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The Morning Dispatch: Checking in on Vaccine Mandates
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The Morning Dispatch: Checking in on Vaccine Mandates

Plus: A look at the congressional squabble over funding Israel's Iron Dome.

Happy Thursday! For the second day in a row: Playoff baseball is electric—even when it brings the Cardinals’ magical 2021 run to a close.*

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Congress’ debt limit stalemate appears to be coming to a temporary end, with Democrats signaling last night they will accept a proposal from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier in the day whereby Republicans will not filibuster a bill raising the debt ceiling by a “fixed dollar amount” to “cover current spending levels into December.” The deal would create a similar government-funding/debt-limit cliff in two months, but will “give the unified Democratic government more than enough time to pass standalone debt limit legislation through reconciliation,” McConnell said.

  • The World Health Organization on Wednesday formally recommended the world’s first-ever malaria vaccine for “widespread use” among children in sub-Saharan Africa after a years-long pilot program in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi. The vaccine is administered in four doses over the course of 18 months, and reduces severe cases of malaria—which kills about 400,000 people every year—by about 30 percent.

  • Average gas prices in the United States reached $3.21 per gallon on Wednesday according to GasBuddy data, the highest level since 2014. Earlier this week, a group of oil-producing nations—OPEC Plus—neglected to significantly ramp up oil production in the face of rising global demand. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said yesterday the Biden administration is considering releasing some of America’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve for the first time since 2011 in an effort to bring prices down.

  • U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman on Wednesday granted the Justice Department’s request to block enforcement of a recently implemented abortion law, writing that “this Court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right.” Texas will appeal the decision, which could result in the law remaining in place.

  • The Department of Education announced on Wednesday that it will overhaul the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program over the next year to make tens of thousands more teachers, nurses, first responders, and service members eligible for student loan forgiveness.

Vaccine Mandates Are Working

When the Golden State Warriors held their first media availability of the preseason on September 27, star forward Andrew Wiggins responded to questions about his vaccination status—the NBA had rejected his request for a religious exemption a few days earlier—with defiance.

“Who are you guys, why I have to explain what I believe, or you know, what’s right or what’s wrong in my mind?” the 26-year-old told reporters. “We are two totally different people. What you think is not what I think. What I think is not what you think.”

On September 29, the NBA announced that unvaccinated players would not be paid for any games they miss. The league itself has not formally mandated the vaccine—an NBA spokesman said the NBA players’ union rejected such a proposal—but San Francisco and New York have implemented local requirements that apply to the cities’ respective basketball arenas. Refusing the shot would cost Wiggins about half of his $31.5 million salary this year.

Within days, Wiggins had gotten a dose of Johnson & Johnson. “The only options were to get vaccinated or not play in the NBA,” he said prior to a game against the Portland Trail Blazers. “I’m 26. I have two kids. I want more kids. I’m trying to do something that will generate as much money as I can for my kids and my future kids, generational wealth. So, I took the gamble, took the risk, and hopefully I’m good.”

That “gamble,” as Wiggins put it, brought him in line with 95 percent of the league, and added one more anecdotal data point to a trend that has become increasingly clear in recent weeks: Vaccine mandates are working.

A Washington PostABC News poll released in early September found that just 16 percent of unvaccinated respondents said they would get the shot if their employer mandated it, compared to 35 percent who said they would ask for an exemption and 42 percent who claimed they would quit. “If those numbers are anything close to accurate,” we wrote in the September 10 TMD while noting the usual issue polling caveats, “[vaccine mandates] could be exacerbating a labor shortage that is already hindering the country’s economic recovery.”

As it turns out, it’s a lot easier to tell a pollster over the phone that you’re going to make a life-changing decision and potentially jeopardize your family’s financial security than it is to actually make a life-changing decision and potentially jeopardize your family’s financial security. Although the Biden administration’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) vaccine/testing rule for companies with 100 or more employees is still being written, plenty of businesses—about 25 percent according to a recent Gartner survey, with another 13 percent planning to do so soon—have already implemented rules on their own volition, and it’s going, for the most part, fine.

United Airlines back in August became one of the largest corporations to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for all its employees, and its self-imposed deadline to meet the requirement came and went last week. In the end, 320 out of approximately 67,000 employees (about 0.5 percent) faced termination, and about 2,000 (~3 percent) applied for a religious or medical exemption. United CEO Scott Kirby deemed the campaign a “historic achievement” in a memo to employees: “Our rationale for requiring the vaccine for all United’s U.S.-based employees was simple—to keep our people safe—and the truth is this: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated, and vaccine requirements work.”

United’s positive experience with the mandates doesn’t seem to be all that unique. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake compiled some examples last week:

About 95 percent of New York City’s 150,000 public-school employees opted to comply with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s mandate that went into effect earlier this week rather than be suspended without pay, and approximately 89 percent of New York’s hospital workers were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday night in the wake of a similar requirement from Gov. Kathy Hochul.

There are, of course, some qualifications on all this data worth keeping in mind. Early adopters of vaccine mandates are, by definition, more likely to be situated in industries and regions where there’s less vaccine hesitancy in the first place. School teachers in Vermont (with its 70 percent overall vaccination rate), for example, will probably better comply with mandates than school teachers in West Virginia (with its 41 percent overall vaccination rate).

And although the number of mandate-induced layoffs has thus far fallen far below polling’s dire predictions, losing even 2 percent of a workforce can put real strain on a business—particularly if that 2 percent is concentrated in one department or field. New York’s largest hospital system, Northwell Health, fired just under 2 percent of its employees this week, but that “just under 2 percent” amounted to 1,400 people. On September 27, Gov. Hochul declared a disaster emergency due to “healthcare staffing shortages in the state.” 

But on the whole, vaccination advocates have to be thrilled with how various mandates have played out thus far. Whether its United’s approximate 96.5 percent compliance rate or Tyson Foods’ approximate 80 percent, both are significantly higher than the nationwide 65.7 percent full vaccination rate. And the average number of vaccine doses administered nationwide on a given day has begun climbing recently in a way it hasn’t in months, from 683,000 on September 27 to 932,000 yesterday.

Why Is Congress Fighting Over Israel’s Iron Dome?

You may have seen some headlines recently about a handful of progressive House Democrats objecting to the United States’ funding of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. Democratic leadership ultimately was able to push through a standalone bill to secure the funds separately, but the ensuing vote culminated in denunciations of Israel as an “apartheid state” from Rep. Rashida Tlaib, counter-accusations of anti-Semitism by the Caucus’ Jewish members, and a tearful “present” vote by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

In a piece for the site today, Charlotte explores the congressional dynamics at play—and why the United States is spending $1 billion on Israel’s defense systems in the first place.

First, a little bit about the Iron Dome’s inception.

The Iron Dome was created by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.—an Israeli-owned defense company—to respond to a specific, short-range projectile threat emanating from adversaries in surrounding countries and Palestinian territories, filling a gap that became painfully apparent after a 2006 war with Lebanese Hezbollah resulted in 44 Israeli civilian deaths. The interceptors work alongside David’s Sling, which intercepts mid-range missiles, and Arrow 3, an anti-ballistic missile system, to deter attacks and limit civilian casualties in the event that deterrence fails. 

Where does the United States come in?

The interceptions come at a cost. Each Tamir missile launched by Dome units costs an estimated $40,000 to $100,000, compared with the roughly $300 to $400 adversaries spend on low-tech, unguided rockets and mortar shells. While Israel footed much of the bill upfront, particularly in the research and development phase, the U.S. has paid for several subsequent units and replacement Tamir interceptors. The funding has always received overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress. 

In 2014, as a condition of continued U.S. support, Jerusalem agreed to transfer half of the funds back to American contractors for the purchase of new components. In 2016, former President Barack Obama issued a memorandum of understanding setting aid to Israel’s missile defense network at $500 million annually. The recent break in status quo, to allocate $1 billion for Dome funding, comes after May’s conflict with Hamas depleted Israel’s supply of interceptors. 

So what does the U.S. stand to gain by arming its ally? A few things. Operationally, information on how to detect, intercept, and destroy short-range threats—like rockets, and artillery shells—protects American forces abroad from some of the most common forms of attack.

“The U.S. gets to be involved in one of the most advanced missile defense systems in the Middle East,” Jean-Loup Samaan, a senior research fellow at the Middle East Institute of the National University of Singapore, told The Dispatch. “Historically, the Israelis started working on missile defense because the Reagan administration in the ‘80s was looking for international partners in the domain.”

Experts have also credited the Iron Dome, in particular, for mitigating the likelihood that cross-border rocket fire will escalate into a ground war in the Palestinian territories, which risks pulling in U.S. or U.S. ally involvement. And by minimizing Israeli civilian casualties, the defense system ups the cost for militant groups like Hamas. 

The funding bill is currently stalled in the Senate, but has bipartisan support and will likely move soon.

After the standalone measure passed the House 420-9, it faced additional challenges in the Senate. Libertarian-leaning Republican Sen. Rand Paul promptly shot down a unanimous consent resolution to expedite a floor vote on the bill, proposing instead to draw the cash from $6 billion in reconstruction funds for Afghanistan. 

“It’s a shame that Senator Paul uses a fig leaf to try to suggest that eliminating funding for critical elements of our Afghanistan involvement is the reason to hold up Iron Dome funding. He just doesn’t like Iron Dome, no matter what he says,” Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and originator of the resolution to fast-track funding, told The Dispatch. “Having said that, I’m convinced that Iron Dome will get done. The only question is for the leader to decide whether or not we will have a standalone vote in the Senate or it will be wrapped up into [National Defense Authorization Act].” 

Asked if he supports $1 billion to replenish Iron Dome, Sen. Chris Coons—another leading committee member—said “absolutely,” and that the measure’s passage “should have already happened.”

Paul, meanwhile, punted blame for the bill’s delay to Senate Democrats for rejecting his bid to divert funding. “I have a proposal to fully fund it with money from the Afghan Reconstruction Fund, which could potentially go to the Taliban,” he told The Dispatch. “It could be passed already, but the Democrats blocked that yesterday.”

“Ultimately, for me, where the funds come from is less important than actually doing it,” Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, told The Dispatch. “I think they need to be resupplied.”

Worth Your Time

  • In an essay for Persuasion, Copenhagen-based Jacob Mchangama reminds Americans how lucky they are to have such robust 1st Amendment protections. A few weeks ago, a German man had his home searched by police as they “gathered evidence” for an investigation into his calling a politician a “dick” on Twitter. “To many Americans, the European approach to policing speech is anathema to the civil libertarian impulses undergirding the First Amendment,” Mchangama writes. “To others, importing European-style restrictions might sometimes seem enticing as a way to fight extremism and disinformation at a time when American democracy seems to be in crisis. Ultimately, Americans should recognize that robust free speech is a value worth defending, even if it comes with significant costs and tradeoffs.”

  • Matt Welch has had enough of President Biden’s hyperbolic rhetoric of late. “Every president preaches unity with his mouth while using his hands to stab political competitors; such incentives are inherent to the job,” he writes for Reason. “But these bully pulpit degradations, rightly criticized during the stressful, norms-shredding term of Donald Trump, have not been abandoned in Trump’s aftermath. Biden may have said in his inaugural that ‘we have to be different than this,’ that we need to ‘listen to one another,’ to ‘hear one another,’ to ‘see one another,’ and ‘show respect to one another,’ and to ‘reject a culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured,’ but once the ceremonial speechwriting gave way to Capitol Hill negotiations, the gloves quickly came off.”

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • In his Wednesday Capitolism newsletter (🔒), Scott Lincicome argues the companies that developed the life-saving COVID-19 vaccines should are not profiting enough from their innovations. “It’s almost certain that any profits enjoyed by the vaccine makers’ founders, executives, and shareholders will be dwarfed by the vaccines’ benefits to everyday Americans and other humans around the world—and by large margins,” he writes.

  • Something about the Facebook/whistleblower story is striking Jonah as a bit too convenient. “Facebook has been begging Washington to regulate it for a while now,” he notes in his latest G-File (🔒). “The idea that big business—including Big Tech—hates regulation has never been true. … Zuckerberg wants regulations on terms favorable to Facebook, but it doesn’t strike me as far-fetched that he thinks a trillion-dollar company with 3 billion users worldwide and enough lawyers to cast a crowd scene from Ben Hur will be able to work the process to his benefit.”

  • On yesterday’s Dispatch Podcast, Sarah, Steve, Jonah, and David discuss China’s recent incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, and how seriously the United States should take the Chinese Communist Party’s aggression in the Indo-Pacific. Plus: Democrats are in disarray on Capitol Hill, a State Department official resigns over the Biden administration’s border policy, and Facebook is feeling the heat from all directions.

  • It’s tough sledding to try to run as the true MAGA candidate in a congressional race where Donald Trump has endorsed someone else. In a piece for the site today, Audrey interviews Anthony Bouchard, a state senator running in the primary against Rep. Liz Cheney, where Trump has thrown his weight behind attorney Harriet Hageman instead. “[Trump’s] been getting bad advice on this race from day one,” said Bouchard spokesperson April Poley. “We’ve heard that he personally—his personal favorite is Anthony Bouchard. But [Trump] can’t go with Bouchard because the people that surround him tell him he can’t.”

Let Us Know

Does a company’s embrace of a vaccine mandate make you more or less likely to give them your business? 

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@lawsonreports), Audrey Fahlberg (@AudreyFahlberg), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), Harvest Prude (@HarvestPrude), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Correction, Thursday, October 7, 2021: We originally wished you a ‘Happy Wednesday,’ but today is Thursday. We apologize for the error, but are glad to be one day closer to the weekend.