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Senate Democrats Pass $3.5 Trillion Budget Plan In Latest Win For Biden

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Senate Democrats Pass .5 Trillion Budget Plan In Latest Win For Biden

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats pushed a $3.5 trillion framework for bolstering family services, health, and environment programs through the Senate early Wednesday, advancing President Joe Biden’s expansive vision for reshaping federal priorities just hours after handing him a companion triumph on a hefty infrastructure package.

Lawmakers approved Democrats’ budget resolution on a party-line 50-49 vote, a crucial step for a president and party set on training the government’s fiscal might at assisting families, creating jobs and fighting climate change. Higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations would pay for much of it. Passage came despite an avalanche of Republican amendments intended to make their rivals pay a price in next year’s elections for control of Congress.

House leaders announced their chamber will return from summer recess in two weeks to vote on the fiscal blueprint, which contemplates disbursing the $3.5 trillion over the next decade. Final congressional approval, which seems certain, would protect a subsequent bill actually enacting the outline’s detailed spending and tax changes from a Republican filibuster in the 50-50 Senate, delays that would otherwise kill it.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., once a progressive voice in Congress’ wilderness and now a national figure wielding legislative clout, said the measure would help children, families, the elderly and working people — and more.

“It will also, I hope, restore the faith of the American people in the belief that we can have a government that works for all of us, and not just the few,” he said.

Republicans argued that Democrats’ proposals would waste money, raise economy-wounding taxes, fuel inflation and codify far-left dictates that would harm Americans. They were happy to use Sanders, a self-avowed democratic socialist, to try tarring all Democrats backing the measure.

If Biden and Senate Democrats want to “outsource domestic policy to Chairman Sanders” with a “historically reckless taxing and spending spree,” Republicans lack the votes to stop them, conceded Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “But we will debate. We will vote.”

The Senate turned to the budget minutes after it approved the other big chunk of Biden’s objectives, a compromise $1 trillion bundle of transportation, water, broadband and other infrastructure projects. That measure, passed 69-30 with McConnell among the 19 Republicans backing it, also needs House approval.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., assured progressives that Congress will pursue sweeping initiatives going beyond the infrastructure compromise. It was a nod to divisions between the party’s moderates and liberals that he and Pelosi will have to resolve before Congress can approve their fiscal goals. Democrats control the House but only narrowly.

“To my colleagues who are concerned that this does not do enough on climate, for families, and making corporations and the rich pay their fair share: We are moving on to a second track, which will make a generational transformation in these areas,” Schumer said.

In a budget ritual, senators plunged into a “vote-a-rama,” a nonstop parade of messaging amendments that often becomes a painful all-night ordeal. This time, the Senate had held more than 40 votes by the time it approved the measure at around 4 a.m. EDT, more than 14 hours after the procedural wretchedness began.

With the budget resolution largely advisory, the goal of most amendments was not to win but to force the other party’s vulnerable senators to cast troublesome votes that can be used against them in next year’s elections for congressional control.

Republicans crowed after Democrats opposed GOP amendments calling for the full-time reopening of pandemic-shuttered schools, boosting the Pentagon’s budget and retaining limits on federal income tax deductions for state and local levies. Those deduction caps are detested by lawmakers from upper-income, mostly Democratic states.

Republicans were also happy when Democrats opposed restricting IRS access to some financial records, which McConnell’s office said would prompt political “witch hunts.” And when Democrats showed support for Biden’s now suspended ban on oil and gas leasing on federal lands, which Republicans said would prompt gasoline price increases.

One amendment may have boomeranged after the Senate voted 99-0 for a proposal by freshman Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., to curb federal funds for any municipalities that defund the police. That idea has been rejected by all but the most progressive Democrats, but Republicans have persistently accused them anyway of backing it.

In an animated, sardonic rejoinder, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., called Tuberville’s amendment “a gift” that would let Democrats “put to bed this scurrilous accusation that somebody in this great esteemed body would want to defund the police.” He said he wanted to “walk over there and hug my colleague.”

Republicans claimed two narrow victories with potential long-term implications, with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, one of the chamber’s more conservative Democrats, joining them on both nonbinding amendments.

One indicated support for health care providers who refuse to participate in abortions. The other voiced opposition to teaching critical race theory, which considers racism endemic to American institutions. There’s scant evidence that it’s part of public school curriculums.

The budget blueprint envisions creating new programs including tuition-free pre-kindergarten and community college, paid family leave and a Civilian Climate Corps whose workers would tackle environmental projects. Millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally would have a new chance for citizenship, and there would be financial incentives for states to adopt more labor-friendly laws.

Medicare would add dental, hearing and vision benefits, and tax credits and grants would prod utilities and industries to embrace clean energy. Child tax credits beefed up for the pandemic would be extended, along with federal subsidies for health insurance.

Besides higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations, Democrats envision savings by letting the government negotiate prices for pharmaceuticals it buys, slapping taxes on imported carbon fuels and strengthening IRS tax collections. Democrats have said their policies will be fully paid for, but they’ll make no final decisions until this fall’s follow-up bill.

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Joe Manchin’s objections to a clean energy program threaten Biden’s climate promises

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Joe Manchin’s objections to a clean energy program threaten Biden’s climate promises


Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, speaks to members of the media while departing the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 7. Manchin has reportedly told the White House that he opposes the key climate measure in Biden’s multitrillion-dollar climate and social programs package.

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Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, speaks to members of the media while departing the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 7. Manchin has reportedly told the White House that he opposes the key climate measure in Biden’s multitrillion-dollar climate and social programs package.

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President Biden had promised to halve U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2030, but an essential tool the administration planned to use to achieve that goal now appears out of reach.

The New York Times reported Friday that Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative West Virginia Democrat, has indicated to the White House that he opposes the key climate measure in Biden’s multitrillion-dollar climate and social programs package.

The president needs the support of all 50 Democratic senators in order to pass the measure through a process known as reconciliation.

The program in question is the $150 billion Clean Electricity Performance Program, which would financially reward utilities that transition to renewable energy and penalize those which do not. Experts say that the program would sharply reduce greenhouse gas pollution tied to electricity generation — which today accounts for roughly a quarter of U.S. emissions.

Manchin is at odds with his Democratic colleagues

Manchin, who leads the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said during an appearance on CNN in September that energy companies are already transitioning to clean energy.

“Now they’re wanting to pay companies to do what they’re already doing,” he said. “Makes no sense to me at all for us to take billions of dollars and pay utilities for what they’re going to do as the market transitions.”

Manchin’s office did not immediately return a request for comment Saturday.

Sen. Tina Smith, a Minnesota Democrat and champion of the clean energy measures, said in an interview with the Star Tribune newspaper that Manchin’s characterization is “just not right.”

“In fact, what we’re doing is we’re providing utilities with support, so that they can rapidly add clean power without raising utility rates,” Smith said.

Ties to the fossil fuel industry

Coal is a dominant industry in Manchin’s home state of West Virginia.

As of 2019, the state is the second-largest U.S. coal producer and relies on the fuel for 91% of its energy needs. The energy sector accounts for 6% of the state’s employment, compared with a national average of roughly 2%.

The senator also has personal financial ties to the fossil fuel industry.

Last year, according to his public financial disclosure, Manchin received about $492,000 in dividends on stock from Enersystems, Inc., the coal business he founded in 1988, which is now controlled by his son Joseph. According to OpenSecrets, which tracks political fundraising, Manchin is the top recipient of donations from the oil and gas and coal mining industries this election cycle.

After news broke of Manchin’s reported opposition to the clean energy program, Smith issued a warning to the White House on Twitter.

“Let’s be clear: the Build Back Better budget must meaningfully address climate change,” Smith said, using the administration’s branding for the legislative package.

“I’m open to different approaches, but I cannot support a bill that won’t get us where we need to be on emissions,” Smith said. “There are 50 Democratic senators. Every one of us is needed get this passed.”

Smith told NPR this month that she and Manchin have been in regular contact about Manchin’s concerns.

U.S. credibility is on the line

In two weeks, world leaders will meet in Scotland for a major United Nations conference on climate change, COP26.

President Biden and John Kerry, his climate envoy, have been working to build U.S. credibility on climate issues after years of inaction and climate change denialism.

In an interview this week with The Associated Press, Kerry said that the administration’s trouble passing its own climate policies hurts the effort to spur climate action abroad.

“I’m not going to pretend it’s the best way to send the best message. I mean, we need to do these things,” Kerry said. He said that if Congress fails to pass significant climate change legislation, “it would be like President Trump pulling out of the Paris agreement, again.”

A crucial moment for the health of the planet

Kerry also indicated that the conference talks are likely to fall short of securing the pledges that would be necessary, if met, to limit global warming to under 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, from pre-industrial levels.

Under current worldwide commitments, global emissions are expected to rise by about 16% in 2030, compared to 2010. That would put the planet on track for more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit of warming by 2100.

At that point, rising sea levels would inundate coastlines, extreme heat waves would be significantly more common and more intense floods and droughts would potentially displace tens of millions of people.

Lauren Sommer contributed reporting.



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Sea Otters Are Adorable Stewards Of Underwater Sea Grass Meadows

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Sea Otters Are Adorable Stewards Of Underwater Sea Grass Meadows


It turns out when sea otters are foraging for dinner, they’re also doing a huge favor to the ecosystem.

According to new research, the critters have positive effect on sea grass meadows, a crucial part of the underwater environment that help stabilize the ocean floor, improve water quality and serve as food for some species and habitat for others.

Nuno Valadas / 500px via Getty Images

Sea otters disturb these meadows when they dig for clams, and their presence is marked by bare patches and indentations from all the digging, according to National Geographic. Though some might assume that means otters aren’t so great for the grass, ecologist Jane Watson noticed in the 1990s that where sea otters thrived, so did sea grass, The New York Times reported.

Decades later, Watson’s idea inspired her former student, Erin Foster, to lead a study on the matter. Watson, who conducted the seagrass research while completing a PhD at the University of Victoria, co-authored a paper on the findings, which was published Friday in the journal Science.

As it turned out, Watson was right all along. The researchers studied meadows of eelgrass ― a type of sea grass ― in British Columbia, and found that they had significantly higher genetic diversity in areas where otters were present. Not only that, but the longer that otters had been living in a particular area, the higher the genetic diversity among the eelgrass.

Eelgrass.
Eelgrass.

Andrey Nekrasov via Getty Images

So how do otters do this? The answer has to do with the fact that eelgrass can reproduce two ways ― clonally or sexually. Clonally basically means that each new plant is genetically identical to its predecessor; sexually means that the plants reproduce via pollination, and that each new plant has genetic material from each of its parent plants. The researchers believe that otters disturbing the grass specifically encourages sexual reproduction in the eelgrass, which creates a more genetically diverse meadow.

That’s good news for the grass, which is vulnerable to numerous threats, from climate change-fueled ocean acidification and warming water temperatures to pollution from fertilizer runoff and severe disruption from human activities like dredging for development. More genetic diversity gives the grass a better shot of long-term survival.

“Genetic diversity typically builds resilience to change, and considering the challenges we’re facing … this will be important for eelgrass meadows,” Foster told National Geographic.

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Robert Durst Is On A Ventilator With COVID-19: Reports

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Robert Durst Is On A Ventilator With COVID-19: Reports


Robert Durst, the real estate heir who was sentenced to life in prison for murder on Thursday, is reportedly very sick with COVID-19 and has been placed on a ventilator, his lawyer told multiple outlets Saturday.

“He looked worse than I’ve ever seen him and I was very worried about him,” attorney Dick DeGuerin told The Los Angeles Times about seeing his client in court this week.

DeGuerin did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

Durst, 78, slumped down in his wheelchair and appeared to have difficulty communicating in court, speaking in a hoarse voice. He had been convicted in September for the execution-style killing of his friend Susan Berman in 2000.

Prosecutors allege that Durst feared Berman would give up information on the mysterious 1982 disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen McCormack, who is presumed dead.

While he was once the heir apparent to the Durst family’s New York real estate business ― the family owns some of Manhattan’s most prestigious property ― Durst’s volatile personality proved unsuitable. His younger brother, Douglas Durst, took over the business instead.

“He looked very very ill at sentencing Thursday. He had difficulty speaking, breathing,” attorney Dick DeGuerin told The Daily Beast.

A 2015 HBO documentary about Durst, “The Jinx,” helped bring attention to the bizarre circumstances of his life and family history.

Durst went to trial for murder in 2003 in a separate killing, after he moved to Texas and began living in disguise. Durst eventually admitted to dismembering his neighbor, Morris Black, and dumping the parts of his body in a waterway. In Durst’s telling, he was trying to defend himself when Black’s gun went off and killed him.

He was acquitted of the killing, serving only around one year in jail for skipping out on his bail.

Durst is currently facing renewed scrutiny over his suspected role in the death of McCormack; a New York prosecutor is reportedly seeking to indict him.

This week, family members of Berman’s implored Durst to reveal whatever he knows about the location of McCormack’s body shortly before a Los Angeles judge handed down his sentence.

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