In First Tie-Breaking Vote, Kamala Harris Helps Senate Dems Pass Budget Resolution

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Budget resolution passage bodes well for Biden’s $1.9 billion stimulus package. Concluding a 15-hour voting spree that began Thursday afternoon, the U.S. Senate on Friday approved a budget resolution backed by Democrats and decried by Republicans. The vote was 50 to 50, necessitating that Vice President Kamala Harris cast her first tie-breaking vote to give the budget resolution the edge it needed to pass.

What does it all mean?

“With passage of this budget resolution, Dems can now pass a Covid relief bill with a simple majority, no GOP votes needed,” points out Politico congressional reporter Andrew Desiderio.

“President Joe Biden’s $1.9 billion COVID-19 relief bill is one step closer to becoming law,” notes CNN.

The resolution that passed early this morning was not itself the COVID-19 package; it merely lays the groundwork for that by ensuring that Democrats can use the budget reconciliation process to get around needing any GOP votes. Politico called it “the first step Friday toward sidelining their Republican colleagues in the stimulus process.”

Passage of the budget resolution came after senators spent the night voting on amendments to the budget resolution. While most Republican amendments were rejected, “the process also highlighted some bipartisan consensus,” CNN reports:

One of the more significant amendments came from a bipartisan group of senators, led by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, that would prevent “upper income taxpayers” from being eligible to receive $1,400 Covid relief checks. While the amendment was adopted 99-1, it is not binding and does not mean that the eligibility requirements will be changed in the final Covid relief bill. But it expresses broad consensus to make the changes.

On one closely watched issue, Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa offered an amendment to prevent a hike in the minimum wage to $15 an hour during a pandemic. Democrats want to include a $15 minimum wage in the Covid relief bill, but her measure could have been complicated for centrist members—like Manchin, who has a different position than most of his caucus and supports a more modest increase in the minimum wage.

But before a roll call vote was called, Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent who is the chair of the Budget Committee and a champion of the $15 minimum wage, intervened and said his proposal would actually make the jump to $15 over five years, not right away as Ernst had formulated in her amendment. With that, her amendment was quickly adopted by unanimous consent.


FREE MINDS

Gender reassignment bill in Kansas unlikely to get a hearing. Kansas Republicans are pushing a bill that would make it a felony crime for a doctor, under any circumstances, to provide a “gender reassignment service”—including prescribing puberty blockers—to someone under 18 years old. Violators would face eight months in prison and lose their medical license. “Kansas is among at least eight states where lawmakers are considering such a measure,” notes ABC News. But the bill is “unlikely to get a hearing, the head of the committee to which it has been assigned said Thursday.”


FREE MARKETS

A pandemic housing bubble? Having lived through one previous recession, during which a housing market crash was central, it’s still peculiar to me to see home sales and prices in the U.S. continue to climb during the pandemic and resulting nationwide economic woes. Of course, it makes sense, what with home—and the new requirements and possibilities for what that means—being a defining feature of the current crisis. But pressing demand for new housing may be driving a housing bubble. “Home prices are 5.5% overvalued nationally as of the fourth quarter of 2020,” MarketWatch noted yesterday, reporting on a new analysis from Fitch Ratings. “Through November, home prices were up some 8.9% nationally since the start of the year.”

Rapidly rising home prices are driving overvaluation, they say, and reflect more demand for housing than supply.

To some extent, this is a reflection of the fact that many homeowners are reluctant to list their homes for sale amid the pandemic. The imbalance between supply and demand is also the result of homebuilding activity remaining muted following the Great Recession and the preceding housing bubble.

Some housing markets are far more overvalued than others, the report noted. Fitch estimates that around 25% of metropolitan statistical areas (meaning major cities) around the U.S. are more than 10% overvalued.

Among the 20 largest metro areas nationwide, Las Vegas was the most overvalued, with Fitch estimating that home prices were overvalued by approximately 28%. Dallas–Fort Worth was next, with Fitch projecting that prices were overinflated between 20% and 24%.

Comparing states, the analysts found that Idaho had the most overvalued home prices. Other states with highly inflated home prices included Arizona, Texas, Kansas, and North Dakota. Just four states—Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, and New Jersey—were judged to have an undervalued housing market, while 17 “were found to have housing markets where homes were sustainably priced,” MarketWatch points out.


QUICK HITS

• In Yemen, “war has to end,” said Biden on Thursday. “And to underscore our commitment, we’re ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arm sales.”

• New York has repealed a law against “loitering for the purpose of engaging in a prostitution offense,” which many detractors referred to as the “walking while trans” law. The law allowed police to arrest people as suspected sex workers for merely being in public and doing anything a cop deemed to manifest an intent to sell sex.

• Rep. Bennie Thompson (D–Miss.), House Homeland Security Committee chair, tells tech companies to censor more content or else.

• Columbus, Ohio, police officer Adam Coy has been arrested and charged with felony murder, felonious assault, and dereliction of duty over the fatal shooting of Andre Hill. Coy shot Hill “four times after responding to a call about a suspicious vehicle. When he and another officer arrived at the scene, Mr. Coy found Mr. Hill in a garage and opened fire within seconds.”

• A Minnesota lab “has run 20,000 flu tests—10 times as many as it processed the season before—and zero have come back positive,” notes Katherine J. Wu at The Atlantic. “‘It’s absolutely remarkable,’ [Matt] Binnicker, the Mayo Clinic’s director of clinical virology, told me. ‘I fully expected there to be a typical influenza season this year.'”

• Keith “Malik” Washington, chief editor of the San Francisco Bay View paper and an incarcerated resident of a GEO Group halfway house, “says when he told a colleague from the local news website 48 Hills about a COVID-19 outbreak in the center, the prison corporation retaliated,” reports the San Francisco Examiner. Washington is suing the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

• It looks like they’re basically planning to throw every bad, overly broad, federal criminal statute possible at the people who stormed the U.S. Capitol. The latest rumor is Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) charges.

• “Dennis A. White, the commissioner of the Boston Police Department, was put on leave Wednesday — just two days after he was sworn in — as allegations of past domestic abuse prompted the city to begin an investigation,” reports The New York Times.


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