Affordable childcare has a ‘fundamental funding problem,’ according to top Obama economist Betsey Stevenson: kids can’t take out loans to pay for preschool like adults can for college

  • Former Obama economist Betsey Stevenson told Insider affordable childcare is long overdue.
  • A lack of government funding for childcare has stripped kids of quality early education, she said.
  • She used the example of student debt, saying 3-year-olds can’t take out loans to pay for their education like adults can.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Betsey Stevenson, a top economic advisor to the last Democratic president, says the current one has a strong case for affordable childcare: children should have the same access to quality education that adults do.

Last week, House Democrats unveiled a plan to invest $761 billion to make childcare more affordable, including universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds. Stevenson, a top economic advisor to President Barack Obama, joined 126 other economists in urging Congress to deliver on the investment, as President Joe Biden has proposed.

Stevenson told Insider in an interview that it’s long overdue, and children shouldn’t be stripped of a quality education just because they have fewer economic rights than adults.

“College students can take out loans to pay for college, but it’s absolutely impossible to take out a loan to pay for your own preschool,” Stevenson said. “It’s just not something a 3- or 4-year-old can do to manage their own education. So the idea that we have something that’s just as expensive as college and we don’t have any mechanism in place to fund it is why so few kids get access to high-quality early childhood education.”

Betsey Stevenson
Betsey Stevenson.

It’s a “fundamental funding problem,” Stevenson said, and it has cost the US economy $57 billion in lost earnings since the 1990s due to a surge in childcare costs, according to nonprofit Council for a Strong America. Democrats’ $3.5 trillion social spending bill is a chance to remedy that by extending a program that sends monthly checks to parents and capping how much families have to pay for childcare.

“The United States has failed to make the changes necessary to support working families and I think that was one of our real vulnerabilities during COVID,” Stevenson said. “This is our opportunity for reform.”

The US has created ‘a nation of kids who are underinvested in’

While children in preschool and children in kindergarten may only be separated by a year, one is government-funded and one is not, creating a gap in the number of kids who enroll. And that gap is not driven by kindergarten being “much more beneficial than the year before kindergarten,” Stevenson said.

“It’s driven by the fact that parents have to pay for preschool and kindergarten is available to our public school system,” she said. “So what we have done is create a nation of kids who are underinvested in, and that feeds into not just what our potential is as an economy, but it also feeds into inequality.”

So just years after birth, children’s education will depend on how much money their parents are bringing home. To ensure that isn’t a factor, House Democrats proposed a 7% cap on childcare spending, meaning families wouldn’t spend more that 7% of their incomes on childcare. Stevenson said this “makes a lot of sense” since people will only pay what they can afford instead of turning to cheaper, lower-quality options.

Other Democratic proposals, like a $300 monthly child tax credit, is also on the table to keep kids out of poverty and take pressure off of lower-income families, but face uncertainty as some centrist Democrats are proposing targeting that type of federal assistance to low-income Americans.

But Stevenson, and other economists’, point remains: if a college student can secure a loan or grant to receive a quality education, a 3-year-old should be able to have that same opportunity.

“We should think about government as representing kids who are going to be future adults, not just kids belonging to their parents and not having any representation in government until they reach 18,” Stevenson said. “We should have government that’s doing what’s best for investing in kids.”

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Obama is throwing his 60th birthday bash on Martha’s Vineyard with hundreds of guests amid Delta variant concerns

Obama and daughter Martha's Vineyard
Former President Barack Obama and his daughter Malia on Martha’s Vineyard.

  • Barack Obama is throwing his 60th birthday party outdoors on Martha’s Vineyard, Axios reported.
  • Sources said the party will have a “COVID-coordinator” and that guests are asked to be vaccinated.
  • The CDC updated mask guidelines for vaccinated people last week over Delta variant concerns.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Former President Barack Obama is planning a massive outdoor party on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts next weekend to celebrate his 60th birthday as concerns over the Delta coronavirus variant rise.

Sources told Axios the hundreds of guests expected to be in attendance are asked to be vaccinated and that there will be a “COVID-coordinator” to make sure relevant protocols are followed. A source also said negative COVID-19 tests are required for every guest, but didn’t give details on how that would be monitored.

The party is likely to be a star-studded event, with Oprah Winfrey and George Clooney rounding out the guest list, one source told The Hill.

Read more: Fight the Delta variant, but don’t let it stop the reopening

Obama’s 55th birthday party, held at the White House, was attended by Paul McCartney, Nick Jonas, Ellen DeGeneres, Stevie Wonder, and Magic Johnson.

Sources told Axios and The Hill the party is being held at the Obama’s $12 million waterfront mansion. The seven-bedroom home sits on nearly 30 acres and has a swimming pool and private beachfront.

The party is being held amid renewed COVID-19 concerns. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended this week that everyone, vaccinated or not, should wear masks indoors in areas of the country with substantial or high coronavirus transmission.

Dukes County, where Martha’s Vineyard is located, only has moderate community transmission, according to the CDC.

The updated guidance was prompted by new data on the Delta variant that showed vaccinated people can spread it as easily as the unvaccinated, Insider’s Hilary Brueck reported.

The study the CDC considered was on an outbreak in an unnamed town in Massachusetts, a state with a high vaccination rate, that held multiple large gatherings, indoor and outdoor, in early July. Local media reports made clear the town was Provincetown, located on Cape Cod, which is north of Martha’s Vineyard.

The study found 745 of the COVID-19 cases, or 346 infections, were among the fully vaccinated.

The CDC said the vaccines are still incredibly effective at preventing hospitalization or death, which is what they were intended to do, including with the Delta variant.

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Only about 2 out of 10 people are leaving unemployment for work. It should be at least 3 out of 10, former Obama economists say.

now hiring
A car drives by a ‘now hiring’ sign that is posted outside of the soon-to-be-open Marin Ace Hardware store on November 30, 2011 in San Rafael, California.

  • Former Obama economists Jason Furman and Wilson Powell III said only 24% of the unemployed are returning to work.
  • One would predict 34% would return, they wrote, resulting in 1 million more unemployed finding jobs per month.
  • They said the shortfall is likely temporary and comes down to unemployment benefits and health concerns.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As the economy is beginning to recover from the pandemic, there’s a record number of job openings, but that’s not the big story, former Obama economists wrote in a paper released Monday.

The big news is that so many of the unemployed are exiting unemployment, but not for jobs. That isn’t normal.

Jason Furman, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama, and Wilson Powell III, former research economist at the council, released a paper for the left-leaning Peterson Institute, looking into the unemployed who aren’t returning to work despite a record number of job openings. It found that since September 2020, transition from employment to unemployment has been lower than the norm, most recently at 24%.

Based on the historic relationship between job openings and the transition from unemployment to employment, they wrote, about 34% of the unemployed in April 2021 should have transitioned to employed in May 2021, resulting in 1 million more unemployed people finding jobs per month.

“This is notable because normally one would expect the transition rate from unemployment to increase as more jobs became available, as measured by the job openings rate,” Furman and Powell wrote. “In fact, the current transition rate is closer to what one would expect with an openings rate of 3 percent, only about half of the current openings rate.”

The economists added that “at the very least, there is no reason the transition rate should not be around, say, 29 percent, the 80th percentile of its historical value.” At that level, an extra 500,000 people would have transitioned from unemployed to employed each month.

So what are the causes of this shortfall?

Insider previously reported that President Joe Biden’s $300 weekly unemployment benefits could be disincentivizing the return to work, although COVID-19 health concerns, lack of childcare, and workers holding out for higher wages can’t be discounted as other factors.

Furman and Powell wrote that the low transition rate is likely temporary, thought. Similarly, Insider’s Ben Winck has reported on the potential benefits of the record number of people quitting jobs, suggesting a future of higher wages for workers and increased productivity.

“The good news is that most of the factors holding back transitions from unemployment are probably temporary, and if the rate at which people are leaving unemployment for jobs returns to what would be expected given the overall strength of the economy, the pace of job growth could rise to 750,000 or more a month,” Furman and Powell wrote. “There may be a speed limit on job growth, but it is likely to be well above the recent pace.”

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Biden’s Education Department just cancelled $500 million of student debt for 18,000 defrauded borrowers

1024px ITT_Technical_Institute_campus_Canton_Michigan.JPG
The ITT Technical Institute campus in Canton, Michigan.

  • The Education Dept. cancelled student debt for 18,000 borrowers defrauded by ITT Technical Institutes.
  • ITT Tech shut down in 2016 amid accusations it persuaded students to take out loans they couldn’t repay.
  • 90,000 defrauded borrowers have now received debt relief under Biden totaling $1.5 million.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As one of his first actions as Education Secretary, Miguel Cardona cancelled student debt for about 72,000 borrowers defrauded by for-profit schools. On Wednesday, 18,000 more got student-debt relief.

The Education Department announced in a press release that it had approved 18,000 borrower defense to repayment claims for borrowers who attended ITT Technical Institutes – a for-profit school that shut down in 2016 amid accusations of false advertising that persuaded borrowers to take out student loans. Those borrowers will get 100% of their student debt forgiven, totaling approximately $500 million in relief.

“Our action today will give thousands of borrowers a fresh start and the relief they deserve after ITT repeatedly lied to them,” Cardona said in a statement.

He continued: “Today’s action is part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s continued commitment to stand up for borrowers when their institutions take advantage of them. Many of these borrowers have waited a long time for relief, and we need to work swiftly to render decisions for those whose claims are still pending. This work also emphasizes the need for ongoing accountability so that institutions will never be able to commit this kind of widespread deception again.”

The department will begin notifying borrowers of their approvals for loan forgiveness in the coming weeks and will work quickly to discharge those borrowers’ loan balances.

Issues with borrower defense claims

Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos approved a debt-cancellation methodology during the Trump administration known as the “borrower defense to repayment” to give defrauded borrowers student debt relief. It compared the median earnings of graduates with debt-relief claims to the median earnings of graduates in comparable programs, and the bigger the difference, the more relief the applicant would receive.

But compared to a 99.2% approval rate for defrauded claims filed under former President Barack Obama, DeVos oversaw a 99.4% denial rate for borrowers and ran up a huge backlog of claims from eligible defrauded borrowers seeking student-debt forgiveness. A judge recently ruled that DeVos must testify over why so few borrowers were approved for loan forgiveness.

The press release said that Wednesday’s actions bring total student loan cancellation under borrower defense by the Biden administration t0 $1.5 million for around 90,000 borrowers.

ITT Tech’s shutdown

In March, Insider reported on five of the biggest for-profit schools that were accused of defrauding their students, with ITT Tech being one of them.

The Securities and Exchange Commission had taken ITT to court in 2015 for deceiving investors about high rates of late payment and defaults on student loans, and in 2016, the government cut off ITT’s access to millions of dollars in federal loans and grants. The institution shut down shortly afterward, ending its 50-year history.

The Education Department’s recently released regulatory agenda includes amending the borrower defense to repayment, but a department spokesperson told Insider it does not yet have a timeline for when those amendments will be implemented.

The spokesperson said: “The Administration is committed to ensuring borrowers are able to access the loan relief to which they are entitled, and we look forward to working with the field to design and implement much-needed improvements.”

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Biden’s Education Dept. just laid out its priorities for student-loan relief – they’re vague

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden.

  • Biden’s regulatory agenda, released on Friday, includes student-loan forgiveness proposals.
  • The Education Dept. plans to improve loan forgiveness programs by 2022, but details are vague.
  • Democrats and borrowers continue to push for immediate debt relief while Biden is reluctant.
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From fighting the climate crisis to strengthening protections against racial discrimination, President Joe Biden’s regulatory agenda released on Friday covers a lot of ground. Significantly, unlike his budget, it even mentions student-loan forgiveness. But for borrowers waiting for clarity on what will happen to their debt loads, the details are scanty.

The list of regulatory actions, typically released twice a year, outlines how Biden plans to advance his agenda through each federal agency.

According to the Education Department’s page, Biden’s agenda includes “improving student loan cancellation authorities” in which Education Secretary Miguel Cardona will “amend regulations to improve borrower eligibility, application requirements and processes” for borrowers who meet loan cancellation criteria like being totally and permanently disabled, or attending a recently closed school.

The department also said it would review the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program and “plans to look at these regulations for improvements,” along with amending the “borrower defense to repayment,” which forgives loans for students who were defrauded by for-profit schools.

The department plans to finalize the rules by April 2022.

“The last four years offered a clear lesson on what happens when the executive branch fails to uphold its responsibility to protect the American people,” Sharon Block, acting administrator of the White House regulations office, said in a statement. “Our first regulatory agenda demonstrates our commitment to reversing this trend.”

At the end of May, the Education Department announced it was beginning the process of issuing new higher-education regulations, and the Friday list affirmed those plans. But no further detail was provided on what the mentioned improvements would look like.

When reached for further clarification on these regulatory actions, a department spokesperson told Insider that the agency is currently seeking stakeholder feedback on both its initial list of topics and other matters. After it conducts public hearings, it will determine a path forward on rulemaking. It did not disclose a timeline for that rulemaking, or what the additional topics entailed.

“The Administration is committed to ensuring borrowers are able to access the loan relief to which they are entitled, and we look forward to working with the field to design and implement much-needed improvements,” the spokesperson said.

But borrowers and lawmakers are growing frustrated with the timeline for giving eligible borrowers student-loan forgiveness.

Biden campaigned on reforming PSLF, which allows government and nonprofit employees with federally backed student loans to apply for loan forgiveness after proof of 120 monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan.

However, flaws in the program have been ongoing for years. 98% of borrowers have been rejected from the program, prompting 56 Democrats to urge Cardona to fix the program in early May, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was sued multiple times over the program’s high denial rate.

Borrowers had similar issues with the borrower defense to repayment. Over the past decade, several for-profit schools have shut down over investigations claiming the schools engaged in fraudulent behavior related to federal loans, leading President Barack Obama to establish the program to forgive student debt for eligible defrauded borrowers.

Under Obama, the program had a 99.2% approval rate, but when DeVos took over, 99.4% of eligible borrowers were denied from the program, and she will soon testify over why that happened.

So while the department’s plans to review those programs are promising for borrowers, specific details are unclear. That’s why Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other Democrats are calling on Biden to cancel $50,000 in student debt per borrower to provide immediate relief.

“The time is now,” Warren told Insider on Tuesday. “We know what the problem is: student loan debt is holding back tens of millions of people across this country. People who can’t buy homes, people who can’t buy cars, people who can’t start small businesses. We need to cancel that student loan debt, not only for those people individually, but for our whole economy.”

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Trump’s billionaire education secretary is accused of denying student-loan forgiveness to thousands. Now she’ll testify over it.

Betsy DeVos
Betsy DeVos.

  • A judge ruled Betsy DeVos must testify in a case brought on by 160,000 defrauded students.
  • The students claim DeVos mishandled a program to forgive loans for students defrauded by for-profit schools.
  • Under Obama, the program had a 99.2% approval rate, but under DeVos, 99.4% of applicants were denied.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As Education Secretary under President Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos was tasked with overseeing the loan forgiveness program for students defrauded by for-profit schools. But thousands of those students claim they didn’t get the relief they deserved and have sued DeVos for her mishandling of the program.

A judge just ruled that DeVos has to testify in court about it.

The Biden administration didn’t want this to happen. In February, it joined DeVos in fighting a subpoena to testify in the lawsuit filed by about 160,000 defrauded students, arguing it was an “extraordinary request.” But on Wednesday, Judge William Alsup wrote in a 12-page ruling that her testimony was warranted given the “sparse” documentation of DeVos’ reasoning for rejecting borrowers’ claims.

“Even assuming Secretary DeVos retains some measure of executive prerogative, she must answer an appropriately issued subpoena,” Alsup wrote in the ruling. “Judicial process runs even to unwilling executives.”

Over the past decade, several for-profit schools have shut down over investigations claiming the schools engaged in fraudulent behavior related to federal loans. Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institutes were two of the biggest schools accused of violating federal law by persuading their students to take out loans they could not pay back. They both shut down, as did other for-profit companies, such as Education Corporation of America.

DeVos, an heir to the AmWay fortune and member of one of America’s richest families, per Forbes, oversaw the “borrower defense to repayment” program to forgive debt for eligible defrauded borrowers, but the program massively failed. Compared to a 99.2% approval rate for claims filed under President Barack Obama, DeVos had a 99.4% denial rate for borrowers, and ran up a huge backlog of claims from eligible defrauded borrowers seeking student debt forgiveness.

Under DeVos, the program began to compare the median earnings of graduates with debt-relief claims to the median earnings of graduates in comparable programs, and the bigger the difference, the more relief the applicant would receive.

The high denial rate alarmed lawmakers, advocates, and borrowers who wanted student debt relief but weren’t getting any, and as Alsup said in his ruling, DeVos did not provide a sufficient explanation as to why so few claims were processed.

In March, Biden’s Education Secretary Miguel Cardona canceled $1 billion in student debt for about 72,000 defrauded borrowers and said in a statement that DeVos’ methodology for giving defrauded students debt relief had been ineffective and needed to be reversed.

“Borrowers deserve a simplified and fair path to relief when they have been harmed by their institution’s misconduct,” Cardona said in a statement. “A close review of these claims and the associated evidence showed these borrowers have been harmed and we will grant them a fresh start from their debt.”

Critics of DeVos’ appointment had argued that her financial ties were a conflict of interest, as she never sold her multimillion-dollar stake in Neurocore, a “brain training” program for children. She is also a longtime advocate of “school choice,” or vouchers that enable parents to send their children to private schools instead of public ones.

DeVos has separately asked the Georgia-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to block the subpoena. Alsup has scheduled a hearing for June 3.

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Obama jokes he was told there’s no secret government alien lab but said video of UFOs is real

Former US President Barack Obama speaks during a drive-in campaign rally for President Joe Biden at Northwestern High School on October 31, 2020 in Flint, Michigan.

  • A former Navy pilot said pilots training off the US coast saw UFOs every day.
  • The sightings are being investigated by a Department of Defense special task force.
  • Former President Barack Obama joked of his own curiosity about aliens and said sightings are real.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Former President Barack Obama joked that he was told there was no secret lab testing alien samples when he took office in 2008 but acknowledged that footage of unidentified aircraft was real.

During an interview on“The Late Late Show with James Corden,” Obama was asked to weigh in on reports of UFOs.

“When it comes to aliens, there are some things I just can’t tell you on air,” Obama joked.

A former US Navy pilot told CBS’s 60 Minutes earlier this week that pilots training off the US coast sighted UFOs – also known as Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) – nearly every day.

Videos of the incidents were declassified in 2019 and the Department of Defense launched a special task force to investigate them last August. A report on the sightings is expected in June.

The former president said he asked about the topic when he became president.

“I was like alright, is there the lab somewhere where we’re keeping the alien specimens and spaceship? And you know, they did a little bit of research and the answer was no,” he joked.

Obama confirmed that there’s footage and records of unidentified objects in the skies.

“We don’t know exactly what they are, we can’t explain how they moved, their trajectory. They did not have an easily explainable pattern. And so, you know, I think that people still take seriously trying to investigate and figure out what that is. But I have nothing to report to you today, ” Obama said.

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The Elizabeth Warren ally just picked to oversee US student loans could help make her debt-cancelation dream come true

Elizabeth Warren
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

  • Former CFPB head Richard Cordray will lead the Federal Student Aid office, which oversees student debt.
  • Elizabeth Warren helped create the CFPB and was key in nominating Cordray when she couldn’t helm the agency.
  • Warren wants to cancel $50,000 in student debt per person and Cordray has shared her agenda for much of his political career.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Since she was elected to the Senate almost a decade ago, Elizabeth Warren has been fighting to cancel student debt and hold loan servicers accountable. Now one of her closest allies is in charge of the federal student debt pile, and that could be a big deal.

Richard Cordray, the former head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), was selected to head the Education Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) on Monday. Few people in Washington DC are better placed to carry out Warren’s vision of mass student-debt relief. That’s because Cordray took the job Democrats wanted Warren to have.

When Warren was a Harvard professor (and occasional blogger), she frequently cited problems within the student-loan system and the need to create something like the CFPB, which would protect consumers financially and ensures they are being treated fairly. That turned into a new federal agency created under President Barack Obama, who wanted Warren to lead it, but in 2011, Senate Republicans blocked her appointment. She ran for Senate instead, becoming a national figure, while Cordray became a close ally as the first head of the CFPB.

During her time in the Senate, Warren worked with Cordray’s bureau to conduct investigations into predatory lending practices. Now as head of the FSA, Cordray will be tasked with overseeing the government’s $1.5 trillion student loan portfolio through disbursing loans and grants, along with monitoring student-loan servicers and implementing relief and repayment programs.

@RichCordray was a fearless @CFPB leader who forced big financial institutions to return $12 billion to people they cheated,” Warren wrote on Twitter on Monday. “I’m very glad he’ll be protecting student borrowers and bringing much-needed accountability to the federal student loan program.”

Richard Cordray.

What Cordray could do on student debt

In a statement after his appointment was announced, Cordray said he was looking forward to creating “more pathways for students to graduate and get ahead, not be burdened by insurmountable debt.”

He will be tasked with sorting through claims from thousands of defrauded borrowers who filed for debt relief, along with ensuring the smooth implementation of loan collections once the pause on student loan payments through September is lifted – although Cardona said on Monday that extending the payment pause is “not out of the question.

While Cordray has not yet commented on wiping out $50,000 in student debt for each borrower, which Democrats continue to call for, he told MarketWatch last year that under the Biden administration, he expected the CFPB and the Education Department to work more closely on student-loan issues.

At the CFPB during the Obama years, Cordray made oversight of student loan servicers his priority. The agency has returned more than $75o million to student loan borrowers since 2011 over debt collection complaints, and in early 2017, the bureau sued Navient, the largest student loan servicer in the US, in a lawsuit that is still ongoing, arguing that Navient misled students into taking on loans they cannot pay off.

At a late April hearing, Warren called for the government to fire Navient, and for Navient to fire its chief executive officer, after accusing Navient for over a decade of abusing the student loan system.

In 2019, Cordray wrote a guest essay in The Plain Dealer, an Ohio newspaper, speaking out against for-profit colleges. “I hate how these hollowed-out businesses and subpar colleges are cheating consumers, employees and whole communities,” Cordray wrote.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has already canceled some debt for borrowers defrauded by for-profit schools, and Warren has conducted numerous investigations into the failures of the for-profits Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institutes.

The FSA head’s seat has been vacant since March, when Mark Brown, former head of the office appointed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in 2019, resigned amid pressure from labor groups and lawmakers. Warren wrote in a tweet that his resignation was “good for student borrowers.”

Cordray told Marketwatch in November that, as CFPB head, his approach with the Education Department had been one of “close cooperation” but “that was all nixed when Betsy DeVos came into office.” Speaking of the outlook for a Biden administration, he said he thought the CFPB and Education Department would likely go back to working closely together.

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Senate Republicans to discuss repealing ban on earmarks, key tactic for passing difficult legislation

Mitt Romney
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT).

  • The Senate GOP will meet next week to decide on bringing earmarks, funding members can use for their districts, back.
  • This follows House Republicans approving the restoration of earmarks in March.
  • Some GOP Senators opposed bringing earmarks back because of past abuses with the funding measure.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Almost a month after House Republicans voted to approve the restoration of earmarks, Senate Republicans are expected to meet next week to discuss bringing back the so-called community funding measures.

A decade ago, Republicans banned earmarks, which allow members to put funding for their districts in a larger bill, following a series of scandals related to earmark abuses. But now, both House Democrats and House Republicans have voted to bring them back, and Senate Republicans are set to meet next Wednesday to ratify their rules and discuss earmark usage, according to Bloomberg.

As some moderate Democrats, notably Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, stress the importance of bipartisan legislation, earmarks could be an important tactic for easing difficult legislation through congress on bipartisan lines.

Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama told The Hill on Tuesday that Democrats are already going forward with restoring earmarks, so he thinks “the decision is headed toward letting every member decide if they want to participate in the earmark process.”

On March 2, House Democrats introduced new guidelines for earmarks to bring them back while increasing transparency and requiring members to verify they have no financial interest in the funding requests, among other things.

On March 17, House Republicans voted by secret ballot to bring earmarks back as well. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said after the vote that there was “real concern” about solely the Biden administration directing where money goes.

“This doesn’t add one more dollar,” McCarthy said. “I think members here know what’s most important about what’s going on in their district, not Biden.”

However, some Senate Republicans did not feel the same. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah told reporters after the vote that earmarks “are not the right way to go.”

“They have been associated with excess, and it would represent a turn to the worst,” he said.

The ban on earmarks once had bipartisan support, as a series of scandals led to former President Barack Obama saying in 2011 that he would veto any bill containing earmarks.

A defining earmark scandal occurred in 2005, when Alaska Rep. Don Young secured $233 million for a bridge that would connect two small cities, which became known as the “bridge to nowhere,” as critics said the bridge would not significantly benefit Young’s community. The same year, former California Rep. Duke Cunningham landed himself eight years in prison for accepting $2.4 million in bribes in return for promising earmarks to defense contractors.

As recently as March 1, a group of 10 Republican senators, led by Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Steve Daines of Montana, introduced a bill to permanently ban earmarks. Rubio said in a statement that earmarks had led to “corruption and waste, and bought votes in Congress for unpopular legislation.”

Although Republican lawmakers have largely opposed President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan thus far, bringing earmarks back could help pass difficult legislation as it allows lawmakers to include funding for their specific districts in bills.

The House is already using earmarks again, and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is accepting member requests for community funding through April 23 .

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Biden says his inauguration will be a ‘more imaginative’ virtual event, in contrast to Trump’s emphasis on large crowds

Biden transition
President-elect Joe Biden speaks to the media after receiving a briefing from the transition COVID-19 advisory board.

  • President-elect Joe Biden said Friday he expects his January 20 inauguration to be a “more imaginative” virtual event, much like the 2020 DNC. 
  • “It is highly unlikely that there will be a million people on the mall, going all the way down to the [Lincoln] Memorial,” Biden said.
  • Biden is taking a starkly different approach to President Trump, who began his term in 2017 by arguing about the number of spectators at his inauguration.

President-elect Joe Biden on Friday said he expects his inauguration to be mostly virtual, although he’ll still plan to take the oath of office on the steps of the US Capitol. 

Although Biden said plans for the January 20 ceremony aren’t complete, he expects it to be a “more imaginative” event than previous inaugurations. He said it may be similar to the 2020 Democratic National Convention, an all-online event that broadcast lawmakers and citizens from around the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is highly unlikely that there will be a million people on the mall, going all the way down to the [Lincoln] Memorial,” Biden said on Friday. “My guess is that there will not be a gigantic inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, but my guess is you’ll see a lot of virtual activity in states all across America, engaging even more people than before.”

Asking crowds to stay home instead of flooding the National Mall would separate Biden from his predecessor, President Donald Trump, who began his term by arguing about the size of his crowds. He said about 1.5 million well-wishers had come to cheer him on, but the media reported far fewer.

Trump inauguration
President Donald Trump delivering his inaugural address.

In non-pandemic years, crowds typically gather along the grassy stretch of parkland between the US Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial. In the days after Trump’s 2017 ceremony, his office argued about the size of his crowd, which most estimates put at smaller than former President Barack Obama’s 2009 crowd.

“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in-person and around the globe,” former press secretary Sean Spicer said at the time, although photos taken of the National Mall appeared to tell a different story.

During his re-election campaign, Trump repeatedly criticized Biden for not drawing big enough crowds at his rallies. In November, Obama tore into Trump at a Biden campaign event, saying Trump had an “obsession” with crowd size.

“What is his obsession, by the way, with crowd size?” Obama said. “This is the one measure he has of success. He’s still worrying about his inauguration crowd being smaller than mine.”

Trump also has not said whether he plans to participate in the 2021 inauguration ceremony. Outgoing presidents typically great incoming ones at the White House on inauguration day. 

Biden said on Friday that his team hadn’t finalized plans for January 20. “But the key is keeping people safe,” he said.

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