1319. Here is how VoteSpotter describes this bill:


To spend $1.9 trillion on economic stimulus and increase the federal minimum wage to $15-per-hour. This legislation includes $1,400 in checks to most taxpayers, an additional $300 per week in unemployment benefits, $50 billion for coronavirus testing and tracing, $350 billion for local and state governments, $130 billion for schools, $25 billion for restaurants and bars, $1.5 billion to Amtrak, and $3 billion to aircraft manufacturers, among other things.


House members approved it by a narrow vote of 219-212


Unlike past coronavirus aid bills that have cleared Congress, this legislation does not have bipartisan support. In the House, every Republican and two Democrats voted against it. Republicans in the Senate have also signaled they will not support it.


The legislation has garnered GOP ire because of its large price tag and provisions that they say are unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic. They point to aid to state and local governments, for instance, arguing that these governments that have fiscal problems do so not because of the pandemic but because of spending excessively for years previously.


Another point of contention is the minimum wage increase. Because this stimulus bill is being advanced as part of the budget process, it is being considered under rules known as reconciliation. The Senate parliamentarian has ruled that the minimum wage increase cannot be part of the Senate legislation. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi kept the provision in the legislation that passed that chamber, but it will be removed in the Senate.


Backers of this bill say that Americans need aid and they need it now. They contend that without action it will lead to people losing their homes and jobs. They contend that Republicans had few objections when Congress considered expensive legislation under President Trump, so their concerns about fiscal responsibility are hypocritical now.


The Senate will debate the legislation this week.

Do you support the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill?

Parliamentarian Deals Blow to Hopes of $15 Minimum Wage


Democrats were hoping to use the coronavirus relief bill to enact a $15-per-hour minimum wage. Yesterday, the Senate parliamentarian issued an opinion that erects a major roadblock to their efforts. 


Members of Congress are using the budget process to advance another coronavirus relief bill. The budget process allows legislation to move through Congress through reconciliation, which is exempt from the Senate filibuster. Essentially it is a way to pass legislation with only a majority vote. This legislation must concern federal spending, however. 


Supporters of an increased federal minimum wage have argued that this policy proposal is indeed related to federal spending and budgetary matters. That has been greeted by skepticism even from some members of the Democratic Party, however. The Senate parliamentarian also disagreed. She ruled that reconciliation could not be used to advance the minimum wage in that body.


House Speaker Pelosi said that she would still include a minimum wage increase in the House's version of COVID relief. When that reaches the Senate, however, the rules will require that it be removed. 


This does not end the fight for a higher minimum wage. Some Republicans, such as Senators Josh Hawley and Mitt Romney, support increasing it, although not to $15. Even though a minimum wage bill cannot be advanced via reconciliation, it can be considered under normal Senate rules. For it to pass, however, supporters would need to garner 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

Do you think that the minimum wage should be increased? If so, should it be increased to $15 or a lower amount?

House Exploring Slavery Reparations

Reparations for slavery are on the agenda for the House of Representatives today.


The Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties is holding a hearing on HR 40, legislation that would establish a commission to study reparations. This commission would study how the federal and state governments supported slavery, what types of discrimination continues to exit, and how the effects of slavery still affect African Americans today. The commission would then recommend remedies in the form of reparations based on its findings.



Backers of this legislation say that it is a vital part of how the U.S. will address the wrongs of the past that have led to the current situation of African Americans. They argue that the legacy of slavery has led to inequalities today, so reparations will help rectify this situation. They also contend that federal actions over the past 160 years such as mandatory discrimination and the refusal of federal agencies to lend to African Americans illustrates the justice of reparations.

Critics of the measure push back against these claims, arguing that slavery ended long ago and that no one living was a slave. Reparations, they say, are appropriate for individuals hurt by a government action, but not for their descendants 100  years later. They also point out that there are already many federal programs that seek to alleviate inequality. 


The idea of reparations has gained strength in recent years. Both President Biden and Vice President Harris have endorsed the idea of studying the issue, although they have not supported specifics. 


Do you support studying whether or not the federal government should pay slavery reparations?


Indiana May Pass Cigarette Tax Hike

Smokers in Indiana may soon be paying more for their cigarettes.


Under a proposal advancing in the legislature, the state could increase its tax on cigarettes by $1 per pack. A House committee approved the tax increase as part of the state budget this week. However, it requires the approval of another committee before going to the full House for a vote.


Under this proposal, Indiana's cigarette tax would increase from 50 cents a pack to $1.50 per pack. The legislation would also increase the tax on e-cigarettes by 10%. Indiana currently has one of the lowest cigarette tax rates in the nation. 


Supporters of the tax increase argue that it will help discourage people, especially kids, from starting smoking and it will encourage smokers to quit. They say the money will be used to help address health problems in Indiana. Opponents contend that smokers will visit other states to buy cigarettes, hurting Indiana businesses.


While there was no vote against this tax increase in committee, some members of the Indiana House have expressed opposition. It remains to be seen if it will survive a vote of the full House, which could occur next week. If it passes, the Senate will the consider it.


Do you support increasing taxes on cigarettes?

Progressives Push for Recurring Coronavirus Stimulus Payments

Some members of Congress want President Joe Biden to support legislation that would provide recurring payment from the government for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.


In a letter to the president, members of the progressive wing of the Democratic caucus urged President Biden to include recurring payments in a coronavirus relief bill. They support payments that continue until the economy recovers, is prioritizes for poorer families, and includes "all immigrant workers."


Congress and the Biden Administration are in talks about what a new coronavirus relief bill will contain. The president supports a new round of stimulus payments. His proposal would not be recurring, however. Instead, it would be a one-time payment of up to $1,400. 


More liberal members of Congress say this is not generous enough. They argue that the economic disruption from the pandemic is too widespread to be solved by one-time payments. Instead, they contend that only recurring payments would provide a long-term solution. They also frame these payments as an act of social justice, saying that the economic problems have hit minority communities hardest.


This proposal will be controversial in Congress, however. There is already significant opposition to another relief bill, with Republicans arguing that new legislation is much too expensive. Critics point to the high cost of past bills and say that new direct payments will be costly. They note that the federal deficit is at record levels and future coronavirus legislation will add to it.


Do you think that a new coronavirus aid bill should contain recurring payments?

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?


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?

Congress Approves Short-Term Government Spending Bill

The federal government has money to operate for one more week. The Senate today voted to approve legislation that extends federal spending until December 18. The House approved the same bill on Wednesday.


The fiscal year ended on October 1. As described in this VoteSpotter Deep Dive, Congress must pass and the president sign spending bills every year to fund the government for the next fiscal year. However, this rarely happens. This year was no exception. In September, Congress passed legislation that provided this funding through December 11. However, this two-month extension was not long enough for members of Congress and the president to agree to a spending plan. Congressional leadership and the Trump Administration think they can find common ground within a week.


If they do not, there are two options: another short-term funding bill or a partial government shutdown. Some senators are saying they will not vote for another funding bill unless Congress also approves a coronavirus aid bill with direct payments to Americans. Senators Josh Hawley (R-IN) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are spearheading that effort. Congressional Democrats largely support this idea, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has stood firm against it. If either House rejects a spending bill, then parts of the federal government labeled "non-essential" will shut down on December 19.


Do you think that members of Congress should refuse to fund the federal government until a coronavirus aid bill is passed with direct payments to Americans?


Deep Dive: Year-End Spending

Members of Congress are negotiating this week on a package of bills that will, among other things, keep the federal government from partially shutting down. These government shutdowns have become a quasi-routine experience in recent years, the result of Congress and the president failing to agree on a spending package that will fund the federal government for an entire fiscal year. The current spending legislation to keep all parts of the federal government open expires on Friday.


A previous Deep Dive examined the budget process that talks about the overall spending blueprint for the federal government. This Deep Dive will discuss the specific part affecting spending – the appropriations process. This is key to understanding when and why the federal government shuts down.


The Status of Federal Spending


The 2020 fiscal year ended on September 30. A new fiscal year started on October 1, which means that Congress needed to approve a new round of spending to keep the federal governments (or parts of the federal government) operating. If it failed to do so, this would lead to a government shutdown. These shutdowns occur when either Congress fails to pass spending bills to keep parts of the government open or the president vetoes these spending bills.


While Congress did not pass legislation to fund the federal government for the entire 2021 fiscal year, it did pass HR 8337, which continued federal funding at the Fiscal Year 2020 level. This continuing resolution keeps the federal government operating through December 11. Members of Congress and the Trump Administration have been negotiating during this time to come to an agreement on spending for the current fiscal year. 


With no agreement likely this week, Congress will vote on another short-term continuing resolution to prevent a government. Congressional leadership and the Trump Administration are close to finalizing a spending package for the rest of the fiscal year that includes a new coronavirus relief package as well and possibly defense authorization legislation.


The new continuing resolution will fund the federal government through December 18.


The Appropriations Process


Article I, Section 9, of the U.S. Constitution states: “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law.”


Federal government spending is divided into two categories:

  • Mandatory: Programs authorized by Congress that operate outside the regular spending process are entitlement programs, and their spending is deemed “mandatory.” For Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, anyone who meets certain qualification is entitled to benefits. Funding for these programs does not have to be authorized yearly by Congress, although the eligibility and payment rules can be changed.
  • Discretionary: To pay for other government activities, ranging from military operations undertaken by the Defense Department to operating national parks to paying congressional staff, Congress must pass 12 appropriations, or spending, bills. These bills operate on a fiscal year basis. If they do not become law, funds cannot be drawn from the U.S. Treasury to pay for the government operations they cover.


Appropriations Bills


The 12 appropriations bills that should be passed by Congress every fiscal year (October 1 through September 30) are:

  • Agriculture
  • Commerce/Justice/Science
  • Defense
  • Energy and Water
  • Financial Services
  • Homeland Security
  • Interior and Environment
  • Labor/Health and Human Services/Education
  • Legislative Branch
  • Military/Veterans
  • State/Foreign Operations
  • Transportation/Urban Development


You can see the progress of the Fiscal Year 2021 appropriations bills through Congress here.


The number and title of these bills can be changed by Congress. After the 2001 terrorist attacks, Congress re-organized the appropriations process, which at that time had operated with 13 appropriations bills.


Consolidated Appropriations/Continuing Appropriations/Omnibus Appropriations


While the spending process is supposed to proceed with the 12 bills being passed separately and signed into law by October 1 of each year, this almost never happens. In fact, since 1977 (when the current spending system was put in place), Congress has passed all of the appropriations bills on time in only four years. The last time it did this was 1997. The usual pattern is that Congress passes some, but not all, of the bills to be signed into law by October 1.


When this happens, Congress can take a variety of steps to avoid a government shutdown. It can pass a resolution for continuing appropriations, which fund the government for a specified period of time at the level of the previous fiscal year. During this time, it can then pass a consolidated appropriations act, which combines two or more appropriations bills. An omnibus appropriations bill generally wraps all the outstanding appropriations bills into a single act for the rest of the fiscal year.


If special spending needs arise during the fiscal year, Congress can also pass a supplemental appropriations bill, which provides funding more money than what was contained in the original spending bill.


The Previous Government Shutdown


There have been a handful of government shutdowns since the mid-1990s, with the latest ending in January 2019. While called “shutdowns,” in reality much of the government keeps operating during these times. Government employees working in capacities deemed “essential” had to work. Those in “non-essential” positions could not do any work.

Prior to the beginning of Fiscal Year 2019 (which began on October 1, 2018), Congress had only passed these appropriations bills:

  • Defense
  • Energy and Water
  • Labor/Health and Human Services/Education
  • Legislative Branch
  • Military/Veterans


Continuing resolutions funded the government agencies covered by the other appropriations bills through December 21. President Trump signaled his opposition to signing any spending bills that did not contain funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. As a consequence, the agencies not covered by the already-passed appropriations bills were shut down on that date.


The parts of the government that were covered by these spending bills could continue to operate as normal, however. Since the Legislative Branch appropriations bill was signed into law, congressional staffers could continue to be paid their salary. So could employees of the Energy Department, Defense Department, the Labor Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Education Department.


When President Trump signed House Joint Resolution 31 in January, it funded the federal government through the end of Fiscal Year 2019. There was no government shutdown for Fiscal Year 2020.


What This Means for You


A government shutdown can disrupt a variety of federal activities, from passport processing to the use of national parks. It also leads to disruptions in the pay of federal employees. It is possible that if Congressional leadership and the Trump Administration fail to come to an agreement by December 18, there could be another partial government shutdown. That is unlikely, since many details of the funding package appear to be agreeable to both sides. However, the Fiscal Year 2021 spending bill will also likely contain coronavirus relief legislation. Many have been urging Congress to pass a new coronavirus aid bill, so they are watching this closely to see what it will contain. The new or extended programs in this bill could have a significant effect on millions of Americans, but it will also come with a significant price tag.

Biden Urged to Forgive Student Loan Debt

When they ran for president, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren make forgiving student loan debt a major piece of their campaign platforms. Now they, along with other members of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, are urging Joe Biden to cancel student debt once he becomes president.


Under Warren's plan, the president would immediately begin canceling up to $50,000 in debt for 42 million Americans. This would cover about 95% of those who have borrowed money from the federal government. Others have suggested other ideas, such as focusing on borrowers who have incomes under $100,000. 


While student loan debt forgiveness is not a new idea, those supporting it now argue that it would help stimulate the economy. They contend that borrowers would see an immediate economic boost from seeing their debt wiped away. Historically, debt forgiveness proponents argue that student loan debt is crushing middle class families and holding them back from achieving the American Dream.


Critics say these views are wrong. They note that any student loan debt plan will be an expensive taxpayer giveaway to people who can afford to pay the money they borrowed, since they have an education that should lead to higher-paid work. They point out that people with higher incomes will benefit far more than those with lower incomes. In addition, they dismiss the economic stimulus arguments, contending that this idea would be one of the least efficient ways to provide more money to the economy.


Sen. Warren has promoted the idea that the Secretary of Education can unilaterally forgive student loan debt. Others disagree, saying that such a move requires an act of Congress. 


Do you support the federal government forgiving student loan debt?

Trump Pushes for Tax Cuts

A tax cut was one of the major pieces of legislation during Donald Trump's first term as president. He's promising another round of cuts if he's re-elected.


In an interview with the Fox Business Network, President Trump said that he wants to lower corporate taxes to a 20% rate and pursue additional individual income tax cuts. This would build on the tax cuts from earlier in his term. That tax package reduced the corporate tax rate to 35% and also cut individual tax rates.


Trump's opponent for the presidency, Joe Biden, opposes the Trump tax cuts. He is campaigning on a platform that calls for raising the corporate tax rate to 28%.


Supporters of these tax cuts argue that the U.S. corporate income tax rate was among the highest in the world prior to it being reduced. They say that higher corporate income tax rates hurt U.S. businesses compete worldwide. President Trump has also said that his tax cuts have helped spur economic growth.


Those who want to raise tax rates argue that the Trump tax cuts have only deepened the deficit. They say that higher taxes are needed to pay not only for current deficit spending, but also for new programs like Medicare for All. The president's critics also contend that his tax cuts were mainly skewed towards the wealthy.


Future tax cuts in a Trump second term, should the president be re-elected, would be unlikely if Democrats retain the House of Representatives or take control of the Senate.


Do you support cutting the corporate income tax rate to 20%? Do you think that individual tax rates should be reduced?

Congressional Democrats Introduce New Coronavirus Aid Package

House Democrats are pushing for Congress to pass an additional $2.2 trillion in aid for coronavirus relief. After failing to overcome GOP resistance to a more expensive aid package, they hope this latest plan will garner bipartisan support.


This legislation includes a variety of measures aimed at dealing with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, including:

  • Another $1,200 stimulus check for most taxpayers
  • $436 billion in funding for state and local governments
  • $225 billion for schools and child care 
  • Enhanced funding for unemployment benefits
  • $25 billion for airlines
  • $120 billion for restaurants


In May, the House passed a $3.4 billion aid package without Republican support. This was a departure from previous coronavirus bills, which were largely bipartisan. The Senate did not vote on the May legislation, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying it was too expensive. Democrats and Republicans have failed to come to agreement on another aid bill, with the price tag being the main sticking point.


House Speaker Pelosi is facing pressure from some of her members to act on another coronavirus aid bill prior to Election Day. This latest legislation includes a variety of measures supported by Republicans, and it has a lower cost. She is hoping that this will be a good starting point in negotiations with Republican members of Congress and the Trump Administration.


Do you support spending $2.2 trillion in additional coronavirus aid?

New Jersey Hiking Taxes on Higher Incomes

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has long supported higher taxes on millionaires. After three years of trying to see his millionaire tax enacted, he finally got his way this week.


Legislators came to an agreement with the governor to increase the tax rate on the income of New Jersey residents that exceeds $1 million. The rate will go up from 8.97% to 10.75%. The state estimates that this will bring in around $390 million in new revenue. This tax hike is coupled with a one-time tax rebate for New Jersey taxpayers earning $150,00 per household (or $75,000 for a single taxpayer) of $500. The governor argues that these families have been hit hard by coronavirus and deserve some relief.


Gov. Murphy, who is from the Democratic Party's Progressive wing, ran for office on the platform of increasing taxes on higher income state residents. Legislators have been reluctant to embrace the governor's tax agenda in past years, however. This year, however, as the governor and legislators crafted a budget deal, they were looking for revenue to pay for coronavirus-related tax relief. They finally agreed on this tax hike to do so.


Supporters of the millionaire's tax contend that the wealthy need to pay more in taxes to help the lower- and middle-class residents of the state. They argue that the rich should sacrifice, especially during times of economic hardship. Opponents contend that wealthy New Jersey residents already pay high tax rates. They also note that the wealthy can easily move to other states if taxes in New Jersey are too high.


While the governor and legislative leaders have agreed to this tax increase, the legislature must formally vote on it. 


Do you support increasing taxes on people with incomes over $1 million?


Senate Rejects New Coronavirus Aid Bill

Yesterday, Senate Republicans tried to pass what they called a “skinny” coronavirus relief bill. Senate Democrats blocked the measure, arguing that it did not go far enough. Now prospects of passage of another aid bill for the pandemic before the election are dim.


Here is ow VoteSpotter describes this new coronavirus 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.


The total cost of the legislation is roughly $650 billion, although only around $300 billion is new spending. The other $350 billion is re-purposed funds that were already authorized.


Senators voted 52-47 to invoke cloture on the bill, which would have cut off debate and led to a vote on the package. However, this type of vote needs 60 senators to succeed. No Democrats voted in favor of cloture, and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was the only Republican to vote against it. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) did not vote.


Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) faulted this bill for not including a variety of aid that Democrats think is needed, including money for food, housing, broadband, and state and local governments. He accused Republicans of putting forward a bill so they can say they tried to do something, but with no intention of actually passing anything.


Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate Majority Leader, said the Democrats were the ones playing politics. He said Democrats were more interested in hurting President Trump than in working with Republicans to aid American families.


The House of Representatives passed a coronavirus aid bill in July that had a price tag exceeding $3.4 trillion. 


What do you think Congress should do about coronavirus aid?

Trump's Payroll Tax Deferral Plan Sparks Controversy

President Trump has long supported a payroll tax cut, but Congress has been reluctant to follow his lead. In response, the president has put forward a plan allowing businesses to defer the collection of payroll taxes through the end of the year. This move has met resistance from both employers and employees, who contend that doing this may actually hurt workers.


The desire for a payroll tax cut has been a consistent theme with President Trump. When the initial economic effects of the coronavirus began to become apparent in March, he suggested the same thing. Congress has not included it in any coronavirus relief bill, and is not discussing such a tax cut currently. 


In response, Trump directed the Treasury Department to give businesses the option of deferring collection of payroll taxes through the end of the year. This is not a tax cut, however, since the deferred taxes would have to be collected at the beginning of 2021. In essence, this would give employees a boost in pay through December, but double the payroll taxes collected on their paycheck in the first few months of 2021.


Many business owners have refused to participate in this plan. They point out that while employees may get a temporary take-home boost in their pay, they will see a big reduction in take-home pay next year. The plan is optional for private sector employees, but mandatory for federal employees. The union representing many federal workers has asked that this tax deferral be optional for them.


Payroll taxes are levied on income to pay for Medicare and Social Security. Cutting these taxes would affect every worker, especially those with lower incomes. An income tax cut mainly benefits higher-income workers, since lower incomes are not subject to the tax. Payroll taxes, on the other hand, are levied on the first dollar of income, and are capped for higher-income workers.


Since 2009, there have been other payroll tax cuts that have been aimed at stimulating the economy. Some economists argue that since they affect lower-income workers, they provide money to go back into the economy more quickly. Others argue that there are more effective ways to stimulate the economy, such as direct payments to individuals. Some critics are also concerned about the long-term effect of cutting payroll taxes on Medicare and Social Security.


Do you support President Trump's plan to defer collection of payroll taxes and then collect those deferred taxes next year?

Budget Deficit Hits Record High

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) announced this week that the projected budget deficit for 2020 will hit $3.3 trillion -- a record high gap between government revenues and spending.


The projected $3.3 trillion far exceeds the last record-high yearly deficit, which occurred in 2009. In that year, the budget deficit was $1.4 trillion. As explained in this Deep Dive, the budget deficit is when the federal government spends more than it receives in revenue in one fiscal year.


The U.S. has had a budget deficit every year since the late 1990s, and for many years prior to then. The accumulated deficits make up the national debt. The CBO projects the national debt to exceed the total Gross Domestic Product (the measure of how much economic activity occurs the U.S.) next year.


Many experts say that in the midst of an economic crisis, it is not wise to focus on deficits and debt. They argue that the federal government should spend freely to prop up the economy. Other experts counter this claim, noting that the federal government was engaged in deficit spending during good economic times, too. They say that at some point our nation's large amount of debt will hurt the economy and the ability of the government to provide services.


The new deficit numbers may affect the ongoing talks to produce another coronavirus spending bill. Democrats are pushing for a bill that contains over $3.4 trillion in new spending. Senate Republicans are likely to pass spending legislation that is around $500 billion due to many Republicans' hesitation about higher spending levels. 


Are you concerned about the record-high $3.3 trillion budget deficit?



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