October 30, 2023
HEATHER COX RICHARDSON
OCT 31, 2023
After three weeks without a speaker, the House today tackled one of the key items on its agenda: providing additional funding for Israel and Ukraine. Immediately, the majority under Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) made it clear that they have every intention of pushing their extremist agenda. Despite pressure from Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), they have split funding for Israel away from the funding for Ukraine and funding for humanitarian assistance for Ukraine, Israel, and Gaza that President Biden has requested.
They have gone further, though, to push the far right’s agenda. The House Republicans’ $14.3 billion aid package for Israel claims that it will “offset” that spending by taking $14.3 billion from funding for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) passed by Congress in the Inflation Reduction Act. But this “offset” is nothing of the sort: funding the IRS brings in significantly more than it costs. For each dollar spent auditing the top 1% of U.S. earners, the IRS brought in $3.18; for each dollar spent auditing the top 0.1%, it brought in $6.29. In September the IRS noted that it recovered $38 million in delinquent taxes from 175 high-income taxpayers within a few months and would be increasing that effort.
A 2021 study showed that people whose income is in the top 1% of earners fail to report more than 20% of their earnings to the IRS. The House measure, providing aid for Israel only if Democrats agree to set aside Ukraine and Gaza and permit rich people to cheat on their taxes, will set up a fight with the Senate.
Tonight, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre released a statement saying the Republicans’ politicization of our national security interests is a “nonstarter. Demanding offsets for meeting core national security needs of the United States—like supporting Israel and defending Ukraine from atrocities and Russian imperialism—would be a break with the normal, bipartisan process and could have devastating implications for our safety and alliances in the years ahead.”
She noted that there is strong bipartisan agreement that it is in our national security interest to stop the suffering of innocent people in Gaza, “help Ukraine defend its sovereignty against appalling crimes being committed by Russian forces against thousands of innocent civilians,” and invest more in border security. “Threatening to undermine American national security unless House Republicans can help the wealthy and big corporations cheat on their taxes—which would increase the deficit—is the definition of backwards,”
she said. The chaos among the Republicans and the emergence of a Christian nationalist as their choice to lead the House seem to have drawn increased attention to the successes of the president.
Today, for example, the United Auto Workers announced a tentative deal with General Motors, marking the third such agreement in the union’s six-week strike against GM, Ford, and Stellantis. The agreements include a 25% raise in base wages over 4.5 years, after years in which workers’ pay did not keep up with inflation. The agreements will also protect workers against the conversion to electric vehicles, helping unionized workers to make the transition to a green economy, and reopen certain closed plants.
As Jeanne Whalen noted in the Washington Post, this agreement comes after United Parcel Service (UPS) workers this summer won their strongest contract in decades and 75,000 striking Kaiser healthcare workers won strong wage increases.
Biden was the first president to join a picket line when he stood with the UAW. Today, he said: “Today's historic agreement is yet another piece of good economic news showing something I have always believed: Worker power…is critical to building an economy from the middle out and the bottom up…. We’re finally beginning to build an economy that works for working people, for the middle class, for the entire…country, including the companies.
“Because when we do that, the poor have a ladder up, the middle class does well, and the wealthy still do very well. We all do well.”
As Michael Tomasky put it in The New Republic, “We have a president who takes seriously the fundamental economic fact of American life of the last 40 years, which is that trillions of dollars of wealth have been transferred from the lower and middle classes to the top 1 percent, and even to the top 0.1 percent. Moreover, it’s rivetingly clear that he thinks that it’s long past time to get that river flowing in the other direction.”
In The Bulwark, Jill Lawrence wrote that Biden has a “surprising focus on the future” as he “moves to meet U.S. challenges that former President Donald Trump largely ignored, failed at, or made worse.” She noted Biden’s achievement of infrastructure legislation after Trump failed, and contrasted Biden’s successful CHIPS and Science Act with the trade war of the Trump years, which cost as many as 245,000 jobs and so badly hurt midwestern farmers that 90% of the proceeds from Trump’s tariffs went to bail them out.
Biden also has looked forward by pushing and securing the Inflation Reduction Act, which invests in a transition to a green economy. But Lawrence’s focus was primarily on today’s sweeping executive order on artificial intelligence, an order Politico called “the most significant single effort to impose national order on a technology that has shocked many people with its rapid growth.”
The administration has been working to establish responsible AI practices, recognizing the need to address discriminatory algorithms, data privacy violations, and deep fakes.
Today, Biden signed an executive order requiring companies to share safety information about their systems before allowing them to be used, in order to make sure they don’t pose a safety or a national security risk. It orders the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to secure critical infrastructure. It will require AI-generated content to bear a watermark that clearly labels it. It will protect personal data, and Biden promised he would ask Congress for legislation to pass bipartisan legislation to stop technology companies from collecting the personal data of children and teenagers, to ban advertising directed at children, and to limit companies’ collection of personal data in general.
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a technology think tank, applauded the order, saying its guidelines set “a clear course for the United States…. With this EO, the United States is demonstrating it takes AI oversight seriously.” Vice President Kamala Harris will attend the two-day AI Safety Summit meeting in the United Kingdom on November 1–2 as the European Union closes in on laws about artificial intelligence that would enable the E.U. to shut down services that harm society.
The E.U. has been ahead of the U.S. in its regulation of the internet: in August 2023 its Digital Services Act went into effect, requiring users to agree to the use of their personal data for targeted advertising and requiring digital platforms to police the disinformation on their platforms. Most of the companies it regulates are based in the United States.