The White House said it was surprised by the strong opposition to COVID-19 vaccines approved under former President Donald Trump.
“We didn’t anticipate that when there was a vaccine approved under a Republican president, that the Republican president took, that there would be such hesitation, opposition, vehement opposition in some cases, from so many people of his own party in this country,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday. “We didn’t anticipate that.”
Finally, why would anyone trust Psaki’s reaction, when it’s obvious what the Biden administration is doing is “stray voltage” to help shift the media narrative away from their Afghanistan debacle, border debacle, and inflationary debacle, and back to those icky Trump voters in flyover country.
Or as Jim Treacher wrote on Friday, “if these clowns are trying to make me angry at unvaccinated people to distract me from being angry at the White House, it’s not going to work. I’m vaccinated, and therefore, because of that, I don’t care if you get vaccinated. I think you should, but that’s all my opinion is: my opinion. It’s not gonna work, Mr. President. Rogan isn’t the bad Joe here, you are.”
Vice President Kamala Harris’ office recently rejected our Freedom of Information Act request for her office’s basic payroll information.
However, President Biden’s White House, the federal executive agencies, all 50 states, and at least 80,000 local units of government are legally required to provide this information. Our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com capture and display 25 million salary and pension records annually on our website.
Yet, the Office of the Vice President (VP) was missing from our data, so we filed a request for details – including employee name, position, and salary.
The VP’s rejection makes her the least transparent elected office holder in the country. Citizens ought to be concerned that the person next in line for the presidency is so unwilling to disclose how she spends their money
“The Office of the Vice President is not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests,” a VP official told our OpenTheBooks.com auditors.
That was news to us.
Even FLOTUS disclosed her office staffers and their pay. For example, we know the 12 employees by name, title, and salary that work for Dr. Jill Biden, the First Lady of the United States.
Congress, although not subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), must post online their staff salaries, by name, and all vendor checkbook spending within their individual offices and committees.
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So, next we asked the VP for her high-level payroll summary information, i.e., the number of office employees and their total overall payroll. After all, taxpayers foot that entire bill.
The official directed us instead to 5 U.S.C. § 551, which deals with public information and agency rules. Apparently, VP Harris’ office isn’t going to voluntarily open its books.
In this, the VP is unique among every school, city, county, state, government agency, and even quasi-government entities that are subject to FOIA disclosure of their payrolls.
As far as we know, Vice President Harris— the second-in-command, and possible next president of the United States — is the only elected official in the country who isn’t required to share her payroll details with the public.
So, why is Harris trying to hide her payroll information?
From the President’s Budget to Congress FY2022, we already know she asked for a $1 million budget increase, to $6 million. This includes 27 staffers – an increase of four over former VP Mike Pence’s FY2021 budget.
We reported in July that President Joe Biden’s White House 2021 office payroll is the largest in history, totaling $49.6 million for 567 White House employees.
Over Biden’s four-year term, we project that his White House staff will cost taxpayers at least $200 million.
Currently, there are 190 more employees on White House staff under Biden than under Trump (377) and 80 more than under Obama (487) – at the same point in their respective presidencies.
These numbers, however, don’t include the Office of the Vice President, and we don’t know who makes how much in VP Harris’ office. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives the public the right to request access to federal agency records or information.
But what’s a federal agency?
The Congressional Research Service (CRS, as recently as August 2020, points to 5 U.S.C. § 551’s definition of “agency.” Agency is defined as “each authority of the Government of the United States, whether or not it is within or subject to review by another agency.”
That broad definition is further described in the FOIA as one that “includes any executive department, military department, Government corporation, Government controlled corporation, or other establishment in the executive branch of the Government (including the Executive Office of the President), or any independent regulatory agency.”
However, CRS notes the law’s scope, “while this definition includes a large swath of the federal government, it does not encompass the entire federal establishment. For example, FOIA does not apply to Congress, the federal courts, or territorial governments.”
While FOIA’s definition of “agency” includes the Executive Office of the President, CRS explains that courts have decided even some entities within that are excluded from the act.
For example, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1980 decision inKissinger v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Pressheld that transcripts of Henry Kissinger’s phone conversations during his time as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs weren’t required to be disclosed under FOIA.
In February 1994, President Clinton’s Assistant Attorney General Walter Dellinger wrote a memorandum as a response to a request from Todd J. Campbell, counsel and director of administration at VP, as to whether his office is an “agency” for the purposes of FOIA.
He noted that the Supreme Court has held that “agency” doesn’t cover “the President’s immediate personal staff or units in the Executive Office whose sole function is to advise and assist the President.”
“The OVP (Office of Vice President) clearly satisfies the Supreme Court’s ‘sole function’ test,” he argued, “because the Vice President and his staff do not have ‘substantial independent authority in the exercise of specific functions,’ but rather have the sole function of advising and assisting the President.”
Critics might say that the memo used faulty legal analysis to pre-determine the conclusion that their own office wanted: to stop FOIA requests for the VP.
While VP records are transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration after an administration leaves office, the VP records aren’t available under FOIA until five years later.
Biden’s own VP records will be subject to public access requests beginning on January 20, 2022, while former Pence’s VP records will become available on January 20, 2026.
If Harris leaves her VP office on January 20, 2025, after one term in office, her office’s records won’t be available until January 20, 2030.
That’s a long time to wait to know what our second-in-command is doing with her office.
The White House told Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday that a proposed hike in U.S. corporate taxes is unlikely to make it into their signature social spending bill, according to a congressional source familiar with the discussions. President Joe Biden’s plans to hike the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21%, a key campaign promise, are likely to be one of the steep concessions he makes to steer his economic revival package https://www.reuters.com/world/us/biden-democrats-2-trillion-spending-plan-what-is-what-is-cut-2021-10-20 through Congress, the White House disclosed in the private meeting with top Democrats.
“There is an expansive menu of options for how to finance the president’s plan to ensure our economy delivers for hardworking families, and none of them are off the table,” said White House spokesperson Andrew Bates. Biden, his aides and congressional leadership are racing to close a deal as soon as this week on a set of tax hikes they hope will fund more than $1.75 trillion over a decade in programs ranging from childcare to eldercare, healthcare, affordable housing and climate change mitigation.
They have no margin for error because Democrats hold only narrow majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate. Republicans oppose the legislation. “The president knows that he’s not going to get everything he wants in this package,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters on Air Force One. “Nor will any member of Congress, probably, and that’s what compromise is all about.”
The original price tag for the social spending bill was $3.5 billion. Democrats hope to pass the measure in the Senate through a “reconciliation” process that requires support by only a simple majority rather than the 60 votes needed for most legislation in the evenly split 100-member chamber. Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris holds the tiebreaking vote.
Biden, who framed the 2020 election against Republican then-President Donald Trump as one between working-class Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Manhattan’s Park Avenue, pitched the tax hike as an effort to make sure the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share. Trump and congressional Republicans cut corporate rates to 21% from 35% in 2017. After taking office in January, Biden paired the tax hike with a mix of programs he has argued will put the United States on a more sustainable economic footing to compete with China, from universal pre-kindergarten to dental benefits for seniors and incentives to encourage a shift to low-carbon energy sources.
‘EVERYBODY OUGHT TO BE PAYING SOMETHING’ Business groups and Republicans have fought the measures, arguing they will hamper the economy’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When I ran for president, I came back to Scranton,” Biden said on Wednesday on his first trip back to his birthplace since Election Day last November. “I resolved to bring Scranton values to bear, making fundamental shifts in how our economy works for working people, build the economy from the ground up … and not from the top down.” Top Democrats may now put on the table alternate financing proposals for the bill that have been discussed for weeks, including imposing new levies on stock buybacks and business partnerships, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Kyrsten Sinema, a key swing-vote Democrat who has expressed the most concern about tax hikes, may be amenable to other measures that only raise rates for highly profitable large corporations paying next to nothing in federal taxes under current rules, according to Senate colleague Elizabeth Warren. “Our problem is partly about too low a rate at the top, and obviously some Democrats disagree,” Warren, a Democrat, said on CNN. “But I think all the Democrats agree, by golly, everybody ought to be paying something.”
The S&P 500 closed 0.4% higher after the news about the White House’s private comments was first reported by the Washington Post. After-hours trading in the U.S. stock index trended 0.3% higher.
(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., has been negotiating with the White House and Senate Democratic leadership for two months on the size of the president’s Build Back Better plan, which was originally proposed at $350 billion a year over 10 years. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona, joined a group of moderate Democratic senators and House members – what he called “practical lawmakers” – in a trip to the White House to negotiate Tuesday with President Joe Biden on elements of the Build Back Better plan. (File photo by Marisela Ramirez/Cronkite News)
WASHINGTON – Two Arizona lawmakers were among the House and Senate moderates who met with President Joe Biden this week, as negotiations on the administration’s Build Back Better plan heated up.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., talked with Biden Tuesday and Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona, was part of handful of lawmakers who were at the White House to discuss the plan with the president, Vice President Kamala Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellin.
The talks come as White House and Senate leaders are pushing to have a framework for agreement among Democrats by the end of this week on the administration’s 10-year, $3.5 trillion proposal. Republican have roundly rejected it, while moderate and progressive Democrats have been sparring over the cost.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said after Tuesday’s meetings with lawmakers that Democrats are in “broad agreement that there is urgency in moving forward over the next several days and that the window for finalizing a package is closing.”
One observer said that Sinema and O’Halleran are capitalizing on the fact that every vote is needed on the hotly debated plan.
“Every member has become really important and I think there’s no question that Sen. Sinema and Tom O’Halleran have become part of the entire Build Back agenda conversation,” said Navin Nayak, president and executive director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Nayak said Biden is “looking to every member of Congress, including the two Arizona lawmakers you mentioned, to recognize that doing nothing is the worst possible outcome for the American people and for the planet.”
Sinema has been a key Democratic holdout on the plan for weeks, along with fellow moderate Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., both of whom met with Biden Tuesday. Both Sinema and Manchin have said they are worked about the cost of the plan, while Manchin, a coal state senator, has also raised concerns about clean energy portions of the bill.
Neither Sinema nor O’Halleran responded to requests for comment on the negotiations. But O’Halleran’s office released a statement Tuesday night in which he said he was pleased to be part of a group of “practical lawmakers” pushing for health care, education, climate change and more in the bill, but not at the $3.5 trillion the administration originally proposed.
“Arizonans want their government to do the most good without saddling our kids and grandkids with excessive debt,” O’Halleran’s statement said.
The impasse on the Build Back Better plan has stalled action on a separate $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that would fund roads, ports, rail and more. The “hard infrastructure” bill is popular among lawmakers but has been held for leverage in in negotiations on the “human infrastructure” of the Build Back Better plan.
O’Halleran was part of a group of eight moderates – three senators and five House members – who met at the White House for a little more than an hour late Tuesday afternoon to discuss the Build Back Better plan. Their meeting followed meeting that Biden, Harris and Yellen held for a little more than two hours with nine House progressives.
Neither side has revealed many details on the negotiations, but House progressives left their meeting Tuesday and said the president is working to bring the two sides together on a package that would cost between $1.9 trillion and $2.2 trillion over 10 years.
The White House insists that the bill would pay for itself through increased taxes on high earners, without adding anything to the long-term deficit or to the tax burden on working and middle-income families.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that he hopes to have an agreement on the framework for the plan by the end of the week.
“We had a spirited discussion at our lunch,” Schumer said after the Democrats’ weekly policy lunch. “It was passionate, strong, and it was universal, universal agreement in that room that we have to come to an agreement, and we have to get it done.”
Schumer and the White House have said that no side will get everything it wants from the bill, and that holding out could scuttle the chance for a historic expansion of social programs.
“Overall, getting something done of this magnitude for the American people is a huge, huge, accomplishment, and that’s what is going to move us forward and bring us together,” Schumer said Tuesday.
That was echoed by Nayak, who said Biden has “laid out a very ambitious agenda” and is willing “make significant compromises to get something done.”
“He’s aware that opposing something and doing nothing because you didn’t get everything you wanted is a huge risk,” Nayak said Wednesday.
Nayak said he is impressed that no lawmaker has issued an ultimatum, but that the progressive and moderate wings are still negotiating.
“My gut is that you’ll have a lot of people who act like adults recognizing that everyone is going to be disappointed and everyone is going to be pleased, and I think that’s just the reality of getting an agreement of this magnitude,” he said.
O’Halleran said after Tuesday’s meeting that he remains optimistic.
“I know that if we continue to work together, we can get this done for working families,” his statement said.
White House looks to boost federal employee union participation
By Natalie Alms
Oct 20, 2021
Vice President Kamala Harris visits the Pentagon on Feb. 10, 2021 (Defense Department photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
The White House is taking action to increase federal employee union participation in an effort it says could have ripple effects in other workplaces.
Agencies are being directed to make sure new hires know about their union eligibility and how to contact their union, and existing feds will be reminded of that information more regularly.
“We are proud as the Biden Harris administration in what we believe we will be, which is the most pro-union administration in the history of America,” said Vice President Kamala Harris at an event on Wednesday announcing the changes.
OPM issued guidance to agencies with the new policies, which are meant to encourage worker organizing and collective bargaining in the federal workplace as part of the administration’s overall labor policy.
The administration says these moves will remove barriers unions face in federal workplaces to increase membership.
“OPM is proud to work on behalf of the Biden-Harris administration to help launch this government-wide effort today that will remove barriers and obstacles in federal workplaces, which impede the union’s ability to strengthen union density and inform civil servants about their collective bargaining rights,” said OPM director Kiran Ahuja, who spoke at the event with Harris and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.
Currently, about 33% of bargaining unit employees in the federal government – a group 1.2 million strong out of the 2.1 million non-postal employees in the government – are dues-paying members of unions.
The largest federal employees union welcomed the move.
“For too long, there has been a concerted effort by corporations and wealthy individuals to prevent working people from organizing and bargaining collectively… Indeed, in the past decades we saw this fight play out inside our own federal government,” Everett Kelley, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a statement. “We applaud the steps that the Biden administration is taking today to roll back attacks on labor unions, help federal employees understand their union rights and support them in exercising those rights.”
Guidance documents encourage agencies to include bargaining unit status and union affiliation of the bargaining unit in job announcements. They also recommend that agencies give unions themselves the ability to share information with new bargaining unit employees during orientation sessions about their rights to join a union.
Agencies are already required to annually remind feds about their rights to union representation. New OPM guidance to agencies directs agencies to issue periodic notice throughout the year, and include contact information for the union in that messaging.
The new policies are part of a broader report being sent to the White House on how the administration can address barriers to labor organizing. That report will include more recommended executive actions. It’s being produced by the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment, which was established in April via executive order.
“We believe that a stronger workforce is the work that will happen to create actually high productivity and lower turnover,” Harris said. “We also believe that this is about respecting the dignity of all work and respecting the dignity of workers.”
Harris added: “We’re doing this because we believe and know that workers are entitled to be paid wages commensurate with their value.”
The administration directed OPM to create recommendations for more feds to be paid at least $15 an hour in
issued days into Biden’s term. The Biden-Harris budget proposal for FY 2022 recommended a 2.7% increase for feds, lower than the 3.2% raise being advocated for by some federal employee groups and congressional Democrats.
About the Author
Natalie Alms is a staff writer at FCW covering the federal workforce. She is a recent graduate of Wake Forest University and has written for the Salisbury (N.C.) Post. Connect with Natalie on Twitter at @AlmsNatalie.