A good friend kindly pointed out to me that I incorrectly indicated in this post that the infrastructure proposal currently being put forth by the bipartisan Senate group including U.S. WV Sen. Joe Manchin and U.S. UT Sen. Mitt Romney is valued at approximately $IB ($billion), when the package is in fact valued at approximately $1T ($trillion). I appreciate his calling my attention to the oversight; apparently it is true, as apocryphally attributed to the late U.S. IL Sen. Everett Dirksen (whose gravelly voice I fondly remember from my youth): “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.” 😉
At the time this is typed, the Biden Administration and the Senate are wrangling over what constitutes infrastructure, how much to spend, and how to pay for it. Let’s leave taxes – a weighty subject worthy of its own note – for another post.
As to what constitutes infrastructure: I am more aligned with the Republicans’ view than with the Democrats’. The recent Texas power grid failure, the Solar Winds hack, the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack, and the recent internet cloud provider Fastly “glitch” (that affected, among others, the United Kingdom’s main public service portal and The New York Times) demonstrate the current vulnerability of many of the critical aspects of our infrastructure – both those under government and private control – to natural hazards and terrorist threats. I would submit that we should focus our infrastructure investment – through governmental direct spending and tax concessions (buttressed by regulation and oversight) to those private entities controlling critical aspects of our infrastructure — on roads, bridges, rail, public transit, national broadband expansion, reinventing our electric power grid, securing the safety of our water supply, and other like priorities. There are some areas, arguably tangential to these “core” priorities, in which I would like to see us invest, including some climate-related initiatives, support for semiconductor chip industry, and technology to mine and exploit rare earths (a vital arena in which China currently wields almost monopolistic influence). Although I have sympathy for a number of the priorities that the Administration and Democrats have sought to shoehorn within their definition of infrastructure – childcare assistance, elderly and disabled care, electric vehicle incentives, workforce development programs, and paid family leave — these are not infrastructure. I would submit that Democrats’ attempt to include funding for these priorities within their infrastructure proposal risks, in an old business phrase, sacrificing the good for what they consider the perfect.
I am certainly not versed enough to know how much total infrastructure spending is appropriate or how whatever is finally enacted should be allocated among different core infrastructure priorities. That said, based upon reports of their respective positions, I am again closer to the Republicans’ position than I am to the Democrats’. The Republicans want to fund part of the new infrastructure program out of previously-enacted COVID relief; Democrats do not. My view: with the nation approaching herd immunity, vaccine doses going unused, the economy rebounding faster than the economic community expected, jobs going unfilled, and annualized inflation currently running well above 40-year norms, I harbor doubts that all of the still-unspent COVID relief is truly needed (there are undoubtedly areas in which unspent sums will still provide value). To the extent that the enacted excess can be identified, it should be shifted to other national priorities including infrastructure. We do not need gratuitous spending. A notable segment of financial analysts, contrary to the belief of the Fed and the Administration, clearly feels that unhealthy inflation levels and a deepening federal debt are indeed potential respective outcomes of the Fed’s monetary policies and the Administration’s fiscal policies. As all readers of these pages are aware, I have no economic background, but I share that segment’s uneasy sentiments. On infrastructure, we should spend what we need to spend, not feather ancillary aspirations.
As all who care are aware, the White House called off infrastructure negotiations with a Republican Senate group led by U.S. WV Sen. Shelley Moore Capito right before the President left for Europe because it considered the Republican proposals unacceptably stingy. This was seemingly a wise move, inasmuch as a bipartisan group of five Democrat and five Republican Senators including U.S. UT Sen. Mitt Romney and U.S. WV Sen. Joe Manchin has since agreed upon a heftier infrastructure package, with an expenditure approximating $1B over five years, focusing on core infrastructure and funded in part by repurposing some COVID relief funds. As he returns from overseas, President Biden will confront conflicting priorities: to get as much of his agenda through Congress as he can before the 2022 campaign season truly heats up, contrasted with a desire to strike a deal with Republicans that will demonstrate to the centrist Americans who voted for him that he is able to accommodate competing views as he claimed he could during his presidential campaign.
Otto von Bismarck, German Chancellor in the late 1800s, is generally credited with the observation, “Politics is the art of the possible.” The President is facing the reality that the vast majority of his party will wish him to use the Senate’s reconciliation process to push through their laundry list of priorities, and will threaten not to support a measure that they consider but half a loaf. On the other hand, I fear progressives’ preferred approach will feed the Republicans’ claim that Mr. Biden has proven to be more “socialist” than he promised during the campaign, in my view thereby endangering Democrats’ electoral prospects in 2022 and 2024. If advising Mr. Biden, I would suggest that he tell Sen. Romney and his four Republican colleagues in the bipartisan group that if they can get five more Republicans to publicly indicate by June 30 that they will vote for the bipartisan group’s proposal, Mr. Biden will publicly support it – and tacitly dare disgruntled progressive Democrats to oppose it. At the same time, I would further suggest to the President that he tell Mr. Manchin and the Democrats in the bipartisan group that if the bipartisan Republicans cannot garner the support of five additional members of their caucus by June 30, it will prove that his and these centrist Democrats’ professed faith in bipartisanship and Republican goodwill was a pipedream, and that Democrats should stand together to use the Senate’s budget reconciliation process — including tax increases to be determined — to enact the expansive infrastructure priorities that the Administration originally proposed.
My guess: Mr. Romney and his colleagues will not be able to get another five Republican votes. The Democrats will have to go it alone on this, and, where they can, other measures. The dishearteningly intractable partisan posture maintained by most official Republicans and many Trump voters since Mr. Biden’s inauguration is certainly worthy of a post; but this note is best left to infrastructure.
As I’ve indicated before, I’m not sure that the comments entered in these pages are readily available to anyone but me. What follows is part of a comment provided by a close friend, in which he noted a conceptual gap in what I had put forth in this post:
“I continue to find the student loan issue more vexing. There are studies that suggest that blanket forgiveness is regressive as the highest balances are carried by people of greater wealth and ability to pay. Is there a ‘way back’ or ‘earn back’ approach similar to your comments on immigration? One historical example … is student loan forgiveness [for teacher-borrowers that teach] in disadvantaged areas. There have to be many workable additional options.”
As a matter of principle, I absolutely agree, as our friend suggests, that student loan debtors seeking dispensation should provide consideration in return. A financial condition — which I have suggested is appropriate for illegal immigrants seeking a path to legal status — seems inconsistent where the intent is to relieve a financial burden. A requirement that the borrower seeking dispensation contribute hours within a wider menu of community services than currently included in student loan forgiveness programs – with such hours to be annually certified by the governmental and/or authorized nonprofit provider receiving the assistance — appears a way to provide taxpayers recompense for the student loan assets they are affirmatively waiving.
Since higher loan balances are generally held by those with a greater ability to repay – and by those who arguably should have been relatively more cognizant of the risks inherent in the obligations they were assuming – it also seems appropriate to limit the amount of debt that can be expunged. A January, 2021, post by Value Penguin (never heard of it; love the name; it came up in a quick internet search for student loan debt information) indicates that while the average student loan debt load – the statistic most frequently quoted — is almost $33K, the median debt load is $17K. Although I understand that President Biden campaigned on a pledge to expunge up to $10K of student debt per borrower, I would be willing to increase that to $20K if the dispensation was linked to a community service or some other verifiable non-financial obligation.
It is a bit unusual to address in the same post whether legal amnesty should be granted to aliens who knowingly entered the country illegally [let’s put Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients aside] and whether the federal government should expunge billions of dollars of college student loan debt, but I would suggest that these issues are perhaps alike in the most fundamental respect: each pits principle against pragmatism.
Before former President Donald Trump lent respectability to racially-biased xenophobia, both parties had generally agreed for decades that while America was refreshed and renewed by the entry of immigrants — those, in former President Ronald Reagan’s words, “from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness toward home” – we nonetheless needed border security: an effective and humane way to determine which, and how many, immigrants would be allowed to enter our nation. Today, it is commonly acknowledged that we have millions of people living here who knowingly broke the law when they entered our country. One can have sympathy for why they did what they did, and indeed, might even feel that if presented the same desperate options, might well do what they have done; but the fact remains that they are, in fact, law breakers. It is not only xenophobes who resent their presence; there are citizens who sincerely believe that the law is to be obeyed. I have also seen indications that many of our legal residents born outside this country, who had to wade through endless bureaucracy to secure their legal status here, do not have much sympathy for those who “skipped ahead.” For me, these are genuine issues of principle not easily dismissed.
At the same time, we are obviously not going to deport millions of illegal immigrants. We don’t have the resources to find them and deport them, and it seems universally accepted by economists that even if we did, such action would have an extremely adverse effect on American life and our economy. The pragmatic answer would appear to be to give those among this group who have not engaged in other criminal activity – again, reportedly the vast majority — a path out of the shadows to legal status, which would at least have the advantage of increasing our revenues through increased tax receipts, perhaps buttressed by a financial penalty (calibrated according to means) for having broken the law. While such a step would concededly provide an incentive for further illegal entry, our ever-more sophisticated border security is arguably the best way to address this concern.
Since World War II, the most certain ticket to economic security in America has been a college degree. Despite our growing need for tradespeople, such remains the case to this day: the college educated fared much better during the Great Recession and the COVID crisis than those possessing lower levels of academic achievement. It is accordingly not surprising that given the ever-increasing costs of college education during the last generation, ever-increasing percentages of aspiring college students were willing to take on ever-increasing levels of readily-available debt to go to college – including a number that failed to obtain a marketable skill or were not suited, for various reasons, for a college regime. One can sympathize with their aspirations. At the same time, one can also sympathize with the millions of other college students – some with a degree, some not – who have either paid off or are paying off their loans because it was what they agreed to do. I have seen indications that at least some these do not favor student loan forgiveness for those who will benefit from dispensation of obligations that they knowingly assumed.
On the other hand, the billions in student loan debt owed by those who lack the means to repay it constitutes a millstone around the neck of our future economic growth. As someone very close to me is fond of saying in a number of contexts: “We’re going to pay, one way or the other.” If these heavily-indebted people are consequently saddled with lesser career opportunities and lower credit ratings during their earning years, thus limiting their means to borrow for houses and “big ticket” durable goods and potentially increasing the welfare rolls, we are perhaps putting a permanent kink into our economic hose. (Who is going to buy the Baby Boomers’ homes? The electric cars?) Forgiveness of much if not all of this debt seems a means of spurring long term economic growth that will benefit not only those whose loans were forgiven but those who paid off their debts.
In our polarized political world, we strike stridently from our corners – insist that the way we look at an issue is the only right way. TLOML and I have close relationships with some born outside this country who stood in line to earn their legal status. We have very close relationships with certain citizens who assumed, and have paid off, hefty levels of student debt. If our nation enacts laws setting a path to legal status for those who knowingly entered the country illegally and/or forgiving large levels of willingly incurred student loan debt, the conservative part of me will be sharply offended for those who “played by the rules.” I nonetheless believe that we should set a path to legal status and effect forgiveness of a significant level of student loan debt because the practical part of me believes that these approaches will lead to the best long-term outcome for the United States of America.
I readily concede that what I suggest here is “best” is more accurately described as, “arguably the best we can do.”
“Expelling Liz Cheney from leadership won’t gain the GOP one additional voter, but it will cost us quite a few.”
- Tweet by U.S. UT Sen. Mitt Romney, May 10, 2021
Let’s put aside for the moment what matters: our continuing existential threat arising from the dumbfounding choice by the majority of organizational Republicans nationwide to deny truth and seek in various ways to undermine democracy in order to run headlong into the embrace of former President Donald Trump and Trumpism – a movement which, as I have previously indicated in these pages, I consider a devolutionary step toward fascism. Instead, let’s consider the possible political ramifications of U.S. House of Representatives Republicans’ recent expulsion of U.S. WY Rep. Liz Cheney from their leadership in the context of the 2024 presidential race.
I am now an admirer of Rep. Cheney. If reports I’ve seen are accurate, she and I probably have significant substantive domestic policy differences. Furthermore, as far as I know, she has never separated herself from the Bush Administration’s 2003 decision to invade Iraq – a decision driven in major part by her father, former Vice President Richard Cheney – which I consider to be the worst American policy mistake in the last 50 years. I don’t care. What matters is where we are today. She clearly believes that being an American comes before either political party affiliation or attempting to cling to power for power’s sake, so in this most meaningful regard, she has my complete support (as does Sen. Romney and a few other Republicans).
In their haste to solidify the allegiance of the lowest and/or most credulous elements of their base by clinging to the demonstrable myths that Mr. Trump actually won the election and that there was no Trump-inspired insurrection last January 6, Republican party leadership has apparently accepted the notion that it can win (albeit perhaps through chicanery) the presidency and elections in swing areas without the support of the independents and conservatives who value truth and reality. However, surveys show that over 25% of Republicans and over 60% of Independents opposed Ms. Cheney’s removal from Congressional Republican leadership. These are seemingly ominous portents for Republicans. Organizational Republicans are apparently calculating that enough politically center/right Americans will be sufficiently offended by President Joe Biden or some aspect of the Democratic agenda that they will be able to look in the mirror and say, “I am willing to vote for a candidate who I know is espousing a lie about the 2020 presidential election. I am willing to vote for a candidate who I know rationalizes an insurrection.” I think – I hope — it’s a bad bet.
Although the Founding Fathers envisioned the legislative branch – the Congress – as the primary protector of our democracy against any potential encroachment by the executive branch – the president — it is clear that at the present time, the vitality of our system of government rests almost entirely upon the character of the president. I hope that for the good of the country, Ms. Cheney runs for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2024. It’s hard to imagine her winning the nomination (although she might do well in the early primaries if she was the only anti-Trump candidate), but her candidacy would force the Republican field to take stands on uncomfortable general election questions regarding Mr. Trump (assuming he’s not a candidate himself): Do you believe that Joe Biden legally won the 2020 election? Do you agree that it was overwhelmingly Trump supporters that invaded the Capitol on January 6, 2021? Do you believe that Mr. Trump played a significant role in inciting the insurrection? Do you condemn any action by any state legislature to override a state’s majority vote? Do you agree that Congress should not accept the Electoral College votes of any state in which its legislature has overridden the state’s majority vote, even if the action benefits you? Requiring the Republican field to face these types of questions would potentially create a split among the Republican electorate that would be very difficult to mend for the general election. I would submit that the Republican disarray that Ms. Cheney could cause by mounting a presidential campaign is the most patriotic step she could take. In the current environment, it would certainly be a courageous step undeniably involving an element of physical danger.
In exiling Rep. Ms. Cheney from Republican Congressional leadership, I would suggest that in addition to turning its back on the truth, Republican leadership may have made a pivotal political mistake. Ms. Cheney is not U.S. NE Sen. Ben Sasse, or U.S. IL Rep. Adam Kinzinger, or even, at this stage in his career, Mr. Romney. Whether or not she retains her Congressional seat in the 2022 election, she has the marquee name, the gravitas, and now the record to command as much free media in a presidential run as any candidate could ask for. If Ms. Cheney was to launch such an effort, it might well ultimately cause Republicans to ruefully recall the political wisdom of former President Lyndon Johnson, who, when asked why he did not replace the then-Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover, famously replied: “Better to have your enemies inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent, pissing in.”
[If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there].
In addition to President Joe Biden’s demeanor, his staffing selections, his Administration’s response to COVID, and what appears to be at least his early strategic approach to the presidency, what’s left are the nuts and bolts of his early days:
General Domestic Policy: B
Aside from proposing the massive COVID, Infrastructure, and Family Relief legislative packages listed in Part I, most of the President’s domestic efforts have been understandably directed at undoing what Mr. Trump had done, most prominently in the areas of immigration, “equity” in government, deregulation, and the environment. (I understand Mr. Biden’s bold pledge to halve U.S. greenhouse gas pollution by 2030, despite the criticisms that it is imprudent and impractical; at the same time, I would not have so quickly cancelled the Keystone XL Pipeline approved by Mr. Trump — a cancellation which disappointed our Canadian ally and cost U.S. and Canadian jobs.) The Administration’s first crisis has been over the southern border, but although this is an area in which polls show the President doesn’t enjoy the support of the majority of Americans, the situation was so malignly mishandled by the Trump Administration that I, and I’ll venture most Americans, will cut him some slack until at least mid-summer. All that said: while all that read these pages are well aware I am not an economist, my main concern about Mr. Biden’s domestic record thus far is that he is simply spending, and seeking to spend, too much money we don’t have. Intuitively, it seems to me that the Democrats will not be able to sufficiently increase taxes, nor will the programs they are proposing generate enough additional revenues within an acceptable time frame, to avoid a notable increase in an already massive debt. I do find credible the argument that the ample unemployment benefits provided in last COVID package have created a disincentive for some Americans to return to work. According to a liberal Obama economist I recently heard, the economy is already “awash” in cash. The Bond Market is clearly nervous about inflation, and is not as confident as Federal Reserve and Administration officials that any marked acceleration will be temporary and can be controlled. I tend to agree with the Bond Market.
Foreign Policy: C
While I most enthusiastically support Mr. Biden’s renewed emphasis on U.S. alliances after the debacle of the Trump “America First” approach, and absolutely applaud a number of steps the President has taken – presenting a strong front to China’s increasingly aggressive measures, imposing sanctions and diplomatic expulsions on Russia for its interference in the 2020 U.S. election, withdrawing our arms support from the Saudis in the Yemen conflict, declaring a “genocide” the mass killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire over a century ago (a poke to make Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan aware that we will not coddle him) – what I consider significant missteps raise greater cause for concern. Strategically, Mr. Biden seems to believe that the world is willing to return to the state that existed the day Mr. Trump took office. If so, he is laboring under a dangerous misimpression. Our allies are understandably wary of our diplomatic constancy when Mr. Trump still garnered over 70 million votes. China and Russia are significantly better positioned internationally than they were four years ago, and have given no indication that they will readily cede their gains. Despite Biden Administration coaxing, Iran is showing no willingness to go back to the Obama Administration-negotiated nuclear arrangement without U.S. “concessions.” North Korea’s nuclear capacity is greatly enhanced. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is raging – and is now creating discord between Jewish and Arab Israelis. Mr. Biden precipitously renewed for five years the Obama Era New Start nuclear treaty with Russia, a renewal actively sought by the Russians and a renewal which former Trump Administration National Security Advisor John Bolton – now no friend of Mr. Trump, and acknowledged even by his detractors to be a savvy foreign policy expert – has opined does not further American interests. The Administration has thus far refrained, apparently for fear of offending Germany, from taking steps to block the impending completion of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, through which Russia will deliver natural gas directly to Germany, undercutting Ukraine and enhancing Russia’s leverage over Europe. (In a partial nod to Mr. Trump, he saw the impending Nord Stream 2 danger, but by that time had so boorishly antagonized German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he had no influence with her.) However, I would submit that Mr. Biden’s most significant foreign policy failing thus far is his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. It seems overwhelmingly likely that the Taliban, who oppose the Afghan government we have kept upright, will overrun the country almost as soon as we depart; we leave ourselves more vulnerable to terrorist attacks; we open the door to suppression of Afghan women; and we will appear to have abandoned another set of Middle East allies (remember the Trump Administration’s abandonment of the Kurds in Syria), further reducing our credibility in the region. I have made no secret in these pages that consider former President Barack Obama to have been a poor foreign policy president, particularly in his second term. Rather than learning from Mr. Obama’s mistakes, Mr. Biden seems to be emulating them. Both strategically and tactically, a disappointing foreign policy start.
So: if we are grading on the 4-point scale, providing a .5 for every “+,” and giving equal weight to every category, Mr. Biden comes in with a cumulative “GPA” of 3.4 — about a B+ — with an Incomplete [looking not unlike my old report cards: okay in some areas but less stellar in others ;)]. That said, the President’s first 100 days are merely that. For me, the most important grade from a prospective standpoint is the “Incomplete.” The President’s aura of COVID competence won’t last but a couple of more months; I would submit that Mr. Biden needs to make a fiscally-responsible bipartisan infrastructure deal, bring humane coherence to the southern border, and better mind our foreign policy during his second 100 days if he is to continue his Administration’s momentum.
[This was projected to run earlier, but a note relating to Congressional House Republicans’ recent untoward treatment of U.S. WY Rep. Liz Cheney seemed more immediate.]
Virtually every commentator we know has provided an assessment as to how President Joe Biden has conducted the first 100 days of his presidency – which President Franklin Roosevelt made an unofficial milestone of the American presidency during his first term – and I can’t resist doing the same. This note will include brief references to several topics worthy of their own future posts; but in the meantime, here we go:
Presidential Tone and Demeanor: A+
Mr. Biden owes his election partially to the promise that he would not be former President Donald Trump, and on that he has delivered handsomely. Since he is by all accounts a kindly and decent man, he was undoubtedly going to do well here, but has excelled by reducing the national temperature, while making clear that he is sharp and fully engaged in conducting the office. He has deftly distanced himself from hyper-partisan flashpoints such as Mr. Trump’s second impeachment and the recent FBI raid on Trump Attorney Rudy Giuliani’s home. His address to Congress was conversational, sincere, and uplifting. A Wall Street Journal columnist recently noted that one of the President’s strengths is that at least so far, and unlike his four predecessors, no electoral segment hates him.
Administration Personnel: B
I would not have as affirmatively focused on achieving a diverse Cabinet as Mr. Biden did, but he has for the most part chosen experienced professionals. The President’s selections are, furthermore, generally low-key in manner – again, conducive to reducing the temperature of the presidency. (The exception was Neera Tanden, whose nomination for Director of the Office of Management and Budget, perhaps offered up as “red meat” to the Republicans, was ultimately withdrawn.) If reports I’ve seen of his past positions are accurate, Secretary of State Antony Blinken perhaps whiffed on several Middle East issues over the last 20 years. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Attorney General Merrick Garland are superstar choices. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has been effective. Personal Favorite: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who should use his time in the Administration to build relationships to key Democratic constituencies as he gets ready to make another bid for the presidency.
Administration Execution: A+
Mr. Biden came to the White House declaring his priority was to pass his COVID relief package and effectively disseminate the COVID vaccines. Given his singular emphasis, the manner in which he addressed the pandemic became an immediate make-or-break test of his competence in Americans’ minds. He passed with flying colors, consistently under promising and over delivering.
Administration Strategy: INCOMPLETE
The President – to my surprise, and I believe to others’ – has thus far chosen not be an incrementalist or a bipartisan collaborator, but has instead “Gone Big.” The $1.9T COVID relief bill seemingly included more than was strictly needed to address the nation’s pandemic (more on that in Part II), and was passed over Republican Congressional objections despite Mr. Biden’s campaign pledge to seek bipartisanship. He has now proposed a $2.3T infrastructure plan including components arguably well beyond even a generous definition of “infrastructure” and a $1.8T Families Relief Plan. He has proposed a sweeping Immigration reform. He has pleased his party’s progressives, although he was elected in part because he was not overly progressive. One bids high when one has strong cards; it remains to be seen whether his “Go Big” strategy is effective in a closely-divided Congress (and whether his now-proven willingness to “go it alone” on COVID relief makes Republicans more amenable in future negotiations) or instead proves too ambitious an approach that forfeits the opportunity for significant but more modest legislative achievement.
At the turn of this note, Mr. Biden is doing pretty well. I don’t want to overwhelm these pages with too much Noise; it seems less exhausting to reserve views on Mr. Biden’s General Domestic Policy and Foreign Policy initiatives – where I would suggest that he perhaps hasn’t performed quite as well — for Part II.
I have never met, nor will ever meet, Richard Cheney. There is no doubt that we strongly disagree regarding the wisdom of the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003 and whether its aftermath strengthened or weakened America. That said, as last night I watched Mr. Cheney’s daughter, U.S. WY Rep. Liz Cheney, speak on the floor of the United States House of Representatives, as a father I was confident that Mr. Cheney – a former White House Chief of Staff, a former U.S. Representative for the State of Wyoming, a former United States Secretary of Defense, a former Vice President of the United States — considered her stand his proudest moment.
We will never see more important words spoken in the defense of the United States of America. A link to Ms. Cheney’s remarks appears below.
Two unrelated notes pertaining to the pandemic:
I’m not sure how widely know this is — it has been reported by a number of news outlets – but those Americans who turned 60 in 2020 face an adverse, and potentially significantly adverse, Coronavirus-related reduction in their lifetime Social Security benefits if Congress fails to enact a remedy in 2021. The potential shortfall arises from the manner in which Social Security calculates recipients’ benefits, which is based on the average wages of all workers in the year in which they turn 60. Average wages fell notably from 2019 to 2020 due to the COVID-induced recession. It is well worth recording on these pages since several that read these posts were born in 1960.
This issue could arguably have been rectified as part of the recent COVID relief package, but wasn’t. Members of Congress are aware of this impending “notch” in benefits, and there appears to be bipartisan support for fixing it; a couple of bills have been introduced to alleviate the irregularity. That said, this is a problem deserving immediate attention; those that turned 60 in 2020 will be eligible to start claiming benefits as they hit age 62 during 2022, and at that point, it will seemingly become more difficult to unscramble the egg. The links below are to articles, now spanning almost a year, calling attention to the issue. One of the pieces reports that those turning 60 in 2009 faced a similar “notch” due to the Great Recession that was never addressed.
Separately: all who care are aware that the average weekly number of Coronavirus vaccines being administered across America is beginning to decline. Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal ran an account, “Officials Push to Encourage Shots,” which reported that nonprofit sources project that the United States’ supply of vaccines will exceed demand within the next month. We are apparently yet reasonably far from achieving herd immunity. Public health officials across the country are now devising programs on vaccine education to overcome the hesitancy of some citizens to get the shots and on making it more convenient for some population segments – not only those facing employment, transportation, or other barriers, but those whom the article refers to as “unmotivated” — to become vaccinated. It was presumably to these “unmotivated” that an Alabama health official was referring when described in the article as declaring that he is ready to get down on his knees and beg residents to get shots.
The programs that these health professionals are initiating are obviously vital, and all efforts should be undertaken and no expense spared to get vaccinated those who truly seek the vaccine but are constrained by barriers beyond their control. That said, there are people dying across the globe – e.g., India is on the brink of collapse, and Brazil remains in chaos — that would do whatever was within their power to obtain protection if vaccinations were available to them. While being mindful that we need to maintain sufficient production and supply to provide boosters to vaccinated Americans if, as Pfizer has already suggested, such might be necessary, I would favor an Administration announcement on May 1 that starting August 1 – after all Americans wishing to be vaccinated will have had at least ten weeks to receive readily-available shots — the United States will start to divert its vaccine supply and priorities from the United States to other countries in need, and that there will no longer be a vaccine availability guarantee or federal funding available to vaccinate those Americans who had not already been vaccinated.
A suggestion born of exasperation with obstinacy? Clearly. Even so: what would you wager that if currently-unvaccinated Americans believed that the Administration meant what it said — that indeed, as of a certain deadline, they couldn’t be sure of getting vaccinated even if they wanted to — another 10% to 20% of our people (which, according to the Wall Street Journal article, health experts believe would put us pretty close to herd immunity) wouldn’t overcome their recalcitrance and find a way to get their shots?
It has been reported that one out of three adult Americans has already had at least one COVID vaccination shot; we seem well on our way toward President Joe Biden’s expressed goal of being able to provide a vaccination to all Americans who want one within, at the latest, the next sixty days. I hope that the Administration is already setting plans, assuming our domestic rollout remains on track, to make our unneeded vaccinations available to citizens of disadvantaged nations as the summer proceeds. Although our international image has taken on more than a bit of tarnish over the last four years, I would venture that these nations, if given the option of receiving vaccines from the United States, China, or Russia, will still instinctively prefer the American option: likely better quality, almost certainly fewer explicit or implied strings attached.
Closer to home, set forth below is a note I received recently from a very close friend of many decades – whose antics our adult children still well recall from their early days — who will only become aware of my intent to enter it here as he reads this post. I am confident he won’t mind; when you read the note, I suspect you will share my confidence : ).
“When I was waiting for my second shot, a young lady (30 – 35) or so was pacing around. I asked her if this was her first shot and if she was nervous. She said yes. I told her not to worry, this was going to be my second shot and it’s no big deal. You just pull down your pants, they give you the shot and you are on your way.
????!!!!! She said WHAT??? She thought you get the shot in your arm! I asked her who told her that? She said she saw it on TV. I told her that they can’t put people getting butt shots on TV plus if they did a lot of people might not get the shot. Then they called her name and I said Good luck.
Do you know she gave me the finger when she got out of the office? How rude!”
I suspect that all that read these pages either have received their vaccinations, or intend to do so when given the opportunity … while of course, keeping their pants on ;). Hopefully, many of our fellow citizens currently expressing reservations will soon resolve to do the same. In the meantime, stay safe.