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Three Big Things

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  • Infrastructure Negotiators Agree to Framework for Package

    WASHINGTON—Members of a bipartisan group negotiating a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure proposal said they had crafted a framework for an agreement, and lawmakers plan to meet with President Biden on Thursday to try to complete a deal.

    The Democrats and Republicans emerged from a meeting with top White House officials Wednesday saying work would continue on some unresolved details.

    Recent talks have focused on how to finance the package, which drafts showed would spend $579 billion above expected federal levels for a total of $973 billion over five years and $1.2 trillion if continued over eight years.

    People familiar with the agreement said Wednesday night that the funding in the framework resembled levels in the drafts, with some putting the five-year new-spending proposal at $559 billion, because $20 billion in broadband funding would be repurposed from Covid-19 relief.

    “For the most part we have a framework, but there are components within that framework that need to be worked out,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.), one of the lawmakers negotiating the package.

    The senators involved in the talks said they would begin reaching out to party leaders and other lawmakers to build support for the emerging agreement. A group of 21 senators had joined the bipartisan efforts, with a smaller set of 10 lawmakers leading the talks with the White House.

    “I would say that we’re very, very close and we’re now going to do the outreach that is important to grow the vote from the middle out,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio).

    White House press secretary Jen Psaki said officials had productive meetings with the bipartisan group and “made progress towards an outline of a potential agreement.” She said President Biden invited the group to come to the White House on Thursday to discuss the emerging deal in person.

    Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) indicated Wednesday night that he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) would support the framework.

    “We’ll let them announce it first, let’s see it. But we support the concepts we have heard about,” Mr. Schumer said in brief remarks to reporters alongside Mrs. Pelosi.

    Headed into Wednesday’s meetings, lawmakers in the bipartisan Senate group said they had largely agreed on how to spend the proposed $973 billion. The package is expected to include funding for improvements to roads, bridges, transit, airports and enhanced infrastructure for broadband, water and electric vehicles, but exclude large investments in housing, home care, and workforce development Mr. Biden proposed in his initial $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan.

    How to pay for the package had consumed much of the recent negotiations, which intensified in recent days ahead of a two-week Senate recess. Republicans had rejected a White House plan to raise taxes on corporations to cover the cost of infrastructure investments, and the White House in turn had opposed lawmakers’ ideas to index the gas tax to inflation and charge fees to electric vehicles to finance the spending.

    That left lawmakers considering a mix of public-private partnerships, existing federal funds, and enhancing enforcement at the Internal Revenue Service to collect taxes that are owed but not paid as ways to raise revenue. Republicans and the White House had disagreed on how much revenue could come from enhanced tax enforcement, a subject of disagreement among experts.

    The progress in the talks puts Mr. Biden and lawmakers in reach of a long-elusive goal in Washington: a bipartisan agreement on infrastructure spending. An earlier effort between Mr. Biden and a separate group of Senate Republicans collapsed earlier this month, with each side accusing the other of not going far enough toward reaching a compromise. Under the Trump administration, lawmakers made halting attempts toward reaching a bipartisan deal, but never found an agreement on financing a package.

    Any bipartisan infrastructure agreement will need the support of nearly the entire Democratic caucus, giving each lawmaker leverage to issue his or her own demands. A handful of liberal Senate Democrats have said they won’t back a more modest bipartisan deal unless Democrats also pass along party lines a package that includes significant efforts to address climate change.

    Progressives in the House have also said their support for a narrower infrastructure deal is contingent on knowing that support exists for a second, larger package moving at the same time that would include investments in child care, education, long-term care for seniors and other issues.

    “Investing in the caring economy is going to be an incredibly important part of what we attempt to accomplish and will accomplish for the people this year,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D., N.Y.) told reporters Wednesday. “What the vehicle ultimately is to do that remains to be seen.”

    Mr. Schumer met late Wednesday with Mrs. Pelosi and administration officials to discuss the bipartisan proposal, as well as the emerging contours of a separate and broader Democratic package of climate and social support programs, which together compose the bulk of Mr. Biden’s legislative agenda.

    Mr. Schumer met last week with Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee, which is drafting a resolution that would enable it to pass legislation tied to the budget with just a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes most bills need, a process known as reconciliation.

    “One can’t be done without the other, all of us agreed to that. We can’t get the bipartisan bill done unless we’re sure of getting the budget reconciliation bill done. We can’t get the reconciliation bill done unless we’re assured of the bipartisan,” Mr. Schumer said.

    Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) said he was working on a reconciliation package of up to $6 trillion that would fund all of Mr. Biden’s infrastructure proposal, as well as his child care, education and affordable-housing plans and climate provisions, among others.

    Democrats are also discussing provisions to lower the cost of prescription drugs by allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies and using those savings to expand Medicare benefits and lower its eligibility age.

    And some Democrats from New York and New Jersey are intent on repealing the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions, often referred to as SALT, imposed in the GOP’s 2017 tax overhaul. Senate Democrats have said they are considering at least partially altering that cap.

    “The bottom line is when they gutted SALT and capped it at $10,000, it was a direct assault on hardworking men and women of labor,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D., N.J.). Rep. Tom Suozzi (D., N.Y.) said that because union jobs were better-paying, those households were particularly hard hit by the limits on the tax deduction.

    Yet unknown is whether more centrist Senate Democrats will be on board with a $6 trillion package, which is also expected to include tax increases. Some Republicans said they hoped that securing a bipartisan infrastructure deal would make it harder for Democrats to pass a second package along party lines.

    “I think we need an infrastructure bill,” said Sen. Jerry Moran (R., Kan.), who has backed the bipartisan proposal. But he added that “a value that could come from this is the reduced pressure or justification that Democrats might feel if we do nothing. I’m sure that those who want to change the rules or use reconciliation have a stronger case to make if we do nothing.”

    Infrastructure Negotiators Agree to Framework for Package - WSJ

  • Kamala Harris to finally visit border amid ongoing migrant crisis

    Vice President Kamala Harris will visit the border this week amid the historic surge of illegal immigration under her watch as border czar, more than three months since she was tapped for the role, her office confirmed to The Post Wednesday.

    Harris, chief spokeswoman Symone Sanders said, will travel to El Paso, Texas, on Friday alongside Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

    The trip is being organized in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security.

    As President Biden’s appointed border czar, this will mark her first visit to the region amid bipartisan pressure to surveil the scene for herself.

    Following the news of her trip, former President Donald Trump released a statement saying his planned border trip with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the Republican Study Committee was what finally pushed the VP to make the journey down south, to “see the tremendous destruction and death” caused by Biden’s policies.

    “After months of ignoring the crisis at the Southern Border, it is great that we got Kamala Harris to finally go and see the tremendous destruction and death that they’ve created — a direct result of Biden ending my very tough but fair Border policies,” the 45th president began.

    “Harris and Biden were given the strongest Border in American history. And now, it is by far the worst in American history.”

    “If Governor Abbott and I weren’t going there next week, she would have never gone!”

    Harris, who visited Guatemala and Mexico earlier this month as part of her first foreign visit in office, was dogged for her entire trip by questions about going to see the US-Mexico border in person.

    Her answer to NBC News’ Lester Holt on the matter gained considerable negative attention.

    “At some point, you know, we are going to the border,” a defensive Harris told Holt on “Today” in Guatemala — 1,308 miles away from the US-Mexico crossing.

    “We’ve been to the border. So this whole thing about the border, we’ve been to the border,” Harris said, to which Holt replied, “You haven’t been to the border.”

    Harris, seeming to laugh at her own joke, responded: “And I haven’t been to Europe. And I mean, I don’t understand the point that you’re making. I’m not discounting the importance of the border.”

    In El Paso, Harris will likely be welcomed by Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Tx.), a strong supporter of the Biden administration whose border district has not been nearly as hard hit as the Rio Grande Valley, represented by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tx.).

    Cuellar has spoken out against the Biden administration’s handling of the crisis and encouraged Harris to visit the region.

    Escobar, meanwhile, has not.

    El Paso has also fared significantly better than the Laredo area. In Arizona, where Harris will also not be visiting, the Tuscon area has become a hub for the record migrant surges.

    Asked on Wednesday about the timing of Harris’ trip, just one week before Trump visits the same region, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “We’re at this point in part because we’ve made a great deal of progress.”

    “If you look just to a couple of months ago, when 6,000 children were in Border Patrol facilities,” she continued, “We’re now at the point where there is far less than 1,000.”

    Fox News White House reporter Peter Doocy pressed Psaki on the timing of Harris’ visit, specifically being scheduled the week before Trump visits the border, and after the vice president dismissed a possible trip as a nothing but a “grand gesture.”

    “I think she also said in the same interview that she would be open to going to the border at an appropriate time,” Psaki replied.

    “What I’m conveying to you is that, while as a part of her assignment, she has of course hosted a number of bilateral engagements, she’s visited the Northern Triangle, she’s made a number of announcements about how to address root causes,” she continued, adding that “[S]he was going to assess with the Department of Homeland Security and with the administration when it was the appropriate time to go.”

    Doocy pushed back, asking if it was important for the White House to have the vice president seen at the border before Trump.

    “We made an assessment within our government about when it was an appropriate time for her to go to the border,” Psaki offered as a final answer.

    The Biden administration’s undoing of former President Donald Trump’s border policies has prompted a flood of Central American and Mexican illegal migrants at the US border, including thousands of unescorted children.

    Central Americans looking for refuge from the Northern Triangle countries — Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — have taken these policy moves, as well as the overwhelmingly more welcoming tone from Democrats, as a sign that President Biden is inviting them to cross the border.

    Insisting that the border was not facing a crisis, Mayorkas said in early March that the problems the agency faced should be blamed on the previous administration.

    The data, however, overwhelmingly shows that migrants are flooding the border because they believe Biden will welcome them with open arms, with over 170,000 illegal crossings a month.

    As the crisis heated up, Biden tapped his vice president to address the diplomatic measures related to its “root causes.” However, despite intense pressure, she had declined to commit to going to surveil the situation for herself.

    Once the trip was announced, Republican lawmakers were quick to excoriate Harris on both the timing and location choice.

    “No doubt in my mind that Vice President Harris’s long-overdue visit to the U.S.-Mexico border was prompted by President Trump’s decision to visit the border next week,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tweeted.

    “The Biden/Harris team could not afford to allow Trump to visit the border first. Great job, President Trump.”

    “After 91 days of being Border Czar, VP Harris is not even going where the crisis is taking place,” Abbott wrote on Twitter, making note of her choice of El Paso.

    He went on to note the “interesting timing” of the trip.

    Speaking to Fox News in an interview after the trip was announced, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) said he didn’t expect the visit to cause Harris to have a change of heart.

    “I think what she’s gonna say is, ‘we need to turn the revolving door even faster, that as soon as we apprehend someone illegally we need to let them go even more quickly,'” Cruz told the network of what he expected the VP to tell the American people.

    “The Biden Harris administration right now is the last mile of the human trafficking and human smuggling network,” he continued, going on to say that returning to the Trump-era remain-in-Mexico policy would be the best way to mitigate the situation.

    Unfortunately, Cruz added, Democrats’ “radical politics won’t let them do that.”

    Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), meanwhile, introduced a bill to censure Biden for what she called his “dereliction of duty” in his response to the migrant crisis.

    That censure is unlikely to succeed in the Democrat-led House.

    Other House Republicans made note of the timing as well.

    Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), one of two black lawmakers in the GOP caucus, issued a “[f]riendly reminder” that “[i]t took @VP more than 80 days, a botched ‘root causes’ cringy [sic] Northern Triangle visit, non-stop pressure from Republicans, an announced visit to the border by Trump, and a miracle for her to FINALLY visit the border.”

    “This should be interesting,” he added in his tweet.

    Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), meanwhile, gave Trump credit for the trip, writing, “Thank you President Trump for getting Vice President Harris to finally go to the southern border. She would never go without you announcing your trip first.”

    Kamala Harris to finally visit US-Mexico border amid ongoing migrant crisis (nypost.com)

  • ‘Not scary looking’: Toned-down shark display defeated by Gulf Shores commission


    Three months ago, the Gulf Shores Planning Commission struggled with the concept of allowing a surf shop to display a menacing 27-foot-long shark statue hanging upside down in its parking lot.

    Some of the comments from the commission drew mockery online. A T-shirt was even born with the phrase, “Sharks bite people.”

    But on Tuesday, the commission mostly sidestepped the shark debate and focused on something they felt was far scarier: Establishing a precedence that would allow developers to skirt the city’s relatively new zoning ordinance and plans for its popular beachfront as a “walking district.”

    “To me, it’s about the bigger picture,” said Phillip Harris, a commissioner and member of the Gulf Shores City Council. “It’s not about whether the shark is laying down or hanging up.”

    The commission voted unanimously against the latest shark design pitched by Marco Destin Inc., which was a scaled-backed version of the shark statue the company proposed in March for outside Alvin’s Island near Beach Boulevard.

    The company’s request was for a conditional use permit from existing zoning laws that currently do not allow for new large and unique-looking structures to be built near the city’s beachfront.

    The permit would have allowed for the display of the “novelty architecture” outside the surf shop. But instead of the original plan of a 27-foot-long shark suspended from a marine pole, the newest design called for a 17-foot-long shark surfing in a wave inside an elevated dry pool. The display would have been 6-1/2-feet tall, and would be located outside the store’s entrance. It would have served as a stopping-off point for beach-bound visitors to take pictures.

    “The 27-foot upside down shark … it caused concerns,” said Doug Anderson, the attorney for Mobile’s Planning Commission who represented Marco Destin during Tuesday’s meeting, but was not representing the company during its original request in March. “But I don’t see how in the world a 17-foot-long, and 6-foot-high shark, who will be in its natural habitat … is going to detract (from the area). You can’t see it from the red light down the road. You have to be on top of the site to see it.”

    He added, “I would be a nice addition for this site. It’s not scary looking like the original one was.”


    Commissioners, though, sided with the city’s planning department’s report which pointed out that the shark display failed to meet half of the 14 standards the city measures for development within its beach district.

    Some of the issues raised included:

    - While the new shark display is compatible with existing structures in the area, it’s not compatible with the city’s 2016 zoning ordinance, according to Director of Planning & Community Development Lee Jones. It is also not compatible with the design standards set forth in the city’s “Envision Gulf Shores” for its beachfront area that is among the most popular tourist districts in Alabama.

    The city of Gulf Shores, in recent years, adopted several plans aimed at transforming and promoting the beachfront as a walkable, “energetic” district aimed at attracting tourism and to stimulate local businesses.

    -Novelty architecture exists nearby and is grandfathered into the ordinance. Souvenir City, which is across West 1st Avenue from Alvin’s Island, has had its iconic shark mouth serving as an entrance into the store since 1984. Next to Souvenir City is Gulf Shores Souvenirs & Gifts, which has a cartoonish purple octopus on top of its building. While both are popular picture opportunities for beach visitors, neither structure would be allowed to be reconstructed if more than 50 percent was damaged by a storm or other incident. Souvenir City, which has been in Gulf Shores since 1956, was damaged during Hurricane Sally, though the shark did not suffer major damage.

    Anderson said those nearby structures will continue to be attractions while Alvin Island’s will not be able to have its display.

    “They’ve been there a long time and they will continue to be there a long time unless a hurricane comes and destroys over half of those buildings,” he said. “The shark (at Souvenir City) covers 30 percent of the front. A big octopus (can be seen) a quarter mile away. This shark structure, you won’t even be able to see from the street.”

    -The shark display’s location within the parking lot could “cause conflicts with vehicles” and is not compatible.

    Jones said that at Souvenir City, the shark entrance is a gathering spot for people to take photographs even as vehicles traverse through the small lot.

    Anderson said the Alvin’s Island display would be “up against the building.” He added, “I don’t believe it creates a safety hazard at all.”

    -The city considers the shark display akin to signage within its zoning requirements. According to Jones, the shark and the enclosure are 119 square feet in size, which is larger than the maximum allowable square footage for signage near the beachfront. The zoning ordinance also requires detached signs to have a minimum of 300 feet distance between them. Jones said the existing Alvin’s Island sign is only 50 feet from the shark display.

    Anderson was perplexed to see the city consider the shark display as a “sign.”

    “I don’t think there is a judge in Baldwin County who will rule this is a sign,” said Anderson. “You won’t see it from the street. It’s not advertising. It’s not a directional sign. It’s either novelty architecture or it’s a sign. I can’t see it being both.”

    Harris said the sign ordinance was implemented to prevent digital and lighted up signs from popping up around Gulf Shores.

    -The novelty shark display lacked landscaping requirements the city requires for the area, which includes palm trees and shrubs.

    Jennifer Guthrie, a planning commissioner, said her biggest concern was the lack of landscaping at the store.

    “The palm trees and the extra greenery creates a sense of place,” Guthrie said. “I don’t think the shark will make a huge difference one way or the other.”

    -Jones said the shark display is not unique, noting that “sharks and other novelty architecture are used throughout the country. It’s not an element that will enhance a sense of place within the walking district.”

    ‘Desired environment’

    The Alvin’s Island proposal comes after Marco Destin spent around $3 million to rehabilitate the Gulf Shores store that is located in among the most visible areas for tourists. As Anderson noted, the colorful building’s design and development was approved by the city.

    “To analyze this (shark display) as a brand-new development, in my opinion and respect to the staff, is off base,” he said.

    But the commissioners did not offer up alternatives to Marco Destin, which owns and operates 36 Alvin’s Island stores in Alabama and Florida.

    Commissioners were also more aligned against the overall proposal than they were in March. During that meeting, one commissioner suggested a dolphin statue would be a better, and less scary, option. Another commissioner said the depiction of the shark should align with the city’s vision of “conservation” and not as a carcass hanging down from a pole.

    And another commissioner suggested they didn’t want to “glorify” sharks in Gulf Shores.

    Adhering to zoning laws and the city’s plans were more important issues this time around.

    Said Harris, “If we don’t make changes and start this process, we’ll never get to the change we desire in those (planning) districts. At some point, those that are there will go away. We’ll never accomplish a desired environment.”

    ‘Not scary looking’: Toned-down shark display defeated by Gulf Shores commission - al.com

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