Editorial Roundup: United States
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on Congress closing the Medicaid coverage gap
After months of doing nothing, Democrats in Congress appear poised to achieve something at last — or rather, multiple somethings, from protections for same-sex marriage to tens of billions of dollars toward computer chips to, finally, an economic package passed through reconciliation. There’s still room for the majority to make this last something the best it can be.
The deal Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) seems to have struck with swing-voting Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) primarily involves a popular bill to let Medicare negotiate the prices of a select set of drugs — thereby driving down costs. The legislation is both a political and a policy win for the party. Better yet, it saves money that can be directed into other programs so that, with the blessing of the chamber’s parliamentarian, the provisions together can bypass a filibuster. So far, Democrats look likely to extend enhanced Affordable Care Act subsidies for at least two years, preventing a spike in health-insurance premiums that could push millions off the exchanges.
All this is more than welcome: It’s essential. The only problem is that, while the extended ACA subsidies will help low-to-middle-income Americans stay insured, the poorest might end up left in the lurch. That’s because in 12 states that have refused to adopt the landmark law’s Medicaid expansion, an estimated 2.2 million people, mostly of color, languish in the so-called coverage gap: eligible neither for Medicaid nor for subsidies in the ACA marketplace. Build Back Better as originally envisioned sought to fix this fault by letting people in non-expansion states enroll in subsidized plans after all, but the provision has fallen by the wayside. This means that the reconciliation package Democrats are teeing up would continue to assist those above the poverty line in purchasing coverage, but stick those below the poverty line with an impossible bill.
Congress can still solve the issue. The numbers need to add up to satisfy Mr. Manchin, who wants to put much of the savings achieved through the prescription drug plan toward reducing the deficit. Another provision from the former Build Back Better to beef up the Internal Revenue Service’s auditing capabilities could raise some revenue without the inflationary blowback that so worries the West Virginian senator by pushing wealthy people to pay legally owed taxes — and is worthwhile on the merits, too. But advocates argue the math could work even without the added dollars from such a reform.
This is likely the last chance lawmakers have to stop what’s already a tragedy from causing any more harm and taking any more lives. Democrats, with leadership from a White House that says it’s devoted to the country’s most vulnerable, can’t afford to miss it. The nation’s poorest citizens can afford it even less.
The New York Times on the climate crisis
The American West has gone bone dry, the Great Salt Lake is vanishing and water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the two great life-giving reservoirs on the Colorado River basin, are declining with alarming speed. Wildfires are incinerating crops in France, Spain, Portugal and Italy, while parts of Britain suffocated last week in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Yet the news from Washington was all about the ability of a single United States senator, Joe Manchin, to destroy the centerpiece of President Biden’s plans to confront these very problems — roughly $300 billion in tax credits and subsidies aimed at greatly expanding wind, solar, electric car batteries and other clean energy technologies over the next decade. Had it survived, this would have been the single biggest investment Washington had ever made to combat the ravages of a warming climate.
This was more than another setback for Mr. Biden, who had already seen his climate ambitions threatened by the Supreme Court and rising oil and gas prices. It undercut American competitiveness in the global race for cleaner fuels and cars, and made a mockery of Mr. Biden’s efforts to reclaim the leadership role on climate change that Donald Trump squandered.
Mr. Biden made bold promises to America and the world in his early months in office, designed to honor, at long last, America’s commitment at the Paris climate summit in 2015 to keep global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. That is the threshold, scientists believe, beyond which wildfires, floods, biodiversity loss, rising seas and human dislocation become significantly more devastating — and just a few tenths of a degree hotter than the world is today.
Reaching that 1.5 number or even staying below two degrees would require a radical transformation of the world’s energy systems, replacing fossil fuels with low carbon and ultimately carbon-free energy sources, and doing so not on a leisurely glide path but quickly, cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and effectively zeroing them out by midcentury.
Mr. Biden matched his ambitions to these goals: a 50 to 52 percent cut in American emissions from 2005 levels by 2030, and net zero emissions by 2050. Along the way, he said, he would eliminate fossil fuel emissions from power plants by 2035. This was anathema to Mr. Manchin, who has strong ties to West Virginia’s coal industry and has received generous campaign contributions over the years from oil and gas interests.
It must be said that Mr. Manchin was hardly alone in his opposition to Mr. Biden’s plans. His recent prominence owes much to Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans, not one of whom stepped forward to support the president or offer a plausible alternative. Had enough Republicans joined with the Democrats to construct a bipartisan climate bill, Mr. Manchin’s longstanding, entrenched opposition to necessary action on climate change would have been irrelevant. Instead, it was decisive. He became a necessary swing vote to get Mr. Biden’s program approved in an evenly divided Senate under a process known as budget reconciliation.
Without congressional backing, Mr. Biden has fewer tools to achieve his goals, which now seem out of reach. His best course is to take the same regulatory path President Barack Obama was forced to follow after the Senate’s last colossal climate failure — a cap and trade bill that passed the House in 2009 but died in the Senate the following year. Using his executive authority, Mr. Obama secured big improvements in automobile efficiency and ordered reductions in power plant emissions, which didn’t take effect, although the power companies managed to achieve them on their own by burning cleaner natural gas and closing inefficient coal-fired plants.
Major new improvements in the power sector, which still account for about one-quarter of America’s greenhouse gas emissions, may be constrained by the recent Supreme Court decision limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory flexibility, but Mr. Biden could devise a more modest and legally acceptable rule. He can and must push forward with new rules he has already ordered up to control emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as well as a suite of new mileage standards for cars and light trucks that would compel automakers to double down on their efforts to sell all-electric vehicles. The Interior Department can also continue its efforts to promote wind and solar power, which were jump-started under Mr. Obama’s interior secretary, Sally Jewell. Mr. Biden embraced this course in a speech on Wednesday in Massachusetts.
The president and his interior secretary, Deb Haaland, could help further by bringing clarity to the administration’s policies on oil and gas drilling, which right now are confusing. Mr. Biden pledged in his campaign to halt new oil and gas leasing on federal lands, which is a significant cause of greenhouse gas emissions. That promise seems long ago and far away. Interior’s recent five-year offshore drilling plan opens the possibility of leasing in parts of the Gulf of Mexico, while a recent environmental impact statement does not foreclose, as environmentalists had hoped, the Willow Project, ConocoPhillips’s proposed development of oil and gas resources in the fragile Western Arctic.
The Wall Street Journal on the “chips plus” subsidy bill
The Senate on Tuesday voted 64-32 to advance a $280 billion “chips plus” subsidy bill, and as ever in politics there’s a lot of plus. Money from Washington always comes with strings attached, and we hope the semiconductor CEOs know what they’ve signed up for.
That message couldn’t have been clearer from President Biden on Tuesday when he told business and labor leaders on a conference call that the bill’s $52 billion in grants for Intel and other chip makers would not be “a blank check to companies.” The President said he will “personally have to sign off on the biggest grants.”
Hint to companies applying for money: Locate that new factory in a swing state with more than a handful of electoral votes. Mr. Biden or the Vice President may want to swing by during the 2024 election campaign.
The President also underscored that the law requires companies to pay union prevailing wages to build the semiconductor fabrication facilities funded by the bill. Communications Workers of America president Chris Shelton said this will ensure “there isn’t a race to the bottom.” Translation: Construction will be more expensive, and non-union contractors won’t benefit.
Some companies that lobbied for the bill have nonetheless expressed frustration that it forbids recipients of federal largesse from expanding advanced-chip production in China. But what did they expect? The politicians are selling the bill as a national-security necessity to compete with China to make sure that more chips are made in the U.S. in case of conflict with Beijing.
Mr. Biden also made clear his Administration will impose its own conditions on the money. For instance, “we’re not going to allow companies to use these funds to buy back stock or issue dividends.” Mr. Biden threatened to claw back subsidies from those that do. This means companies that take federal money won’t be allowed to reward shareholders if the investments succeed.
The President also noted that companies whose future innovations derive in part from the bill’s $200 billion in authorized spending on research and development in areas like green energy and artificial intelligence will be required “to deploy that technology” and invest “in a facility here in America.” This requirement will make CEOs add a political calculation to their investment choices.
Industrial policy and the political allocation of capital invariably distort investment. Don’t be surprised if the conditions that Congress and the Administration impose on these companies make the firms and the United States less competitive with China.
The Los Angeles Times on whether Trump should face criminal charges:
Charging a former president with crimes would be an extraordinary development in American history and carries the risk of forever reshaping our politics as well as the very future of the nation. It should not be undertaken lightly.
But former President Trump’s multifaceted attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election that culminated with him inciting violent mobs to attack the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as Congress was certifying Joe Biden’s victory, was also an extraordinary development in American history — one that nearly destroyed our democracy. The country is already in uncomfortable, uncharted waters navigating the wreckage Trump left in his wake.
What’s needed now is not genteel deference to political norms but an unflinching pursuit of justice. Over the last two months the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack has meticulously presented with video clips and firsthand testimony ample evidence that the former president led a dangerous, mendacious plot to block the peaceful transfer of power and hang on to the presidency despite being voted out of office. At a minimum, the Department of Justice should prosecute him for conspiring to defraud the United States and conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding, the electoral vote count. These crimes carry maximum sentences of five and 20 years in prison, respectively.
Of course, prosecutors may have evidence the public hasn’t seen that merits additional charges, and the House panel appears likely to reveal more over the coming months. But already the first eight hearings have shown that Trump was told many times, by several close and well-informed advisors, that there was no evidence of voter fraud or ballot irregularities that would have altered the outcome of the election. “Bull——” is what Atty. Gen. William Barr called Trump’s claim that the election was stolen.
And yet Trump continued to perpetuate the lie, using the misplaced trust of many Americans to continue the con. He fleeced his followers for $250 million supposedly to fight his bogus lawsuits (but actually funneled to a political action committee). He invited them to come to Washington for a “wild” demonstration at which he gave an inflammatory speech to a crowd he knew was armed — and then directed them to march to the Capitol.
And then, for three hours after he left the rally, Trump refused to take steps to quell the violence as rioters battled with police, stormed into the Capitol and disrupted the electoral vote count. As the House panel demonstrated in painstaking detail during Thursday’s hearing, Trump watched the rampage unfold on TV from the comfort of a White House dining room, rebuffing pleas from aides who wanted him to publicly condemn the violence and call off the mob. He never called for any law enforcement or military support even as members of Congress feared for their lives. In the end, more than 100 police officers were injured, four people in the crowd died and five police officers who served at the Capitol Jan. 6 died in the days and weeks that followed.
“We cannot abandon the truth and remain a free nation,” committee Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said in her closing remarks Thursday.
Trump knew there was no legitimate reason to challenge the election results but pressured officials at many levels of government to take illegal actions to preserve his power. Thankfully, they didn’t acquiesce to his demands, but the testimony detailing how Trump bullied officials in the U.S. Department of Justice, state legislatures and local election offices was truly chilling.
An election worker described facing racist death threats after Trump baselessly accused her of processing fraudulent ballots. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger testified that Trump called him and said, “I need 11,000 votes, give me a break.”
And then there is the jaw-dropping evidence of Trump menacing his own vice president. As the violence mounted on Jan. 6, Trump lobbed a tweet saying Vice President Mike Pence “didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done” by rejecting electoral votes for Biden. The tweet further inflamed the frothing crowd that chanted, “Hang Mike Pence.” Secret Service agents protecting Pence at the Capitol described being so afraid they called loved ones to say goodbye. Trump, though, thought Pence deserved it and didn’t think the rioters “were doing anything wrong,” White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified that she heard Trump’s chief of staff say.
Altogether it demonstrates a tyrannical pattern in which Trump wielded the power of the presidency to work numerous channels to overthrow the will of the voters. That’s evidence of criminal behavior that must be evaluated in court.
One of the arguments against prosecuting Trump is that it violates American norms because impeachment by Congress is the proper venue for holding a president accountable, not a criminal courtroom, and the Senate failed to muster the two-thirds majority required to find him guilty of inciting an insurrection. This is a flimsy argument. Trump’s misconduct took place in the period between losing the November election and inciting the riot on Jan. 6. By that point, only two weeks remained of his presidency, so Congress didn’t have time to mount a thorough impeachment proceeding with the benefit of the evidence the House panel has gathered over the last year and a half. Besides, Trump’s entire political persona — from his campaign through his presidency — was about breaking norms. Why would it be taboo now to take an unprecedented step in response to unprecedented conduct? It’s not.
Another argument against prosecution is that it could backfire and wind up empowering Trump instead of imprisoning him. Trump will be in the spotlight as the case drags on. He would likely cast it as political retribution by Biden’s Justice Department, and use the process to develop a new arsenal of conspiracies with which to stoke his fans’ grievances. Proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is difficult. If the prosecution is unsuccessful and Trump is acquitted, he could gain more currency than he has now as a political loser.
This seems like a legitimate risk, but not a sufficient reason to back away from the pile of evidence that points toward Trump’s culpability. Justice is much larger than political considerations, and extending this argument more broadly would be akin to saying it’s too risky to try someone who tells a lot of lies and has a solid fan base. That shouldn’t be how we determine which Americans are held to answer for potential crimes. Being famous or incendiary should not shield anyone from justice.
The lesser-known players in this horrid plot are already being held to account. Federal prosecutors have filed criminal charges against more than 850 people who participated in the Jan. 6 mob, including charges for assaulting police officers with deadly weapons, entering a restricted building with deadly weapons, destroying and stealing government property, and obstructing an official preceding. Three participants have pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy. Some 99 Jan. 6 rioters have been incarcerated.
Prosecuting the foot soldiers is only partial justice for this grave attack on American democracy. To restore the nation’s standing in the world, and among its citizens, it’s critical that the ringleader of this shameful chapter in history be held accountable as well. Prosecuting Trump will demonstrate that the bedrock principles of the United States remain firm: The voters decide who holds power, and no one is above the law.
China Daily on U.S.-China relations:
As part of its neo-Reds under the bed scaremongering, the previous Donald Trump administration trumpeted that made-in-China home appliances, such as refrigerators and televisions, were spies ensconced in US households. It also claimed that the Chinese telecommunication company was the “number one concern” for democracy.
Proving the old adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same, the Joe Biden administration is unwilling to let that lie rest with sleeping dogs. In an unannounced investigation launched shortly after Joe Biden took office early last year, the Commerce Department is conducting an ongoing investigation of Huawei over alleged concerns that US cell towers fitted with its equipment could capture information from military bases and missile silos and then transmit the data back to China.
Huawei in advancing to the vanguard position in 5G technology has inadvertently become the victim of a US-led spy-tech witch hunt. If it is any consolation to the company, which has been subject to a seemingly endless cycle of voiced suspicions followed by punitive actions, no evidence has been presented to support the claims. That has served to prove the professionalism of the Chinese company that serves and operates in nearly 200 countries and regions without being mired in any such troubles.
On the contrary, it is the U.S. that has repeatedly been caught red-handed eavesdropping and cyber snooping both on its own citizens and those of other countries. Indeed, pretty much everyone. It has also been caught hacking foreign institutes, and it is no secret that it coerces companies to hand in their data and information under the pretext of safeguarding national security.
After subjecting Huawei and some other Chinese hi-tech companies that it deems a threat to US companies, not national security, to the most rigorous scrutiny over the past few years along with its allies, including the United Kingdom, without finding any evidence to substantiate its charges, there must be a reason why the Biden administration has chosen to dish up the same old Red menace stuff at this moment.
And there is. On the one hand, news of the probe has come amid complaints from telecom operators about the shortage of funds to help them meet the “rip and replace” deadline to remove and destroy Huawei equipment, with federal reimbursements only reaching 40% of the total requested so far. So a practical purpose of the investigation is to help ease the resistance the administration faces in forcing the telecoms operators to meet that deadline.
On the other hand, the probe offers a counter to complaints that the administration is being too soft on China. With the approach of the midterm elections and bipartisan China-containing strategy becoming political correctness, the Biden administration does not want to be accused of jettisoning its predecessor’s anti-China legacy.
As such, the probe is nothing but a by-product of the partisan politics in the U.S.
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