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The Morning Dispatch: Hey, Big Spender
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The Morning Dispatch: Hey, Big Spender

Plus: A scandal-plagued former governor throws his hat back in the political ring.

Happy Thursday! There’s regular season baseball. Today. Like, in a few hours.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Pfizer and BioNTech announced Wednesday that their COVID-19 vaccine was 100 percent effective for adolescents ages 12 to 15 in a Phase 3 clinical trial. The companies plan to submit the data to the Food and Drug Administration to broaden the vaccine’s current emergency use authorization.

  • Iowa Democrat Rita Hart on Wednesday formally withdrew her challenge of Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ election win, which had been certified by Iowa’s bipartisan state elections board. A growing number of congressional Democrats had expressed uneasiness with the prospect of overturning the election result in the House.

  • Human error at a vaccine manufacturing plant in Baltimore run by Emergent BioSolutions may have rendered up to 15 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine unusable. The mistake does not affect any doses currently in circulation or scheduled to go out next week (those were produced in the Netherlands), but will likely slow the vaccine’s rollout over the coming month.

  • Amid another surge in new COVID-19 cases, French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Wednesday a three-week school closure and month-long domestic travel ban. Both provisions are effective nationwide.

  • New York on Wednesday became the 15th state in the country to allow recreational marijuana when Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill legalizing adult-use cannabis. The tax revenue generated from the move will go toward education, community reinvestment grants, and a drug treatment/public education fund.

  • The Defense Department on Wednesday announced a policy update undoing the Trump administration’s limits on transgender people serving in the military. The revised rules will allow transgender service members to receive transition-related medical services, a Pentagon spokesman said.

  • The United States confirmed 65,544 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 6 percent of the 1,088,790 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 1,064 deaths were attributed to the virus on Wednesday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 552,019. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 33,933 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, and 2,670,947 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered yesterday. 97,593,290 Americans have now received at least one dose.

Biden Unveils $2 Trillion Infrastructure Plan

Twenty-five years ago, Bill Clinton famously declared in his 1996 State of the Union address “the era of big government is over.” The bold (if incorrect) claim helped Clinton position himself as a centrist as he began his successful run for reelection. 

During his presidential campaign, Biden styled himself something of a centrist too. But just over two months into his presidency, one thing is abundantly clear: The era of big government is here once again.

Less than a month after Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan into law, his administration unveiled yet another sweeping $2 trillion spending proposal on Wednesday aimed at boosting the post-pandemic economic recovery. (This comes on top of $5.3 trillion in previous pandemic-related spending, according to the Pete Peterson Foundation.) Unlike its predecessor, this proposal—called the American Jobs Plan (AJP)—shifts focus to broader infrastructure projects, devoting taxpayer dollars to transportation, energy, and research and development. The plan is the first of two major spending proposals the White House is expected to offer in the coming weeks. 

To fund its many ambitious programs, the plan would incorporate a series of tax hikes that Biden claims would offset the cost of the AJP over a 15-year period. The revamped tax system would increase the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent, partially undoing the 14 percent cut included in former President Trump’s 2017 tax law—and making the U.S. corporate tax rate among the highest in the world. The plan also boosts the global minimum tax rate for multinational corporations to 21 percent, regardless of where they’re headquartered.

Among its many infrastructure provisions, the AJP includes massive taxpayer investments in electrifying the nation’s transportation systems, expanding American access to clean drinking water, offering universal access to broadband, and funding affordable housing projects. The administration claims that in the effort to reach those goals, the proposal would create “millions and millions” of American jobs.

Building off of bipartisan recommendations put forth in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in March, the bill would also ramp up R&D spending. “We’re one of only a few major economies in the world whose public investment in research and development as a share of GDP has declined constantly over the last 25 years,” Biden said in a speech in Pittsburgh yesterday unveiling the proposal. “And we’ve fallen back. The rest of the world is closing in, and closing in fast.”

Republicans signaled early opposition to the plan. They take issue with its sweeping spending and tax hikes, among other concerns. “Although last year’s COVID assistance was passed on a bipartisan basis, we cannot begin thinking of bills that spend trillions as the new normal,” said GOP Rep. Sam Graves, ranking member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. “But the President’s blueprint is a multi-trillion-dollar partisan shopping list of progressive priorities, all broadly categorized as ‘infrastructure’ and paid for with massive, job-killing tax increases.”

The bill, Graves added, does “not reflect a targeted approach at all.”

“While strategic investment in infrastructure is key to national prosperity, radical spending with massive tax increases will only hurt the American economy,” Rep. Bruce Westerman, an Arkansas Republican, told The Dispatch. “A true infrastructure package with bipartisan development could address many needs, but a tax hike and special interests spending will not benefit the country.”

“President Biden’s infrastructure plan looks more like the Green New Deal than a serious proposal to fix our roads and bridges,” Rep. Mike Gallagher added. “To make things worse, it would be paid for by trillions of dollars in tax increases that would hurt middle-class workers and devastate the American economy.”

Beyond the tax hikes, conservatives are worried about adding to the ballooning deficit—even though the plan is ostensibly “paid for.”

“Biden is relying on gimmicks of eight years of spending to be paid for by 15 years of taxes—that never works out,” Brian Riedl, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, told The Dispatch. “The spending always gets renewed at the end of the eight-year period, so this program is probably going to run deficits. … It’s another part of the biggest peacetime spending spree we’ve seen since the Great Society.” The Congressional Budget Office projects that the federal deficit will reach $2.3 trillion for the 2021 fiscal year, adding to the rapidly growing $28 trillion in national debt. 

Even as Republicans lament the AJP’s big spending, progressives are criticizing it for being too skimpy. New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez noted the legislation would spend $2 trillion over 10 years, not over the next year or two. “This is not nearly enough,” she concluded. Progressives have called for a bill with $10 trillion in infrastructure investments over the next decade.

With room for only a handful of defections in the House, Democratic leaders will have to thread a difficult needle to advance the legislation. While progressives have their complaints, more moderate Democratic Reps. Bill Pascrell, Mikie Sherrill, Josh Gottheimer, and Tom Suozzi have all said they will not vote to amend the tax code unless the bill also tacks on an elimination of the SALT cap, a policy limiting the federal deduction for state and local taxes. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi aims to pass the bill in the House before the chamber’s July 4 recess.

The measure will likely run into more difficulty in Congress’ upper chamber. After speaking with President Biden earlier this week, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell said he is unwilling to support the plan in its current form. “This proposal appears to use ‘infrastructure’ as a Trojan horse for the largest set of tax hikes in a generation,” he said Wednesday. “These sweeping tax hikes would kill jobs and hold down wages at the worst possible time, as Americans try to dig out from the pandemic.”

The rollout of the plan yesterday made clear that conservatives and progressives hold differing definitions of what constitutes “infrastructure.” Republicans, including McConnell, pointed out yesterday that just under 6 percent of the plan’s funding would go directly toward building (or rebuilding) roads and bridges. Biden views those provisions as necessary, but not sufficient. He said yesterday the AJP would not only repair 20,000 miles of road and 10,000 bridges—as well as build new rail corridors and transit lines—but also make “transformational progress” in the fight against climate change and “extend access to quality, affordable home or community-based care” for parents and caregivers.

Because few, if any, Senate Republicans are likely to support the plan, Democrats will almost certainly turn once again to the reconciliation process, which requires only a simple majority to pass a bill rather than the typical 60-vote threshold. Democrats used reconciliation to pass their coronavirus relief package.

But reconciliation also runs the risk of alienating Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who said last month that he would refuse to sign onto another giant spending bill that lacks any GOP support. “I’m not going to do it through reconciliation,” Manchin told Axios in March. “I am not going to get on a bill that cuts them out completely before we start trying.” He added that he believes that, with a few concessions, it would be possible to get 10 Republicans on board and pass the plan through regular order.

Democrats have no margin for disagreement in the Senate. With a 50-50 chamber and Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote, the caucus will have to be completely unified to advance another package without any Republican support.

In an effort to assuage these concerns, President Biden said he would be amenable to suggestions from both sides of the aisle, provided they don’t raise taxes for anyone making under $400,000. “The divisions of the moment shouldn’t stop us from doing the right thing for the future,” Biden said in his speech yesterday. “I’m going to bring Republicans into the Oval Office—listen to them, what they have to say—and be open to other ideas. We’ll have a good-faith negotiation with any Republican who wants to help get this done. But we have to get it done.”

But Biden made similar promises on COVID relief before ignoring GOP proposals in favor of nearly $2 trillion in spending that included many items long on progressive spending wish lists. The doublespeak frustrated top Republican moderates, many of whom received private assurances from Biden that he would proceed in a bipartisan fashion. Their skepticism makes real bipartisanship on this massive spending proposal—and the one to follow—even more unlikely.

Don’t Call It a Comeback

On March 10, we wrote to you about Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, and his plans to retire from Congress next year. It’s only been a couple of weeks, but the race to succeed him is already heating up—and former Gov. Eric Greitens is making his move.

If you’ve heard of Greitens at all, it’s likely because of the lurid scandal that brought down his governorship back in 2018, as Andrew details in a piece for the site today. “In January, the married governor admitted to having an affair during the campaign with his hairdresser,” he writes. “But the story immediately got stranger: That same day, a local news station released a recording of the woman claiming that Greitens had blindfolded her, taken a nude photo of her, and threatened to release it publicly if she told anyone about their liaison. The woman had not gone public with the claim herself; rather, her then-husband had secretly recorded her confessing it to him, then taken the recording to the press.” Investigators for the Republican state House later deemed the accusation credible. He was also facing an investigation into a possible campaign finance crime. With impeachment by his own party a near certainty, Greitens resigned in June.

Why does Greitens think he can rebound from that?

Greitens enters the race as an undeniable contender: A Remington Research/Missouri Scout poll last week put his support at 40 percent, compared to 39 percent for state attorney general Eric Schmitt. But with shocking scandals still fresh in voters’ minds, a lack of allies in the state, and several other strong challengers preparing to enter the race, whether the former governor can turn back the clock remains to be seen.

Greitens never fully lost one thing: the support of his base. Even in the thick of the scandal, more than half of state Republicans said he shouldn’t resign. Having spent the intervening years pushing the narrative that the accusations against him were nothing more than a political witch hunt, Greitens started looking for an opportunity to make a comeback.

Gregg Keller, a prominent Missouri GOP strategist, doesn’t hide his animosity toward the former governor: “Eric Greitens is a woman-beater and a blackmailer and a liar and a thief,” he told The Dispatch. But he doesn’t count Greitens out of the race, either: “I’m very worried about it. … Eric Greitens is sitting on a solid floor in a Republican primary on election day of between 25 and 35 percent.”

For Keller, the biggest question is whether Republicans who want to see Greitens lose will coalesce around another candidate, or whether the field will fragment again.

“The way I do the simple math is, let’s split the baby and let’s say that he’s sitting on a hard 30 percent. I think if it’s a three-way race, I think it becomes very interesting, and you see a situation where Greitens could possibly get in. I think in a four-way race, he probably becomes the favorite.”

Who are Greitens’ remaining political allies?

In recent days, Greitens has received some splashy national endorsements from figures close to former President Trump, including Trump’s former personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and former adviser Steve Cortes. But in order to sustain momentum, he’ll need more than name recognition and Trumpworld connections—he’ll need to recapture the statewide enthusiasm that put him over the top in 2016. Some former allies say that, so far, the support from grassroots networks just isn’t there. Not only that, Greitens isn’t even pursuing it.

“There are grassroots people that’ll go knock doors and put up yard signs and go to your parade, and those people are great. They’re a huge part of the campaign,” John Lamping, a former GOP state senator in Missouri who has previously supported Greitens, told The Dispatch. “But then there’s grassroots people that are knowledgeable, sophisticated, have sophisticated friends, are in touch with donors. And are perceived to be thoughtful political people. And none of those people are involved in this campaign. We’ve hardly even talked to him. He’s not asking us to get involved. This is entirely coming from D.C. It’s just Bannon. … He’s gotten the Giuliani endorsement, and Cortes—that’s the campaign he’s setting out to run. There’s nobody in Missouri, like nobody.”

Worth Your Time

  • Democracy across the globe has declined for the 15th year in a row, according to Freedom House’s annual “Freedom in the World” report. Arch Puddington details this backsliding for American Purpose, explaining why today’s dictators are even worse than those of the past. “There are no Gorbachevs today, and while some regimes have faced serious street protests, they invariably succeed in neutralizing, and in some cases crushing, opposition movements,” he writes. “Today’s autocrats never apologize and seldom compromise. They muzzle critics, destroy private-sector adversaries, and treat opponents as traitors who owe their allegiance to the United States or the EU. They ensure that the key institutions of security, the police, secret police, and military are in competent and loyal hands. The system has worked well.”

  • A little more than a half-century ago, electing a Catholic president was seen as essentially putting the Pope in the Oval Office. Today, Catholics hold some of the highest offices in the land, including the speaker of the House, six of nine Supreme Court seats, and, once again, the presidency. But not all Catholics are thrilled. In a piece for Time, Brian Bennett explores how the Biden administration is highlighting the rifts in the American Catholic Church. “While Biden campaigned on some key policies the church favors—including advancing racial justice, ending the death penalty, addressing climate change and aiding refugees—he also advocates policies out of step with Catholic doctrine, such as expanding access to reproductive health care and increasing gay and transgender rights,” Bennett writes. “For many top bishops and conservative voters, Biden embodies a more liberal version of the faith that poses a threat to the future of the church in America.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

https://twitter.com/kathrynw5/status/1377269841158103048

Also Also Presented Without Comment

https://twitter.com/lachlan/status/1377246573894189067

Toeing the Company Line

  • On the site today: Dalibor Rohac on the World Health Organization and Andrew on Eric Greitens.

  • On this week’s Dispatch Podcast, Sarah, Steve, Jonah, and David discuss President Biden’s infrastructure package, the pros and cons of vaccine passports, early 2024 presidential primary jockeying, and declining rates of religiosity in America.

  • Momentum for D.C. statehood is growing on the left, and Jonah covers the issue’s partisan nature in Wednesday’s G-File (🔒). “I don’t dispute for a moment that most Republicans oppose statehood for precisely the reasons [Washington Post columnist E.J.] Dionne suspects. My point is that most Democrats favor it for precisely the same reason,” he writes. “Not everyone in this debate is a partisan. But take out the partisan priorities, and nobody would be debating it.”

  • In his this week’s edition of Capitolism (🔒), Scott goes deep on the Suez Canal and the big boat—and what the saga says about global trade. “Canals and container ships are just two of the many incredible technologies that allow us to enjoy the benefits of the global economy every day,” he writes. “These hidden miracles obliterate the all-too-common populist claim that ‘globalization’ is some sort of new and top-down phenomenon forced upon The People via backroom ‘trade deals’ drafted by a cabal of uncaring political elites.”

  • “Far-left attacks on social conservative free speech and religious liberty have mainly resulted in a legal rout of the left and the strengthening of the First Amendment. Key American freedoms are less fragile than they were even a decade ago,” David writes in yesterday’s French Press (🔒). But “the attacks are still very real. There is a relentless far-left attempt to undermine the First Amendment across a broad front. The existence of those attacks is deeply alarming to millions of social conservatives, and if we want to de-escalate conservative Christian concern, it’s not enough to tell Christians to chill out. Progressives should tell their most radical allies to cease fire.”

Let Us Know

What is the best April Fools’ Day prank you’ve ever pulled (or had pulled on you)? 

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Haley Byrd Wilt (@byrdinator), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).