#2: Filibuster reform, child poverty, and global vaccines

Welcome to the second edition of High Impact Policy Review, or HIPR! If you already know the spiel, you can skip down to updates. But if it’s your first time here, my name is Arushi Gupta, and I started this newsletter because I realized that being constantly inundated with political news made it hard to understand what really mattered, and that many issues receive far less coverage than they deserve, given the impact they will have. For example, although the U.S. is one of the largest foreign aid donors and approximately 10 percent of the world population lives in extreme poverty (on less than $1.90 a day!), we rarely talk about the foreign aid decisions that can and do change their lives completely.

This biweekly (every 2 weeks) newsletter will (i) provide updates on U.S. policies relevant to potentially high-impact cause areas, such as foreign aid, farmed animal welfare, and criminal justice reform and (ii) inform you of potentially high-impact U.S. policy opportunities that I see around! I’ll do my best to cover the most neglected and important policy news I become aware of — the decisions that impact a large number of individuals (human or non-human), but which don’t always reach the front-page headlines. For that reason, I won’t always include the biggest news, unless it’s very important, because it’s likely stuff you’re already hearing about!

Updates

COVID

  • The American Rescue Plan stimulus bill passed containing a huge number of exciting priorities, including: extended unemployment benefits, stimulus checks, a child tax credit, aid for state/local governments, COVID testing funding, funding to help schools reopen, subsidies for healthcare and much more. The child benefit in particular is very exciting, and though the program is only for one year, there are hopes it will prove popular enough to be made permanent.
  • The Biden administration has ordered another 100 million doses of the J&J vaccine. If you’re concerned about it being less effective, I found this piece reassuring.
  • The Biden administration announced multiple changes to expand vaccine access, including expanding who is qualified to give vaccine shots, expanding vaccine sites, and providing technical assistance to states for their vaccine appointment sites, which will be helpful because many states have had issues with their sites.
  • Biden directed states to make all adult Americans eligible to receive a Covid vaccine by May 1, and stated hopes that we should be “back to normal” by the Fourth of July.
  • Requirements for ID are shutting some people out of COVID vaccines, who are otherwise qualified.

Foreign Aid

  • President Biden, under intense pressure to donate excess coronavirus vaccines to needy nations, moved on Friday to address the global shortage in another way, partnering with Japan, India and Australia to expand global vaccine manufacturing capacity. The administration is still letting tens of millions of AstraZeneca doses languish (which some may describe as hoarding).
  • The stimulus bill also included $11 billion of international aid targeted at responding to COVID-19, including $3.5 billion to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (which has taken on the fight against coronavirus as well).

Foreign Policy

  • The US and Iran are still in a stalemate over the nuclear deal, with both sides waiting for the other to make the first move.
  • Sec of State Blinken released a statement opposing the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into the Israel-Palestine conflict. 19 House Democrats also sent him a letter on Monday urging him to pressure Israel to distribute vaccines to Palestinians.

Farmed Animal Welfare

  • Sen. Booker and Reps. DeLauro and Thompson reintroduced the Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act, which would suspend “USDA waivers and regulations that allow companies to increase production line speeds at meatpacking plants during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Lower line speeds are better for meatpacking workers and farmed animals.
  • The USDA is requesting public comment on climate-smart agriculture and forestry strategy until April 29. Implementation of this input could have drastic effects on animals!
  • The USDA inspector general is reviewing the agency’s handling of meatpacking plant inspections during COVID-19.
  • Check out the recent appointments for USDA General Counsel, Senate Ag subcommittee chairs, and more.
  • A Maryland judge ruled that the state must regulate ammonia pollution from the chicken industry. “This interpretation would be a big change for the local poultry industry — across Delmarva, 300 million meat chickens (known as broilers) are raised annually.”

Climate

  • The stimulus bill included some climate-friendly funding, including $30.5 billion to rescue public transit agencies.
  • While climate has played a role in the Biden administration’s foreign policy, some are disappointed that it is not as central as he promised, particularly with the recent approval of the former Australian finance minister Mathias Cormann (who tried to abolish Australia’s renewable energy targets) to be named director of the OECD.
  • Deb Haaland was confirmed as the first Native American Interior Secretary, a move celebrated by tribal groups and environmental organizations. As a Representative, she was one of the first lawmakers to support the Green New Deal.

Democracy/Voting

  • More Senate Democrats have joined the call to end the Senate filibuster, which will be necessary to pass most of the Democrats’ policy agendas. Sen. Joe Manchin and President Biden, who have both previously been resistant to removing the filibuster, have stated they are in favor of reforming it and into a talking filibuster.
  • The House passed the For the People Act mentioned in the last edition, and the Senate is about to introduce it. The Act includes a large number of voting reforms, including automatically registering people to vote, restoring the voting rights of felons, mandating two weeks of early voting, encouraging voting-by-mail and expanding absentee ballot drop boxes. It would also require states to set up independent redistricting commissions to prevent partisan gerrymandering. The bill is partially a response to voting restrictions being enacted by Republican state legislatures. Its passage will almost definitely depend on a filibuster reform, which is part of why more senators are open to a reform.
  • The Supreme Court also seems ready to undermine the protections of the Voting Rights Act, and make it extremely difficult to challenge state laws that disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color.
  • Virginia Governor Northam released an executive order restoring voting rights to anyone who was formerly incarcerated.

Justice Reform

  • After a group of incarcerated people filed an emergency motion in federal court last month, Oregon’s prisons have offered a vaccine to every person in custody (approx. 13,000 people). Attorneys representing Oregon’s incarcerated people say it’s among the quickest and broadest vaccine rollouts for incarcerated people in the country.

Immigration

  • The House is set to vote on two big immigration bills this week, which would create a path to citizenship for 2.5M of the 11M undocumented immigrants in the country, and provide a temporary legal status to undocumented farm workers. Their passage through the Senate will likely depend on a filibuster reform.

Tech

  • California banned ‘dark patterns’ that trick users into giving away their personal data.
  • The stimulus bill included $1 billion in funding for the Tech Modernization Fund (which had only received $175M in its lifetime until now), to provide funding for federal IT upgrades
  • The appointments of Lina Khan to the FTC and Tim Wu to the White House National Economic Commission have been applauded by anti-monopolists. It’s likely we might see some big antitrust action coming from the administration over the coming months and years, including potentially breaking up big tech companies - though it’s still unclear what it might look like.
  • A Politico report released yesterday found that FTC investigators had recommended suing Google in 2012 for breaking the law by “banishing potential competitors” from mobile phones - but the agency commissioners dismissed the recommendation. The current DOJ case is based on largely the same details as the 2012 recommendation, but 9 years later, it will be much harder to undo Google’s monopoly.

Opportunities

Interested in learning more on how to increase your engagement with high-impact U.S. policy? Check out a list of resources on the HIPR website!

Fill out this form or email hello@highimpactpolicy.review with any feedback! And feel free to forward any news that you think should be included in the next edition. If this was forwarded to you, you can subscribe here!

Until next time,

Arushi 📋🖋