Progressives threaten to tank the bipartisan infrastructure deal if their demands aren't met

House progressives made clear Wednesday night that they are willing to vote down a newly etched bipartisan infrastructure deal unless a sweeping budget reconciliation package advances simultaneously, a threat that came after Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema announced her opposition to a $3.5 trillion climate and social spending proposal.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the nearly 100-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, said that "a small bipartisan infrastructure bill doesn't have a path forward in the House unless it has a jobs and families package with our progressive priorities alongside it."

Late Wednesday, just 24 hours after the deal appeared to be on the verge of collapse due to disputes over transit funding and other issues, the Senate voted with the White House's blessing to take up bipartisan infrastructure legislation that calls for just $550 billion in spending over eight years—a far cry from the $2.2 trillion President Joe Biden pushed for in his original American Jobs Plan.

The new bipartisan deal—negotiated by a group of more than 20 senators led by Sinema and Rob Portman (R-Ohio)—is slightly smaller than the framework that Biden endorsed last month, and it includes tens of billions in funding for roads, bridges, waterways, public transit, and broadband but little by way of climate investment.

Because the agreement does not include any tax increases and Republicans stripped out funding to help the IRS pursue rich tax cheats, questions remain over how the legislation will be financed. Among the proposed pay-fors is a vague—and potentially insidious—plan to root out "fraud" in unemployment insurance.

And while progressives were alarmed by privatization schemes in the original bipartisan deal, such provisions appear to have been dramatically curtailed in the new agreement.

In floor remarks following Wednesday's successful procedural vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) reiterated that the framework—which still must be converted into final legislative text—is just one component of "a two-track strategy on infrastructure: a bipartisan bill focused on traditional, brick-and-mortar infrastructure projects, and a budget reconciliation bill where Democrats plan to make historic investments in American jobs, American families, and efforts to fight climate change."

"In order to start work on a reconciliation bill, the Senate must pass a budget resolution first," said Schumer. "As I've said repeatedly, our goal was to pass both bills this session, hopefully in July. My goal remains to pass both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a budget resolution during this work period. Both. It might take some long nights. It might eat into our weekends. But we are going to get the job done. And we are on track."

But that two-track approach could be imperiled by Sinema's opposition to the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation proposal that Senate Democratic leaders unveiled earlier this month in an effort to address the major shortcomings of the bipartisan package.

To pass a bill through the arcane reconciliation process, Democrats need all 50 votes from their Senate caucus.

"While I will support beginning this [reconciliation] process, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion—and in the coming months, I will work in good faith to develop this legislation with my colleagues and the administration," Sinema (D-Ariz.) said Wednesday, taking a position that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) applauded as "very courageous."

Several House progressives, including prominent members of the so-called "Squad," responded with outrage to Sinema's statement and indicated they would vote no on any bipartisan infrastructure bill not accompanied by a bold reconciliation package. Given Democrats' narrow margins in the House, it likely wouldn't take many progressive defections to tank the bipartisan bill.

"Sinema seems not to care that her own state is flooding, the West is burning, and infrastructure around the country is crumbling," said Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). "Sinema is more interested in gaining GOP friends and blocking much needed resources than fighting for her residents' future."

"Time for the White House to play hardball," Tlaib added. "We didn't elect Sinema as president and we won't let her obstruction put a Republican in the Oval Office in 2024. It's the reconciliation bill or GOP controlling every level of government again, period."

Lauren Maunus, advocacy director for the youth-led Sunrise Movement, echoed Tlaib's message in a statement Wednesday night, warning that "this bipartisan deal is comically and terrifyingly small."

"Biden and Congress can't get distracted by this pathetic version of an infrastructure package that only waters down much needed climate priorities, like transit, even further," Maunus said. "The climate crisis is here—and we see it every day with fatal heat waves, monsoons, and wildfires."

"Schumer should only bring forward the bipartisan deal if he has every Democratic senator's vote for at least a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill first," Maunus added. "Progressives made it clear and are not backing down: no climate, no deal."

Ocasio-Cortez warns that Republicans are laying the groundwork to 'overturn results' of elections

Imploring the Democratic leadership to act before it's too late, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez warned Monday that the Republican supporters of newly enacted state-level voter suppression laws are laying the groundwork to overturn election results in the near future.

The New York Democrat joined the chorus voicing concern over the national Democratic Party's emerging plan to try to "out-organize" GOP-authored voter suppression laws—a strategy that civil rights organizations have said is doomed to fail in the absence of federal action to protect ballot access.

"Communities cannot 'out-organize' voter suppression when those they organize to elect won't protect the vote," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. "Even if they do out-organize, the ground is being set to overturn results."

"The time to fight like hell for democracy is right now," she added. "We may not get another chance."

According to a report (pdf) released last month by a trio of advocacy groups, 14 Republican-led state legislatures—animated by former President Donald Trump's incessant lies about widespread voter fraud—have implemented at least two dozen new laws this year that could "politicize, criminalize, and interfere in election administration."

Compiled by the States United Democracy Center, Law Forward, and Protect Democracy, the report spotlights alarming provisions of several new laws and proposed bills that would make it easier for political officials to contest—and potentially nullify—election results.

In Arizona, the report notes, H.B. 2800 would "require the legislature to come into special session after each election and potentially overturn the result."

"Texas' S.B. 7 also forges a new, perilous path in overturning election results," the analysis continues. "It creates a new category of election litigation if the case involves allegations of fraud conducted by a candidate or affiliates of the candidate. Under the new provision, a losing party may file an election contest and allege fraud. He or she is then only required to prove that fraud occurred by a preponderance of the evidence—in other words, whether the fraud more likely occurred than not. If the number of votes at issue would have been outcome determinative, then a judge can overturn the election 'without attempting to determine how individual voters voted.'"

As the New York Times reported earlier this month, Georgia's new voter suppression law—signed by the state's Republican governor March—"risks making election subversion easier" by creating "new avenues for partisan interference in election administration."

"This includes allowing the state elections board, now newly controlled by appointees of the Republican state legislature, to appoint a single person to take control of typically bipartisan county election boards, which have important power over vote counting and voter eligibility," the Times observed. "The law also gives the legislature the authority to appoint the chair of the state election board and two more of its five voting members, allowing it to appoint a majority of the board. It strips the secretary of state of the chair and a vote."

Democratic lawmakers and activists are growing increasingly concerned that the draconian new laws could give Republicans an advantage in upcoming elections, imperiling Democrats' narrow control of the U.S. House and Senate.

"If there isn't a way for us to repeat what happened in November 2020, we're f---ed," Nsé Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, told Politico. "We are doing what we do to make sure that not only our constituents, our base, the people, the communities that we organize with, get it. We're trying to make sure that our elected officials get it as well."

Texas state lawmakers are sending a similar message to Democratic members of Congress. Earlier this month, dozens of Texas Democrats fled their state for Washington, D.C. in an effort to block S.B. 7 and call attention to the need for federal action—specifically, passage of the For the People Act, legislation that would help neutralize state-level voter suppression efforts.

Congressional Republicans deployed the legislative filibuster last month to block debate on the popular bill.

"Republicans have already introduced nearly 400 voter suppression efforts this year," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said late Monday. "Until we end the filibuster and pass the For the People Act, we're letting them get away with it."

On Tuesday, Texas state Democrats are set to testify before a House Oversight and Reform Committee panel on the urgent necessity of federal voting rights legislation

"It is important for them to know the specific stories that are happening in Texas," state Rep. Rafael Anchía (D-103), one of the roughly 60 Texas lawmakers who made the trip to the nation's capital, said during a recent press conference. "This is happening in real time, and it's very, very dangerous."

'Going in the wrong direction': Ron DeSantis under fire as Florida now accounts for 1 in 5 new US COVID cases

The state of Florida now accounts for one in five new coronavirus infections in the United States, making it the nation's most alarming hot spot as the highly transmissible Delta strain rips through undervaccinated communities and drives a surge in hospitalizations.

According to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Florida has recorded 73,181 new Covid-19 cases over the past week, the most in the country. Florida also logged the most coronavirus deaths of any U.S. state in the last seven days—319—and hospitalizations are spiking, prompting dire warnings from physicians and calls for public safety measures to stop the spread.

But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican and likely 2024 presidential candidate, has recently taken to mocking such measures; earlier this month, the governor's team launched a new merchandise line that includes a koozie with the quote, "How the hell am I going to be able to drink a beer with a mask on?"

Other items take aim at Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a frequent target of right-wing ire. "Don't Fauci My Florida," declares a shirt selling for $21 on a DeSantis campaign website.

While DeSantis has publicly stressed the importance of vaccination in recent days, Florida physicians have attributed the surge in infections, hospitalizations, and deaths in the state to the governor's rush to end public health restrictions.

"While hospitals in our state were filling up, DeSantis was shouting about 'Freedom over Faucism,'" said Bernard Ashby, a Miami-based cardiologist and head of the of the Florida chapter of the Committee to Protect Health Care. "If DeSantis were as concerned about stopping Covid-19 spread as he was about coming up with these clever jabs about Dr. Fauci, we might not be in this position."

As the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday, epidemiologists argue that "various factors" are behind the Florida crisis, including: "large numbers of unvaccinated people, a relaxation of preventive measures like mask-wearing and social distancing, the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, and the congregation of people indoors during hot summer months."

Chad Neilsen, director of accreditation and infection prevention at the University of Florida Health Jacksonville, told the Journal that hospitalizations are surging at a rate "we have not seen before ever." Data collected by Florida epidemiologists shows that recent hospital patients have been skewing younger, with more than half under the age of 60.

"It really has been unbelievable," said Neilsen.

In a scathing editorial last week, the Orlando Sentinel accused DeSantis of prioritizing his presidential aspirations over Florida's pandemic response.

"Florida was all over the news this past weekend with one of the nation's biggest spikes in Covid cases and hospitalizations," the editorial reads. "And where was Gov. Ron DeSantis as this health crisis resurged? Visiting hospitals? Consulting with physicians and public health experts? Huddling with his staff to brainstorm ways of persuading more Floridians to take the vaccine that would nip this pandemic in the bud?"

"Nope. Florida's governor was in Texas, 1,000 miles from Tallahassee, burnishing his 2024 presidential ambitions with a visit to the southern border," the article continues. "The governor was back in Florida on Sunday but, once again, not to focus on the Covid health crisis but this time to make fun of Anthony Fauci in a speech before a crowd of young conservatives in Tampa... And every few days, nearly as many people are dying from Covid as died in the recent collapse of a condominium in South Florida."

Florida's coronavirus surge comes in the context of a nationwide jump in infections that has federal officials worried about another devastating wave as vaccination rates slow and governments relax—and, in the case of Florida and other Republican-led states, aim to actively prohibit—public health requirements such as mask-wearing indoors.

The New York Times reported over the weekend that "hospitalizations have increased in 45 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico over the past two weeks."

"The only states where they have gone down are Maryland, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont," the Times noted. "Florida, Missouri, and Texas account for about 34% of all new cases nationwide. Greene County in southwestern Missouri reported 259 Covid-19 hospitalizations on Tuesday, up from a previous high of 237 on December 1. By Wednesday, that number was 265."

In an appearance on CNN Sunday morning, Fauci warned that the U.S. is "going in the wrong direction."

"This is an issue predominantly among the unvaccinated," said Fauci, "which is the reason why we're out there practically pleading with the unvaccinated people to go out and get vaccinated."

GOP attempts to hold Social Security 'hostage' again -- but will Dems fall for it this time?

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham on Wednesday said he would be willing to vote to raise the federal debt ceiling in exchange for a policy that could result in cuts to Social Security and Medicare, a proposed trade-off that progressive advocacy groups implored Democrats to reject.

"Fortunately, Democrats can protect Social Security and Medicare by raising the debt ceiling in the forthcoming reconciliation package."
—Alex Lawson, Social Security Works

With members of Congress staring down an August deadline to increase the debt limit—the amount of money the federal government is legally permitted to borrow to meet its financial obligations—Graham (R-S.C.) told Bloomberg that he could bring himself to vote yes on a debt ceiling hike if Democrats agree to legislation establishing commissions tasked with crafting Social Security and Medicare "reforms."

But Social Security Works, a progressive advocacy organization, was quick to warn that Graham's offer is a thinly veiled trap.

"Lindsey Graham and his fellow Republicans will stop at nothing to cut the American people's earned Social Security and Medicare benefits," Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, said in a statement. "Graham has now telegraphed his party's intention to demand a commission to cut Social Security and Medicare as the price for raising the debt ceiling."

The idea of setting up commissions to study and propose changes to Social Security and Medicare is hardly new. Last year, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and other Republican senators attempted unsuccessfully to include such a policy in a coronavirus relief package.

Social Security Works and other groups warned at the time that the proposal was nothing more than "a plot to gut Social Security behind closed doors."

Graham's offer came as Senate Democrats are contemplating what to do about the looming debt ceiling showdown amid indications that Republicans are planning to unify against any increase. If lawmakers fail to raise the debt ceiling, the U.S. government could eventually default on its payments.

In 2019, Congress agreed to suspend the debt limit through the end of July of this year; a majority of Senate Republicans, including Graham, voted in favor of doing so. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Punchbowl News on Tuesday that he "can't imagine a single Republican in this environment that we're in now—this free-for-all for taxes and spending—to vote to raise the debt limit."

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, categorically rejected the GOP's efforts to place conditions on a debt ceiling increase.

"Nobody is going to hold the American economy hostage, period, full stop," Wyden told reporters Wednesday. "The Republicans are trying to extract something, and say that their leverage is they will have the United States default on its legal obligations, which is fundamentally wrong."

To overcome unified Republican opposition, Senate Democrats could attempt to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally through the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process. Lawson urged Democrats to take that route, arguing it would be "political malpractice" not to.

"Fortunately, Democrats can protect Social Security and Medicare by raising the debt ceiling in the forthcoming reconciliation package," Lawson said. "As long as every Democratic senator is on board, this would not require a single Republican vote. It is essential that Democrats take this opportunity to prevent Republicans from taking our earned benefits hostage."

'Just horrific': Pandemic fuels steepest decline in US life expectancy since WWII

New Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data out Wednesday shows that life expectancy in the U.S. fell by one and a half years in 2020, a decline fueled in large part by the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

"U.S. life expectancy at birth for 2020, based on nearly final data, was 77.3 years, the lowest it has been since 2003," reads a new report (pdf) from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. "Mortality due to Covid-19 had, by far, the single greatest effect on the decline in life expectancy at birth between 2019 and 2020, overall."

The new CDC figures indicate that 2020 saw the steepest single-year decline in life expectancy in the U.S.—from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77.3 last year—since World War II.

"I myself had never seen a change this big except in the history books," Elizabeth Arias, a CDC demographer and lead author of the new report, told the Wall Street Journal.

Given that they are more likely to work jobs with a high risk of coronavirus exposure and lack adequate healthcare, Black and Hispanic people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and the resulting fall in life expectancy.

"Between 2019 and 2020, life expectancy decreased by 3 years for the Hispanic population (81.8 to 78.8)," the CDC found. "It decreased by 2.9 years for the non-Hispanic black population (74.7 to 71.8) and by 1.2 years for the non-Hispanic white population (78.8 to 77.6)."

Other factors contributing to the decline in life expectancy last year, according to the CDC, were drug overdoses, homicide, diabetes, and chronic liver disease and cirrhosis.

"It's horrific," Anne Case, a professor emeritus of economics and public affairs at Princeton University, told the Washington Post. "It's not entirely unexpected given what we have already seen about mortality rates as the year went on, but that still doesn't stop it from being just horrific, especially for non-Hispanic Blacks and for Hispanics."

'Toxic nonsense': Jeff Bezos' message after returning from space makes progressives cringe

Just minutes after touching down following his successful and brief suborbital flight on Tuesday, billionaire Jeff Bezos expressed hope that humankind will ultimately develop the capacity to move the industries that have heavily polluted and warmed the Earth into space—a vision that one critic slammed as "delusional, toxic nonsense."

Speaking to MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle in one of his first interviews after the flight, Bezos—the richest person on Earth—said that "you can't imagine how thin the atmosphere is when you see it from space."

"We live in it and it looks so big. It feels like, you know, this atmosphere is huge and we can disregard it and treat it poorly," Bezos said. "When you get up there and you see it, you see how tiny it is and how fragile it is. We need to take all heavy industry, all polluting industry, and move it into space, and keep Earth as this beautiful gem of a planet that it is."

"Now that's going to take decades and decades to achieve, but you have to start. And big things start with small steps," Bezos said, characterizing Tuesday's flight as part of a "tourism mission" that he believes will ultimately pave a "road to space" for future generations.

Blue Origin, the Bezos-funded company behind the unpiloted rocket and capsule that took the billionaire and several other passengers to space, reportedly plans to charge around $300,000 per seat for future commercial space flights.

As The Guardian reported Monday, the space tourism industry that Bezos hopes to usher in could have significant negative consequences for Earth's climate—an impact that would run counter to the billionaire's soaring rhetoric about the need to protect the planet.

"One rocket launch produces up to 300 tons of carbon dioxide into the upper atmosphere, where it can remain for years," The Guardian noted.

In an analysis of research on space launch emissions, Jessica Dallas of the New Zealand Space Agency wrote that "while there are a number of environmental impacts resulting from the launch of space vehicles, the depletion of stratospheric ozone is the most studied and most immediately concerning."


Progressive observers viewed Bezos' foray into space—which came just a week after billionaire Richard Branson's similar venture—as an obscene product of a system that has allowed a select few to accumulate vast wealth while people across the globe struggle to survive without adequate food, medicine, and shelter.
According to an Oxfam analysis, 11 people likely died of hunger every minute that Bezos spent on his expensive rocket.

"We've now reached stratospheric inequality. Billionaires burning into space, away from a world of pandemic, climate change, and starvation," Oxfam's Deepak Xavier said in a statement Monday. "What we need is a fair tax system that allows more investment into ending hunger and poverty, into education and healthcare, and into saving the planet from the growing climate crisis―rather than leaving it."

'Stop blocking global COVID vaccines': Protests greet Angela Merkel's White House visit

Ahead of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit to the U.S. later this week, public health campaigners on Tuesday floated a large banner in front of the White House calling on the European leader to "stop blocking global Covid vaccines," a reference to her continued opposition to suspending Big Pharma-friendly patent protections.

"The Merkel-Biden summit will not be a success unless Germany agrees to support the TRIPS waiver and help end the pandemic."
—Arthur Stamoulis, Citizens Trade Campaign

Organized by a coalition of U.S. civil society groups, Tuesday's demonstration was the first in a series of actions set to take place ahead of and during Merkel's July 15 meeting with President Joe Biden, who has faced criticism for not doing enough to pressure European allies to support a proposed patent waiver for coronavirus vaccines.

Other actions planned this week include a protest at Germany's Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York City on Wednesday, a "die-in" outside the White House during Merkel's visit on Thursday, and vigils at German consulates nationwide.

"While Americans and Western Europeans increasingly have widespread access to Covid vaccination, huge numbers of people around the world aren't expected to have access to a vaccine for years unless global production is dramatically increased," Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of the Citizens Trade Campaign, said in a statement. "Every day Chancellor Merkel delays global action on Covid vaccines costs thousands of lives and increases the chances of a viral mutation that can evade current vaccines and start the pandemic all over for everyone."

"The Merkel-Biden summit will not be a success," Stamoulis added, "unless Germany agrees to support the TRIPS waiver and help end the pandemic."

Protesters demand Merkel support vaccine patent waiver

Protesters hoisted a large banner outside the White House calling on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to stop blocking an emergency waiver of intellectual property rules for Covid-19 vaccines on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. (Photo: Eric Kayne/AP Images for People's Vaccine Coalition)

In a letter to Biden last week, Public Citizen, Amnesty International, and other progressive advocacy groups characterized the July 15 meeting as "a unique opportunity" for Biden to "lead the world to the speedy adoption of a waiver by persuading Chancellor Merkel to join you and end her opposition."

"The rising Delta variant makes brutally clear that the world is not winning the battles between vaccines and variants, or between treatments and needless deaths, or between tests and raging outbreaks," the letter warns.

Since Biden endorsed the patent waiver in May, negotiations over the proposal have largely been stagnant as Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, and a handful of other rich World Trade Organization (WTO) members remain opposed.

Because the WTO operates by consensus, the small group of wealthy countries has the power to block a proposal backed by the majority of the organization's member countries as well as hundreds of international humanitarian groups, the head of the World Health Organization, the European Parliament, and a growing number of U.S. members of Congress.

Just days after Biden announced his support for the waiver, Merkel blamed "production capacities and the high-quality standards" of coronavirus vaccines for supply shortages, dismissing the role that strict intellectual property (IP) protections have played in constraining global production.

Asked during a press briefing last week whether Biden intends to discuss the patent waiver with Merkel on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki dodged the question and described the waiver as just "one tool in our toolbox."

"There are a number of others, including increasing manufacturing," said Psaki. "Obviously, we've already made an announcement about the number of doses—the 500 million we're sharing around the world—and we've already started implementing them."

But public health experts have argued that vaccine charity, while welcome, will do nothing to address a major underlying cause of supply scarcity—the pharmaceutical industry's monopolistic control over production and key technology.

"We acknowledge that legal factors beyond IP, such as trade and export restrictions, also shape the ability to produce and access Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics," more than 100 international intellectual property scholars wrote in an open letter on Tuesday. "Nonetheless, it is the case that IP rights, and monopolies over tacit and informal information, are also implicated in the current lack of global capacity for vaccine production and other health technologies, as well as in enabling their inequitable distribution."

A temporary waiver of vaccine-related patent protections, the academics argued, "is a necessary and proportionate legal measure towards the clearing of existing intellectual property barriers to scaling up of production of Covid-19 health technologies in a direct, consistent, and effective fashion."

The World Health Organization estimates that the equitable distribution of 11 billion vaccine doses will be necessary to end the pandemic. According to Our World in Data, just over 3.4 billion doses have been administered thus far—a mere 1% of which have gone to people in low-income countries.

"With thousands of people continuing to die of Covid every day for lack of vaccines and treatments, the idea that Germany would continue to prioritize pharmaceutical profits over saving as many lives as possible and ending this pandemic is an outrage," Stamoulis said. "Now is the time for real leadership."

Ocasio-Cortez urges Biden not to send US troops to Haiti


U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said Monday morning that the Biden administration should resist calls to deploy American troops to Haiti in the wake of the assassination of the Caribbean nation's president last week, warning that such a move would risk deepening the country's political crisis.

"I do not believe right now that the introduction of U.S. troops, particularly without any sort of plan, sets any community —whether it's the U.S. or whether it's Haitians—up for success," the New York Democrat said in an appearance on Democracy Now! "Our role should be in supporting a peaceful transition and a peaceful democratic process for selecting a new leader and avoiding any sort of violence."

Ocasio-Cortez went on to say that the Biden administration should support efforts to bring to justice "any actors that may have been complicit [in the assassination] on U.S. soil."

Watch:

The New York congresswoman's remarks came hours after Haitian authorities announced the arrest of a Haitian-born, Florida-based doctor who allegedly helped mastermind the killing of President Jovenel Moïse in his home last week.

Christian Emmanuel Sanon—a 63-year-old man who has been living in Florida periodically for two decades and has more than a dozen businesses registered in the state—is the third Haitian-American who has been arrested in connection with the assassination. In total, more than two dozen people have been detained for taking part in the killing, including 11 former members of the U.S.-backed Colombian military.

According to Haitian authorities, Sanon worked with a Miami-based private security firm to hire the mercenaries who gunned down Moïse in the dead of night. Video footage from the scene shows armed assailants posing as officials from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency as they moved in on Moïse's private residence in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Following the assassination, Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph asked the Biden administration to send U.S. troops to Haiti with the ostensible goal of protecting the country's key infrastructure, prompting outcry from Haitians and observers familiar with the bloody history of U.S. intervention in the Caribbean nation.

While the Biden administration has yet to grant the troop request, the U.S. did send officials from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to Haiti over the weekend to—in the words of Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby—"see what we can do to help them in the investigative process."

"I think that's really where our energies are best applied right now in helping them get their arms around investigating this incident and figuring out who's culpable, who's responsible, and how best to hold them accountable going forward," Kirby said in a Fox News appearance on Sunday. "That's where our focus is right now."

Kirby added that Joseph's call for U.S. troops is "going through a review."

Florida-based doctor arrested on suspicion of plotting assassination of Haiti's president

A Haitian-born doctor based in Florida was arrested Sunday as part of an ongoing probe into the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, who was gunned down in his home in the dead of night last week.

Haitian authorities said that 63-year-old Christian Emmanuel Sanon worked with a Miami-based private security firm to recruit the mercenaries who carried out the assassination last Wednesday. According to video footage of the scene, a group of heavily armed assailants posed as officials with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency as they moved in on Moïse's private residence on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.

Haiti's police chief suggested that Sanon was aiming to become president of the Caribbean nation, and that he was the first person one of the suspects contacted after being arrested in connection to the killing.

Citing an unnamed source, the Miami Herald reported Sunday that the two other Haitian-Americans currently in police custody told Haitian officials during questioning that "their mission was not to kill the president but to serve a 2019 arrest warrant that had been issued by a judge and to take Moïse to the presidential palace."

"There, they would install Sanon... as president," the source told the Herald.

While Haitian authorities painted Sanon as a "central" suspect in the Moïse assassination, the Herald noted that significant questions remain, including "how Sanon, who once filed for bankruptcy, could be behind a costly conspiracy," given that "some of the people arrested said that they were paid $3,000 a month and had been living in Haiti since January."

In addition to the three Haitian-born U.S. citizens who have been arrested thus far, more than a dozen former Colombian soldiers have been detained for their alleged role in the assassination.

"In the past, some former members of the Colombian military, which receives heavy financial support and training from the U.S. military, have acted as hired guns after their service," the New York Times observed.

The killing of Moïse—who faced widespread street protests over accusations of corruption and dictatorial conduct, including an effort to rewrite the nation's Constitution—set off a tense jockeying for power as several officials and factions attempt to assert their authority over Haiti, an impoverished nation that has long been a victim of foreign intervention, including by the U.S.

That's why many Haitians reacted with alarm when Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph—one of at least four men vying for control of the country's government—called on the U.S. to send in troops with the purported goal of shielding Haiti's key infrastructure. Haiti is set to hold a presidential election in September.

"We do not want any U.S. troops on Haiti's soil," Monique Clesca, a Haitian pro-democracy activist and former United Nations official, tweeted in response to the troop request. "The de facto Prime Minister Claude Joseph does not have any legitimacy to make such a request in our name. No, no, and no. We reject him and all actions taken by him. Civil society and political actors are working on a Haitian agreement."

The Biden administration has not yet granted the request for U.S. troops, but the Washington Post reported that "senior FBI and Department of Homeland Security officials arrived in the Haitian capital on Sunday to assess conditions after the assassination."

These five undervaccinated clusters are putting entire US at risk

A new data analysis by researchers at Georgetown University pinpoints a number of undervaccinated clusters of the United States that pose a significant threat to the nation's—and potentially the world's—gradual progress against the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly given their potential to serve as "factories" for extremely contagious variants such as the now-dominant Delta strain.

The five most significant clusters identified by the Georgetown researchers are largely located in the southern U.S., in states such as Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana—all of which are currently experiencing a rise in coronavirus cases as Delta rips through communities concentrated with people who have yet to receive a single vaccine shot. Those clusters include more than 15 million people.

"The group of counties in each cluster... together have lower vaccination coverage than expected, and make up a large population size. All of the top five clusters are focused in the southeastern U.S.," the researchers note.

"The more geographically clustered unvaccinated individuals are," the analysis continues, "the higher the chance that an unvaccinated individual will interact with another unvaccinated individual, and the higher the chance that a disease transmission event will occur. Low vaccination clusters, therefore, are locations where risk of transmission of Covid-19 remains high (in the absence of social distancing and masking)."

Because "variant emergence stems from disease transmission," the report notes that every new transmission of the disease "creates an opportunity for a new variant to transmit to another host and take hold in a population.

Therefore, the researchers write, "curbing transmission events is our best recourse to prevent variant emergence."

Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a CNN medical analyst and professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, said Thursday that "these clusters of unvaccinated people are what is standing in the way of us putting this virus down permanently."

"We've been lucky with the variants so far that they've been relatively susceptible to our vaccine," Reiner added, "but the more you roll the dice, the more opportunities there will be for a resistant variant."

The Georgetown analysis came as the Biden administration announced a new initiative aimed at intensifying the U.S. vaccination drive as inoculation rates continue to slow across the country. According to the New York Times, "Providers are administering about 0.73 million doses per day on average, about a 78 percent decrease from the peak of 3.38 million reported on April 13."

In a speech earlier this week, President Joe Biden said the effort will emphasize tackling hesitancy and increasing access by "getting the vaccines to more and more family doctors and healthcare providers so more Americans can get this shot at their doctor's office from the folks that they know and they trust the most."

"Our fight against this virus is not over," the president said. "Right now, as I speak to you, millions of Americans are still unvaccinated and unprotected. And because of that, their communities are at risk. Their friends are at risk. The people they care about are at risk. This is an even bigger concern because of the Delta variant."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Delta strain—which is estimated to be 60% more transmissible than the previously dominant Alpha mutation—accounted for more than half of all new coronavirus infections in the U.S. between June 20 and July 3 as it sweeps across the country and the globe.

But Politico reported Thursday that Biden administration officials believe the Delta mutation is "significantly more widespread" in the U.S. "than the current federal projections."

"It is everywhere now," one unnamed official told Politico. "The risk really is in the unvaccinated community. We're starting to see more and more people get sick and need medical attention."

Biden applauded for executive order targeting 'insidious' anti-worker practices

Among the 72 initiatives packed into the far-reaching executive order President Joe Biden signed Friday are steps that labor advocates welcomed as important victories for U.S. workers, including a provision calling for the limitation of noncompete clauses that drive down wages by preventing employees from quitting for better-paying jobs.

"The measures encouraged by this EO represent a wish list progressives and other pro-competition advocates have been promoting for years, and in some cases decades."
—David Segal, Demand Progress Education Fund

Presented as an effort to promote competition in an economy increasingly dominated by a handful of massive corporations, Biden's sweeping order calls on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)—now headed by antitrust law expert Lina Khan—to "ban or limit non-compete agreements," which the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen described as "insidious" ploys to restrict worker mobility and suppress wages.

Biden echoed that message in a speech on Friday, declaring that corporations use noncompete clauses "for one reason: to keep wages low."

Analysts estimate that tens of millions of private-sector workers are currently under some form of noncompete clause preventing them from leaving their jobs to work for—or start—a competing business within a certain period of time.

HuffPost labor reporter Dave Jamieson noted that while noncompete clauses have "traditionally been used to protect closely guarded business secrets in high-income fields... they have proliferated so much in recent years that they touch all income levels, even low-wage service work."

"In many cases, noncompete clauses are only 'agreements' in theory, since not signing one means not getting the job," Jamieson observed.

Heidi Shierholz, director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), said Thursday that "noncompetes are ubiquitous, harmful to wages and to competition, and part of a growing trend of employers requiring workers to sign away their rights."

Biden's decision to take aim at noncompete clauses as part of a broader effort to tackle corporate concentration won applause from unions and progressives advocacy groups, who said the president's order is an important step toward reversing the decades-long trend of stagnant wages and declining worker power.

"We support President Biden's focus on workers and consumers as we seek a more competitive economy," Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, said in a statement. "A successful economy must serve the people who produce the goods and services that improve our lives."

Barry Lynn, executive director of the Open Markets Institute, said he is "especially pleased to see the administration move to protect America's most powerless workers and farmers."

"We hope the Biden administration stays on this path and truly stands with the people against those who seek to monopolize all opportunity, wealth, and power for themselves alone," Lynn added.

Other elements of Biden's executive order that seek to empower workers include a provision encouraging the FTC and Justice Department to "strengthen antitrust guidance to prevent employers from collaborating to suppress wages or reduce benefits by sharing wage and benefit information with one another."

"This EO sends a clear and unambiguous message that corporate concentration throughout our economy is a crisis-level problem."
—Alex Harman, Public Citizen

In recent years, major corporations—from Google and Apple to McDonald's and Burger King—have entered so-called "no poaching" pacts agreeing not to hire each other's workers, deals that critics say serve to drive down wages and benefits.

The president's order also urges the FTC to prohibit "unnecessary" occupational licensing restrictions, which can hinder workers from moving across state lines to find better-paying jobs in their field.

"The measures encouraged by this EO represent a wish list progressives and other pro-competition advocates have been promoting for years, and in some cases decades," David Segal, director of the Demand Progress Education Fund, said in a statement.

"From a ban on non-compete agreements that suppress wages and keep employees tied to jobs they would rather leave, to pushing for importation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada—and from helping people switch between banks to addressing anti-competitive behavior in online marketplaces, these initiatives would improve the wellbeing of workers, small and mid-sized businesses, and consumers across essentially all major sectors of the American economy," Segal added.

Alex Harman, the competition policy advocate for Public Citizen, hailed Biden's order as "the most significant executive action against corporate monopolies in generations."

"This EO sends a clear and unambiguous message that corporate concentration throughout our economy is a crisis-level problem," said Harman. "That clarion call has been absent for decades, as administrations of both parties have let antitrust and antimonopoly enforcement fall into disrepair and decay."

Right-wing groups mobilize against effort to crack down on tax dodging by the rich

Right-wing political advocacy organizations bankrolled by wealthy Americans and large corporations are reportedly mobilizing against a bipartisan agreement to boost IRS funding by $40 billion, money that would go toward cracking down on rich tax cheats who have benefited from the Republican Party's gutting of the agency in recent years.

The proposed increase in the IRS budget—which was cut by an estimated 20% between 2010 and 2018—is part of an infrastructure package negotiated by a bipartisan group of senators and President Joe Biden, who had originally pushed for $80 billion in additional IRS funding over the next decade.

The $40 billion boost proposed by the bipartisan group is presented as a way to "reduce the IRS tax gap," the difference between taxes owed and taxes actually collected by the federal government. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen suggested in May that the gap could be as large as $7 trillion.

As the Washington Post reported Wednesday, the IRS provision of the bipartisan infrastructure plan "is drawing opposition from well-funded conservative groups, which are strongly opposed to expanding the reach of a tax-collection agency that they long have alleged is politically motivated."

"Among the conservative groups spearheading the opposition are the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, FreedomWorks, the Conservative Action Project, and the Leadership Institute," the Post noted. "They are preparing a letter that warns Republicans should not negotiate with the White House unless they agree to 'no additional funding for the Internal Revenue Service.'"

The groups are expected to send their letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has yet to endorse the bipartisan framework and has threatened to give his Democratic counterparts a "hell of a fight" over their infrastructure priorities—an indication that he could be open to the conservative groups' appeal.

Last month, McConnell blamed "somebody at the IRS" for leaking the tax returns of some of the wealthiest people in the U.S. to the investigative outlet ProPublica, which used the documents to publish a series of stories detailing pervasive tax dodging by the rich.

"Our tax returns are, by law, confidential because of just this kind of shenanigans," McConnell said in an interview. "These people ought to, whoever did this, ought to be hunted down and thrown into jail."

Deep cuts to the IRS budget over the past decade have resulted in a sharp decline in enforcement, a trend that has principally rewarded the wealthy and large businesses. Between 2010 and 2018, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, IRS audit rates for the biggest U.S. corporations and American millionaires fell by 51% and 61%, respectively.

In 2019, ProPublica reported that due to inadequate funding and resulting staff shortages, the IRS "now audits poor Americans at about the same rate as the top 1%."

Well-heeled conservative organizations have long opposed any effort to remedy the harms caused by Republican-led budget cuts at the IRS. In May, Politico reported that right-wing groups "launched a campaign of TV ads, social media messages, and emails to supporters criticizing [Biden's earlier] proposal to hire nearly 87,000 new IRS workers over the next decade to collect money from tax cheats."

"So you're telling me they're against catching tax cheaters?" Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) mockingly asked in response to the right-wing campaign. "Pretty bold move, GOP."

According to the Post, the organizations leading the latest effort to prevent an IRS finding hike "include those that have received funds from major conservative donors, including the Mercer Family Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation and Donors Trust, a donor-advised fund that gives to conservative and libertarian causes."

"One signatory of the letter, Phil Kerpen of American Commitment, worked for five years at Americans for Prosperity, the main political arm of the influential Koch network," the Post reported.

Scientists call Northwest heatwave the 'most extreme in world weather records'

A pair of climate scientists on Thursday said the record-high temperatures that have ravaged the northwestern U.S. and western Canada over the past week—killing hundreds and sparking dozens of wildfires—represent the "world's most extreme heatwave in modern history."

"It's not hype or exaggeration to call the past week's heatwave the most extreme in world weather records."
—Bob Henson, Jeff Masters

"Never in the century-plus history of world weather observation have so many all-time heat records fallen by such a large margin than in the past week's historic heatwave in western North America," meteorologist Bob Henson and former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hurricane scientist Jeff Masters wrote for Yale Climate Connections.

"It's not hype or exaggeration to call the past week's heatwave the most extreme in world weather records," they argued. "The only heatwave that compares is the great Dust Bowl heatwave of July 1936 in the U.S. Midwest and south-central Canada. But even that cannot compare to what happened in the Northwest U.S. and western Canada over the past week."

In British Columbia, the chief coroner said her office has received nearly 500 reports of "sudden and unexpected" deaths since last Friday, many of which are believed to be connected to the record temperatures that the region has suffered in recent days.

Residents of the small British Columbia village of Lytton—which on Tuesday recorded Canada's all-time high temperature of 121°F—were forced to evacuate Wednesday as a wildfire ripped through the area and quickly engulfed the small town, destroying homes and buildings.

"Our poor little town of Lytton is gone," Edith Loring-Kuhanga, an administrator at a local school, wrote in a Facebook post. "Our community members have lost everything."

Henson and Masters called Lytton—90% of which was burned—the "poster community" of the "horrific" heatwave.

Weather historian Christopher Burt told the two scientists that "this is the most anomalous regional extreme heat event to occur anywhere on Earth since temperature records began."

"Nothing can compare," Burt added.

To emphasize the "extremity of this event," Henson and Masters highlighted just some of the temperature records that have fallen in Canada and the United States since late last week.

  • Portland, Oregon, broke its longstanding all-time record high (107°F from 1965 and 1981) on three days in a row—a stunning feat for any all-time record—with highs of 108°F on Saturday, June 26; 112°F on Sunday; and 116°F on Monday. That 116°F is one degree higher than the average daily high on June 28 at Death Valley, California.
  • Quillayute, Washington, broke its official all-time high by a truly astonishing 11°F, after hitting 110°F on Monday (old record: 99°F on August 9, 1981). Quillayute is located near the lush Hoh Rain Forest on the Olympic Peninsula, just three miles from the Pacific Ocean, and receives an average of 100 inches of precipitation per year.
  • Jasper, Alberta, broke its all-time high of 36.7°C (98.1°F) on four days in a row, June 27-30, with highs of 37.3°C, 39.0°C, 40.3°C, and 41.1°C (99.1°F, 102.2°F, 104.5°F, and 106°F).
  • All-time state highs were tied in Washington (118°F at Dallesport) and set in Oregon (118°F at Hermiston, beating the reliable record of 117°F), and provincial highs were smashed in British Columbia (49.6°C [121.3°F] at Lytton, beating 39.1°C [102.4°F]) and Northwest Territories (39.9°C [103.8°F] at Fort Smith, beating 31.7°C [89.1°F]).

"Preliminary data from NOAA's U.S. Records website shows that 55 U.S. stations had the highest temperatures in their history in the week ending June 28," Henson and Masters wrote. "More than 400 daily record highs were set. Over the past year, the nation has experienced about 38,000 daily record highs versus about 18,500 record lows, consistent with the 2:1 ratio of hot to cold records set in recent years."

Scientists have long predicted that heatwaves of the kind that are scorching the Northwestern U.S. and Canada will become more frequent and intense across the globe as the planet continues to warm due to the continued emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

"Nowhere is safe... who would have predicted a temperature of 48/49°C [118.4°F/120.2°F] in British Columbia?" Sir David King, the former chief scientific adviser in the United Kingdom, said in an interview with The Guardian. "The risks have been understood and known for so long and we have not acted, now we have a very narrow timeline for us to manage the problem."

'Not going to happen': Progressives slam McConnell effort to sabotage reconciliation bill

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is actively working to undermine the Democratic majority's emerging infrastructure strategy by demanding the separation of the White House-backed bipartisan deal from a broader reconciliation package—a non-starter for progressives who say they will not support the former without simultaneous passage of the latter.

"It's not going to happen," Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) told NBC News on Monday, referring to McConnell's request. "There is no way a bipartisan deal passes the House without a vote the same day on a Senate-passed reconciliation that has bold climate provisions."

In a statement on Monday, McConnell called on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to "walk back their threats that they will refuse to send the president a bipartisan infrastructure bill unless they also separately pass" a sweeping reconciliation package, which the Kentucky Republican referred to as "unrelated tax hikes, wasteful spending, and Green New Deal socialism."

Along with other members of his caucus, McConnell—despite being well aware of Democrats' two-track approach—voiced outrage last week after President Joe Biden said he would refuse to sign a bipartisan infrastructure bill that is not accompanied by separate legislation that addresses other Democratic priorities, from investments in green energy to child care to paid family leave. The Democratic package would pass through reconciliation, an arcane budget process that is exempt from the 60-vote legislative filibuster that McConnell has frequently wielded to stymie the majority party's agenda.

Biden soon softened his position amid Republican backlash, saying in a statement Saturday that he intends to "pursue the passage" of the $579 billion bipartisan measure "with vigor" and will sign it if it reaches his desk.

But Biden's shift was not enough for McConnell, who said the president's vow will amount to a "hollow gesture" unless Schumer and Pelosi take the same position.

On Thursday, Pelosi said the House won't hold a vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill until the Senate also passes the broader reconciliation package—a stance that won applause from progressive lawmakers, who are now urging the Democratic leadership to hold firm in the face of what they view as McConnell's bad-faith sabotage effort.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, pointed to McConnell's remark last month that "100%" of his focus is on "stopping this new administration."

"The last person who should have a say on our agenda is Senate MINORITY Leader Mitch McConnell," Jayapal tweeted. "We're going to go big and bold on our reconciliation package because that's what people voted us in to do."

Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee—which is headed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—are expected to hold a call this week to discuss the size and scope of the nascent reconciliation bill.

Sanders is reportedly pushing for a roughly $6 trillion package that includes Medicare expansion, significant spending on climate action, and other investments. The youth-led Sunrise Movement is demanding that Democrats to go even further by embracing a $10 trillion in climate and infrastructure spending over the next decade.

But, in order to pass, any reconciliation bill must win the vote of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who indicated over the weekend that he would not be willing to support a package larger than $2 trillion.

In a tweet on Monday, Sanders addressed those suggesting his reconciliation offer is too pricey.

"For those who say the budget framework I proposed costs 'too much,' what would you cut?" the Vermont senator asked. "Combating climate change? Childcare? Universal Pre-K? Paid family and medical leave? Dental, hearing, and vision [for Medicare recipients]? Housing? Long-term home healthcare? Child Tax Credit? Waiting..."

In blow to GOP narrative, Missouri cut to jobless benefits not boosting hiring

The Republican narrative that enhanced unemployment benefits are dissuading people from returning to work—and that cutting off the aid is necessary to boost hiring—is running up against reality in the GOP-led state of Missouri, where officials have yet to see any significant increase in job applicants since the governor cut off pandemic-related federal programs last month.

"There may be areas where some employers are struggling to staff positions, but the likely obstacle is not overly generous UI benefits—instead it is wage offerings that are too low to make these jobs attractive."
—David Cooper, Economic Policy Institute

The New York Times reported Sunday that Missouri workforce development personnel "said they had seen virtually no uptick in applicants since the governor's announcement, which ended a $300 weekly supplement to other benefits."

"And the online job site Indeed found that in states that have abandoned the federal benefits, clicks on job postings were below the national average," the Times noted.

On May 11, Missouri's Republican Gov. Mike Parson announced that the state would end its participation in federal unemployment programs aimed at helping jobless workers make ends meet amid the pandemic-induced economic crisis, which permanently destroyed millions of jobs and pushed countless people into dire economic circumstances. Parson's directive officially took effect on June 12.

Missouri was among the first of the 25 Republican-led states that have ditched the emergency federal programs, which offered unemployment aid to jobless gig workers, provided a weekly benefit boost, and extended the duration of assistance. Last week, Louisiana became the first state headed by a Democratic governor to cut off the federal unemployment programs.

In his announcement last month, Parson cited "conversations with business owners across the state" to prop up his claim that companies are struggling to hire workers "because of labor shortages resulting from these excessive federal unemployment programs."

The Missouri governor went on to declare that the federal unemployment programs "have ultimately incentivized people to stay out of the workforce"—a now-common GOP refrain that economists have criticized as simplistic and unsubstantiated, at best.

Missouri's experience since Parson's order—which has succeeded in quickly kicking residents off benefits—suggests that factors other than enhanced unemployment aid are keeping people from returning to work in the state, from lack of child care to employers' refusal to pay living wages to pandemic-related fears. Missouri is currently the U.S. hot spot for the ultra-contagious delta variant of Covid-19.

The Times reported Sunday that hardly anyone showed up at a recent job fair in the St. Louis suburb of Maryland Heights, where the employment opportunities on offer included a $10.30-an-hour position at a home healthcare agency—with no benefits.

"An ice rink, concert, and entertainment center was looking for 80 people, paying $10.30 to $11.50 for customer service representatives and $13 for supervisors. But the jobs last just through the busy season, a few months at time, and the schedules, which often begin at 5 am, change from week to week," the Times noted. "In St. Louis, a single person needs to earn $14 an hour to cover basic expenses at a minimum standard, according to M.I.T.'s living-wage calculator. Add a child, and the needed wage rises just above $30. Two adults working with two children would each have to earn roughly $21 an hour."

Terri Waters, a Missouri resident who attended the job fair in search of a marketing position, told the Times that workers' reluctance to accept low-wage jobs in retail and other sectors stems from a desire to improve their material conditions—not indolence or complacency, as Republican officials often claim.

"It's really demanding work, you're on your feet and by the end of the day you're tired and sore," Waters said of the $11.50-an-hour retail job she's been working since her marketing business faltered amid the pandemic.

"It's not that people are being lazy," she added. "They just want something better to go back to."

Economists and progressive lawmakers have argued in recent weeks that what Republicans, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and others have dubbed a "labor shortage" fueled by supposedly excessive unemployment benefits is in fact a wage shortage caused by businesses refusing to pay their employees adequately.

"There may be areas where some employers are struggling to staff positions, but the likely obstacle is not overly generous UI benefits—instead it is wage offerings that are too low to make these jobs attractive," David Cooper, a senior economic analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, wrote in a blog post last month.

The anecdotal experiences of some businesses in recent weeks seem to bolster that interpretation. Earlier this month, the Washington Post cited the story of Klavon's Ice Cream Parlor, a Pittsburgh shop that was struggling to find applicants for open jobs for which it was offering to pay $7.25 an hour plus tips.

"So owner Jacob Hanchar decided to more than double the starting wage to $15 an hour, plus tips, 'just to see what would happen,'" the Post reported. "The shop was suddenly flooded with applications. More than 1,000 piled in over the course of a week."

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