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GOP targets for Dem bill: Inflation, taxes, Manchin, Sinema
Republicans see inflation, taxes and immigration as Democratic weak spots worth attacking in the upcoming battle over an economic package the Democrats want to push through the Senate
  • Updated

WASHINGTON – Republicans see inflation, taxes and immigration as Democratic weak spots worth attacking, and two opposition senators as prime targets, in the upcoming battle over an economic package the Democrats want to push through the Senate.

The measure embodies some of the top environment, energy, health care and tax policy aspirations that President Joe Biden and party leaders want to enact as voters start tuning in to this fall’s congressional elections. The GOP would like to derail or weaken the measure, or at least force Democrats to take votes that would be painful to defend in reelection campaigns.

Republicans are already aiming fire at Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who crafted the measure with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and unexpectedly pumped life into an effort most Democrats considered moribund. Manchin is a conservative Democrat from a deep red state who has scuttled his party’s priorities before, and Republicans have savaged him in recent days, an unsubtle signal that they’ll be coming for him should he seek reelection in 2024.

“He made a terrible deal,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters this week. “How he can defend this from a West Virginia point of view, or think of it as a centrist type of agreement, is astonishing. This is an agreement only Bernie Sanders would love.”

Even Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who has a strong relationship with Manchin and seldom clashes with him publicly, lambasted the legislation for imposing a minimum tax on huge, profitable corporations that she said would hinder investments. “Like many West Virginians, I’m concerned that this tax increase will delay closing the digital divide” in rural communities, she said.

Republicans are taking a softer approach with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who has been coy about the legislation and has shown concerns about tax increases. She’s her party’s biggest question mark on this bill in the 50-50 chamber, where all Republicans seem certain to vote “no,” and she’s held several discussions with GOP senators during votes this week.

Sinema has opposed past proposals to raise taxes on wealthy equity firm executives, which this time would raise around $14 billion of this legislation’s $739 billion in revenue. She met with Arizona manufacturers who oppose boosting the corporate minimum tax and thanked her afterward in a tweet for her “thoughtful approach & willingness to listen to AZ job creators.”

“I don’t know what she thinks,” Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, told reporters. “‘We are making our case’ is the best we can say.”

The 10-year measure includes hundreds of billions in spending and tax breaks to encourage alternative energy production and to bolster fossil fuels with steps like tax breaks for technology that reduces carbon emissions. There’s also money to help people buy private health coverage, and provisions giving Medicare the power to negotiate prices on some drugs with pharmaceutical makers.

The bill “will lower costs, fight inflation, and secure historic wins in the fight against climate change,” Schumer said.

The GOP seems certain to try stripping or toning down the corporate minimum tax and language raising taxes on wealthy equity firm executives as well, and has hopes of winning over Sinema as the decisive vote for that. After she opposed Democrats’ proposed tax rate increases last year on corporations and high earners, they switched to a corporate minimum tax that she supported, but it is uncertain if she will do so now.

Republicans could fashion amendments aimed at particular Democratic senators – such as one exempting coal producers from certain taxes in a play for Manchin.

To buttress its argument, the GOP released an analysis by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation that Republicans said showed tax boosts for people earning below $400,000. That would violate Biden’s pledge to not boost levies on that income group.

“Ordinary Americans would bear a substantial part of the burden of this tax increase,” said No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Thune of South Dakota.

Democrats dismissed that attack, noting that the study omitted the effect of the bill’s health care and energy tax breaks for individuals. It also counted lower salaries, stock prices and dividends it believes will occur as part of the effect the bill would have on people.

Overall, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday the measure could trim federal deficits by around $305 billion. But $204 billion of that would come from improving IRS tax collections, which will be real if it occurs but the nonpartisan agency does not count in its formal scoring of the bill’s impact.

In a bow to dominant voter concerns about gasoline prices and overall consumer costs, Democrats call the bill the Inflation Reduction Act. Yet its impact on the nation’s worst bout with inflation in four decades seems likely to be limited.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Wharton Budget Model estimated the measure would “very slightly increase inflation until 2024 and decrease inflation thereafter,” though the changes would be “statistically indistinguishable from zero.” McConnell said that study showed the Democrats’ bill would “actually increase inflation in the short term and do nothing for inflation in the long term.”

Democrats have cited a Moody’s Analytics report saying the bill would “nudge the economy and inflation in the right direction.” And they distributed a letter by five former Treasury secretaries, including Henry Paulson Jr., who served under GOP President George W. Bush, saying the measure would strengthen the economy, “lower costs for families and fight inflation.”

That battlefield suggests Republican amendments are likely on the subject of prices. One could imagine a proposal preventing the bill from taking effect unless inflation, or gasoline prices, fall to certain levels. Democratic leaders are trying this week to unify rank-and-file senators against such plans.

The GOP could also try to renew immigration restrictions imposed by President Donald Trump that cited the pandemic as a reason to exclude migrants, an issue that sharply divides Democrats. And they might seek to delete tax credits aimed at encouraging alternative energy and that favor companies that pay union-scale wages.

AP reporter Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.


National
AP
Kansas voters resoundingly protect their access to abortion
Kansas voters have sent a resounding message about their desire to protect abortion rights by rejecting a measure that would have allowed the Republican-controlled Legislature to tighten abortion restrictions or ban the procedure outright
  • Updated

TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas voters on Tuesday sent a resounding message about their desire to protect abortion rights, rejecting a ballot measure in a conservative state with deep ties to the anti-abortion movement that would have allowed the Republican-controlled Legislature to tighten restrictions or ban the procedure outright.

It was the first test of voter sentiment after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June that overturned the constitutional right to abortion, providing an unexpected result with potential implications for the coming midterm elections.

While it was just one state, the heavy turnout for an August primary that typically favors Republicans was a major victory for abortion rights advocates. With most of the vote counted, they were prevailing by roughly 20 percentage points, with the turnout approaching what’s typical for a fall election for governor.

The vote also provided a dash of hope for Democrats nationwide grasping for a game-changer during an election year otherwise filled with dark omens for their prospects in November.

“This vote makes clear what we know: the majority of Americans agree that women should have access to abortion and should have the right to make their own health care decisions,” President Joe Biden said in a statement.

After calling on Congress to “restore the protections of Roe” in federal law, Biden added, “And, the American people must continue to use their voices to protect the right to women’s health care, including abortion.”

The Kansas vote also provided a warning to Republicans who had celebrated the Supreme Court ruling and were moving swiftly with abortion bans or near-bans in nearly half the states.

“Kansans bluntly rejected anti-abortion politicians’ attempts at creating a reproductive police state,” said Kimberly Inez McGuire, executive director of Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity. ”Today’s vote was a powerful rebuke and a promise of the mounting resistance.”

The proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution would have added language stating that it does not grant the right to abortion. A 2019 state Supreme Court decision declared that access to abortion is a “fundamental” right under the state’s Bill of Rights, preventing a ban and potentially thwarting legislative efforts to enact new restrictions.

The referendum was closely watched as a barometer of liberal and moderate voters’ anger over the Supreme Court’s ruling scrapping the nationwide right to abortion. In Kansas, abortion opponents wouldn’t say what legislation they’d pursue if the amendment were passed and bristled when opponents predicted it would lead to a ban.

Mallory Carroll, a spokesperson for the national anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, described the vote as “a huge disappointment” for the movement and called on anti-abortion candidates to “go on the offensive.”

She added that after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, “We must work exponentially harder to achieve and maintain protections for unborn children and their mothers.”

The measure’s failure also was significant because of Kansas’ connections to anti-abortion activists. Anti-abortion “Summer of Mercy” protests in 1991 inspired abortion opponents to take over the Kansas Republican Party and make the Legislature more conservative. They were there because Dr. George Tiller’s clinic was among the few in the U.S. known to do abortions late in pregnancy, and he was murdered in 2009 by an anti-abortion extremist.

Anti-abortion lawmakers wanted to have the vote coincide with the state’s August primary, arguing they wanted to make sure it got the focus, though others saw it as an obvious attempt to boost their chances of winning. Twice as many Republicans as Democrats have voted in the state’s August primaries in the decade leading up to Tuesday’s election.

“This outcome is a temporary setback, and our dedicated fight to value women and babies is far from over,” the coalition leading the vote yes campaign said.

The electorate in Tuesday’s vote wasn’t typical for a Kansas primary, particularly because tens of thousands of unaffiliated voters cast ballots.

Kristy Winter, 52, a Kansas City-area teacher and unaffiliated voter, voted against the measure and brought her 16-year-old daughter with her to her polling place.

“I want her to have the same right to do what she feels is necessary, mostly in the case of rape or incest,” she said. “I want her to have the same rights my mother has had most of her life.”

Opponents of the measure predicted that the anti-abortion groups and lawmakers behind the measure would push quickly for an abortion ban if voters approved it. Before the vote, the measure’s supporters refused to say whether they would pursue a ban as they appealed to voters who supported both some restrictions and some access to abortion.

Stephanie Kostreva, a 40-year-old school nurse from the Kansas City area and a Democrat, said she voted in favor of the measure because she is a Christian and believes life begins at conception.

“I’m not full scale that there should never be an abortion,” she said. “I know there are medical emergencies, and when the mother’s life is in danger there is no reason for two people to die.”

An anonymous group sent a misleading text Monday to Kansas voters telling them to “vote yes” to protect choice, but it was suspended late Monday from the Twilio messaging platform it was using, a spokesperson said. Twilio did not identify the sender.

The 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision protecting abortion rights blocked a law that banned the most common second-trimester procedure, and another law imposing special health regulations on abortion providers also is on hold. Abortion opponents argued that all of the state’s existing restrictions were in danger, though some legal scholars found that argument dubious. Kansas doesn’t ban most abortions until the 22nd week of pregnancy.

The Kansas vote is the start of what could be a long-running series of legal battles playing out where lawmakers are more conservative on abortion than governors or state courts. Kentucky will vote in November on whether to add language similar to Kansas’ proposed amendment to its state constitution.

Meanwhile, Vermont will decide in November whether to add an abortion rights provision to its constitution. A similar question is likely headed to the November ballot in Michigan.

In Kansas, both sides together spent more than $14 million on their campaigns. Abortion providers and abortion rights groups were key donors to the “no” side, while Catholic dioceses heavily funded the “yes” campaign.

The state has had strong anti-abortion majorities in its Legislature for 30 years, but voters have regularly elected Democratic governors, including Laura Kelly in 2018. She opposed the proposed amendment, saying changing the state constitution would “throw the state back into the Dark Ages.”

State Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican hoping to unseat Kelly, supported the proposed constitutional amendment. He told the Catholic television network EWTN before the election that “there’s still room for progress” in decreasing abortions, without spelling out what he would sign as governor.

Although abortion opponents pushed almost annually for new restrictions until the 2019 state Supreme Court ruling, they felt constrained by past court rulings and Democratic governors like Kelly.

This story has been updated to correct the attribution for the quote that begins, “This outcome is a temporary setback.” It came from a statement issued by the coalition that led the “vote yes” campaign, not Emily Massey.

Stafford reported from Overland Park and Olathe.

Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna. For more AP coverage of the abortion issue, go to https://apnews.com/hub/abortion.


News
featured
Grand Ole Osprey: Birds of prey return to Southwestern PA

In 1979, the osprey, a strikingly powerful bird of prey, was listed as extirpated – locally extinct – in Pennsylvania.

“Their story is so similar to bald eagles,” said Jim Bonner, executive director for the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. “They were hit by the same problems of (the pesticide) DDT softening their egg shells so they could not hatch.”

Only one pair of nesting osprey called Pennsylvania “home” in 1986. The state undertook serious efforts to reintroduce the species, which glides through the skies above every continent except Antarctica, and by 2009 osprey numbers started to soar. The hawk was removed from Pennyslvania’s Threatened and Endangered Species list in 2017.

Volunteer surveys illustrate the osprey’s comeback; in 2010 and 2013, the Pennsylvania Game Commission reported at least 100 osprey nests statewide.

And one grand ole osprey pair resides atop a crane in the Mon Valley.

Early last month, a local phoned the Audubon Society to report something fantastic: Bald eagles were nesting along the Monongahela River near Charleroi.

“We get lots of eagle calls that end up being turkeys. People are learning. Their eye may not be as developed,” said Bonner. “The woman was adamant it was an eagle. As she was describing it, she described a nest. I said, ‘You know, that sounds an awful lot like an osprey.’ Why wouldn’t there be some along the Mon?”

Bonner trekked to Charleroi – he grew up in Glassport and knows the area – to confirm that a nesting pair of osprey and two hatchlings had moved into a home sweet home atop an industrial crane.

“There’s a little town ... called Speers. They’re sitting right above train tracks (on) a large red crane” near the Interstate 70 interchange, Bonner said. “Apparently people down there have known about it for a couple of years.”

Crews from Brayman Construction Co. have been working alongside the osprey – the hawk is known for nesting in the same spot year after year – while completing the Charleroi Locks and Dam joint project with Trumball Corp.

“I don’t recall anything like that” happening at another site, said Jason Lynch, quality control manager for Brayman. “Not in a crane, nothing that I’ve seen like that before.”

Though osprey often nest on manmade structures, opting for industrial fixtures near water that resemble seaside or riverside cliffs and trees, wildlife sightings along the Mon River are only just becoming common.

In the 1960s, Charleroi and surrounding areas were industrial hubs, and descriptors of Pittsburgh and its black-soot sky applied to small towns south of the city.

“I still think about the fact that when it snows now, it stays white,” said Bonner. “Development was so heavy along the river. Growing up in that area, 15 or 20 minutes after the snow fell, it was black. That’s how I think of my youth.”

Bonner recalls swimming in the Mon (despite warnings to steer clear of its polluted waters) but doesn’t remember many bird sightings. Now, wildlife is returning to the area, and reports of additional osprey nests along the Monongahela River were called in following the sighting of the crane-dwelling family.

“In the Mon Valley, we’ve seen a couple things that have contributed. Certainly the cleanup. There’s more fish on the river, certainly than when I was a kid. It’s not necessarily a great positive that our population is down, but that certainly has afforded the ability for wildlife to come back,” Bonner said, noting acid mine drainage has been reduced.

“It’s a testament to a lot of work. Between still supporting (industry) but having a closer balance where people can now see and enjoy ... nature, is rewarding. I hope people appreciate it. Ospreys nest at the same location each year. We can look forward to seeing them again on that crane next year.”


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