Biden's 2-trillion-dollar baby
One way or another, the $2 trillion infrastructure plan that President Joe Biden unveiled on Wednesday could make history.
"It's a once-in-a-generation investment in America, unlike anything we've seen or done since we built the interstate highways system and the space race decades ago," Biden said in a speech at a union training center in Pittsburgh. "I’m convinced that — if we act now — in 50 years, people are going to look back and say this is the moment when America won the future," Biden said. (See a transcript and full video of the speech.)
Republicans denounced the plan as a boondoggle or worse. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called it a "Trojan horse" that would mean "more borrowed money and massive tax increases on all the productive parts of our economy." From Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald Trump, who frequently promised an infrastructure plan that never came, sent a statement calling Biden's proposal a "monstrosity" that "would be among the largest self-inflicted economic wounds in history."
To pay for the eight-year spending plan, the White House will look to propose a corporate tax hike that would pay off the entirety of the plan in 15 years, said an administration official who briefed reporters on Tuesday. Biden, who hopes for the plan's passage by this summer, will need to rally the support of moderate Democrats who have expressed reservations about voting for a tax increase and liberal Democrats who have publicly argued for a larger corporate tax hike than Biden's plan includes.
Biden's proposal, called the American Jobs Plan, aims to revitalize the nation’s roadways, improving access to clean water and increasing the nation’s broadband internet capabilities. It also expands the traditional definition of "infrastructure" to include programs focused on housing and education, along with child care facilities and home- and community-based care for the elderly and disabled.
White House officials say the spending would generate those jobs as the country shifts away from fossil fuels and combats the perils of climate change. It also is an effort to compete with the technology and public investments made by China, which has the world’s second-largest economy and is fast gaining on the United States’ dominant position.
Of New York interest, the package calls for fully funding the Gateway Tunnel project, including $11 billion to construct the new railway tunnel connecting Manhattan and New Jersey below the Hudson River. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said there would be funding too for improvements in the East River tunnels linking the Long Island Rail Road to Penn Station. For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
Janison: What about the tax cheats?
Any road to tax fairness in the U.S. will require more than Biden's early revenue proposals to sock it to the rich and corporations, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. Weak enforcement and collection are leaving many billions of dollars on the table.
The National Bureau of Economic Research found in a recent study that those in the nation's top 1% conceal as much as one-fifth of their income from tax collectors. And, the authors say, more than a quarter of this unreported income is hidden by "sophisticated evasion that goes undetected in random audits."
The large gap between what is owed and what is collected becomes part of the larger equality debate. Top earners, especially in certain types of partnerships and businesses, are not easily monitored, especially compared with wage earners whose pay is automatically tracked through employers.
Operations at an ever-besieged Internal Revenue Service are drawing fresh attention in Washington. Late last year, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the IRS could increase collections by nearly $61 billion over 10 years if it were to invest a third of that amount in enforcement initiatives. Revelations about how Trump and his real-estate family minimized their tax bills have given Democrats a talking point on enforcement reform.
Battered Capitol cops sue Trump
Two U.S. Capitol Police officers who were injured in hand-to-hand combat against the mob during the Jan. 6 insurrection are suing Trump for inciting his supporters.
Officers James Blassingame and Sidney Hemby said they suffered severe physical and emotional injuries from the battles, which their suit describes in harrowing detail. Each officer is seeking compensatory damages of at least $75,000 and an undisclosed amount in punitive damages from Trump.
The lawsuit, the first filed by cops over the riot, said Trump bears direct responsibility for unleashing violent followers upon the Capitol after months of false claims about the 2020 election being stolen from him.
"The insurrectionist mob, which Trump had inflamed, encouraged, incited, directed, and aided and abetted, forced its way over and past the plaintiffs and their fellow officers, pursuing and attacking them inside and outside the United States Capitol, and causing the injuries," the suit states.
Jason Miller, a spokesman for Trump, did not immediately respond to a message from The Washington Post for comment.
New scrutiny on Trump's money man
The Manhattan District Attorney's Office has subpoenaed the personal bank records of the Trump Organization's chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, in what appears to be a determined effort to gain his cooperation in the investigation of the former president, The New York Times reported.
Prosecutors working for District Attorney Cyrus Vance, are examining, among other things, whether Trump and the company falsely manipulated property values to obtain loans and tax benefits. Another subject of scrutiny in the inquiry is gifts Weisselberg and his family received from Trump.
Separately, the prosecutors also are seeking a new round of internal documents from the Trump Organization, including general ledgers from several of its more than two dozen properties that the company did not turn over last year, the Times reported.
The ledgers offer a line-by-line breakdown of each property’s financial situation, including daily receipts, checks and revenue. The prosecutors could compare those details against the information the company provided to its lenders and local tax authorities to assess whether it fraudulently misled them.
EPA housecleaning purges Trump appointees
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan will purge more than 40 outside experts the Trump administration appointed to two key advisory panels, a move Regan says will help restore the role of science at the agency and reduce industry influence over environmental regulations, The Washington Post reported.
The Biden administration said the action is one of several to reestablish scientific integrity and reverse Trump-era efforts to sideline or interfere with research on climate change, the coronavirus and other issues.
Former Republican administration officials accused the Biden team of undermining, rather than restoring, confidence in the agency by kicking out those with contrary views.
Gaetz went lawyer shopping
Florida's Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Trump ally under federal investigation since last year over whether he carried on a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her travel with him, has been reaching out to prominent attorneys seeking representation, ABC News reported.
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said it's too early to judge Gaetz, but he added the story that broke Tuesday has "serious implications" and that he would remove the congressman from committees if the allegations are proved true. Two far-right allies of Gaetz — Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Marjorie Taylor-Greene of Georgia — said they believed his denials.
More strange twists emerged Wednesday with details of what Gaetz and his father, wealthy former Florida lawmaker Don Gaetz, charge was an extortion plot against them.
The Washington Post reported that two men with apparent knowledge of the underage-sex-trafficking investigation approached Don Gaetz several weeks ago about giving them huge sums to fund an effort to locate Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent believed taken hostage in Iran in 2007. In return, they were said to have suggested they could help Matt Gaetz out of his legal woes.
The FBI is investigating the alleged plot, apart from the longer-running federal inquiry into Matt Gaetz, which arose from his connections with a Florida politician, Joel Greenberg, who has been charged with crimes including sex-trafficking of a child, the Post said.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments on Long Island and beyond by Newsday's Matthew Chayes and Scott Eidler. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Long Island's Rep. Thomas Suozzi and two New Jersey Democrats are threatening to block Biden’s tax plan for his infrastructure package unless it repeals the limit on state and local tax deductions that were part of Trump's 2017 tax overhaul, reports Newsday's Tom Brune. "It’s got to have a SALT fix. No SALT, no deal," Suozzi said in an interview. The White House signaled that Biden is willing to talk with Suozzi and his group.
- The Biden administration is quietly ramping up assistance to the Palestinians after Trump cut off nearly all aid, The Associated Press reports. The funding represents a major shift in the U.S. approach to the Palestinians after mutual recriminations during the Trump years and appears aimed at encouraging the Palestinians to return to negotiations with Israel.
- Facebook removed a video featuring Trump being interviewed by his daughter-in-law Lara Trump, a company spokesperson confirmed on Wednesday, citing his indefinite suspension from the platform since the Capitol insurrection.
- Is it Major or Champ who isn't White Housebroken? One of the president's German shepherds deposited a pile of poop Wednesday in the hallway outside the Diplomatic Reception Room, where reporters were lined up to accompany first lady Jill Biden on a trip. The Associated Press had the scoop.
- Biden will convene his first Cabinet meeting on Thursday to promote his infrastructure plan. The gathering will look very different from those held by Trump. To allow for social distancing, they will meet in the spacious East Room instead of the Cabinet Room. All attendees, including the president, will wear masks. There probably won't be a scene reminiscent of Trump's Cabinet secretaries obsequiously taking turns sucking up to the boss in front of cameras.
- The Pentagon on Wednesday erased Trump-era policies that largely banned transgender people from serving in the military. New rules, similar to those adopted late in the Obama administration, will allow them to serve openly as transgender and offer them wider access to medical care and assistance with gender transition.
- Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice-presidential nominee, is encouraging mask use after she became ill with the coronavirus. "My case is perhaps one of those that proves anyone can catch this," she told People magazine.