Ian threatens Florida’s already unstable insurance market

Ian threatens Florida’s already unstable insurance market

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s property insurance market was already in peril. Now comes Hurricane Ian.

The massive storm that swept through southwest Florida, bringing with it torrential rains and flooding, is likely to further damage Florida’s insurance market. This market has been struggling under the weight of billion-dollar losses, insolvencies, and skyrocketing premiums. The extent of the storm’s devastation will be more apparent in the coming days, but there are concerns that it could worsen existing problems and burden an insurance program that has already seen a sharp rise in policies due to homeowners struggling to find coverage on the private market.

“Florida’s property insurance market was the most volatile in the U.S. before Hurricane Ian formed and will most likely become even more unstable in the wake of the storm,” said Mark Friedlander, communications director at the Insurance Information Institute.

The private insurance industry has lost more that $1 billion over the past two years, and hundreds of thousands have had their policies cancelled or not renewed. The average annual premium in Florida has risen to over $4 ,200, more than triple the national average.

More than a dozen companies have stopped drafting new policies in the state and many have closed their doors this year. Ian was busy churning towards Florida when one company was declared bankrupt and placed in receivership.

Homeowners unable to get coverage or priced out of plans have flocked to the state’s public insurer of last resort, Citizens Property Insurance, which this summer topped 1 million policies for the first time in almost a decade. Citizens Property Insurance was established by the state legislature in 2002 to provide coverage for Floridians who are unable or unwilling to get coverage from private insurers.

State regulators and insurance companies have long blamed homeowners for the state’s current crisis. They claim that state law allows lawyers to sue insurance companies, even if the amount won may be small. According to a letter from Florida’s Office of Insurance Regular, Florida accounted in the last half of the 2010s for approximately 8% of all homeowner’s claims in the U.S. and almost 80% of all homeowners lawsuits against U.S. insurers.

In May, with hurricane season approaching, the state legislature convened for a special session to address the insurance crisis. With little input from the public or expert analysis, lawmakers passed sweeping legislation with bipartisan support. Many in the statehouse considered it a significant first step towards repairing the market.

The creation of a $2B reinsurance program that insurance companies could purchase to insure themselves against risk and reduce rates for policyholders was one of the provisions. The law offers grants of up to $10,000 to retrofit homes so they are less vulnerable to hurricane damage. It also allows for the limitation of various attorney fees in insurance-related lawsuits.

Despite this, Florida’s primary rating agency Demotech threatened this summer to downgrade around two dozen companies. However, concerns about their creditworthiness have subsided somewhat under Gov. Ron DeSantis agreed that the state would support the insurers.

DeSantis noted that flooding claims could be a problem for Ian during news conferences.

Home insurance policies, including those in Citizens, do not include flood coverage. This is handled under a federal program that is separate from the insurance market. Flood insurance, which is federally backed, is required for mortgaged homes located in flood zones. However, people who own their homes may decline to get it. It’s also less common in areas that are not prone to flooding.

“The governor responded to questions about flood claims that could overrun Citizens Property Insurance. “I don’t think there won’t be wind damage. I mean, it’s a hurricane so that you’re likely see that.

“There is more I want to do regarding wind insurance, and that is something we will address. I mean look, at the end of the day we’ve got to make sure folks are taken care of, and so we will do that, whatever we need to do.”

DeSantis, at a news conference Wednesday, said Citizens Property Insurance should be in solid shape even after claims from Hurricane Ian, given that the state-backed company has billions of dollars in surplus. A spokesman for Citizens said it estimates 225,000 claims and $3.8 billion in losses from Ian, though he noted those projections were made before the storm made landfall and would likely change as damaged is fully assessed. Their modeling, which was based on paying out large amounts in claims for this, showed that they would still have between four and five billion in surplus. DeSantis stated that they believe they are able to weather it.

Around 2.5 million people in Florida were subject to mandatory evacuation orders when Ian struck land Wednesday afternoon. Many residents fled their homes in the hope of sustaining minimal damage when they return.

” I don’t see any benefit to sitting in the dark, in hot houses, and watching water enter your house,” said Tom Hawver of Fort Myers who evacuated his house Wednesday. “And I can’t do anything about the wind or the water, so I’ll go back in a couple of days and assess it.”

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California governor approves farmworker unionization law

California governor approves farmworker unionization law

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A broadly smiling California Gov. Gavin Newsom joined two dozen cheering, excited farmworkers who gathered outside the state Capitol Wednesday to sign a controversial bill to help farmworkers unionize. This was after President Joe Biden supported it and Vice President Kamala Harris. Newsom was pinned in a difficult political situation by the White House support. Newsom’s office had told Democratic lawmakers that he would not be signing the bill.

Newsom approved the bill after he, the United Farm Workers, and the California Labor Federation reached an agreement on clarifying language that would be considered in the next legislative session to address his concerns about implementation and voting integrity.

The new law gives California farmworkers, who harvest much of the nation’s fruit and vegetables, new ways to vote in union elections beyond physical polling places on farm property. While the owners claim that this would protect workers from intimidation and union busting, proponents argue that it will help.

The agreement will limit the number of unionization petitions in the next five years. It will also allow state regulators better protect worker safety and confidentiality, Newsom’s office stated. It would eliminate the possibility for workers to unionize via mail-in voting, which is included in the current language. However, it maintains a “card check election process.”

“Si puede” was the slogan that farmworkers chanted to Newsom as he signed the bill. This is similar to the UFW’s long-standing slogan, which roughly translates into Spanish as “Yes, We Can”. The union led a long summer march up the state to Sacramento. There, farmworkers and supporters rallied outside Sacramento’s Capitol. Some even stayed outside until September to try to win Newsom’s support.

” The vigil and march were all worthwhile, because he came to us and signed for us,” Teresa Maldonado, a farmworker, said through a translator.

The march cost Xochilt Nunez, her job as a fruit-picker, many toenails, and left her with blistered feet. After Newsom signed the legislation, Nunez was left with an extra copy. She was close to tears.

“California’s farmworkers are the lifeblood of our state, and they have the fundamental right to unionize and advocate for themselves in the workplace,” Newsom said in a statement after signing the bill.

Newsom, like his two previous predecessors, vetoed similar legislation in 2013. One of his concerns was about security concerns regarding mail-in elections. This option would be eliminated in the clean-up language that the union agreed to.

The revised law would retain the card check option. This would allow farmworkers to vote from home or wherever they feel most comfortable, and reduce employer intimidation, stated Giev Kashkooli (legislative and political director of the United Farm Workers). A union can only be formed if at least half of the workers sign the authorization card.

The California Farm Bureau stated that it was “deeply disappointed” by Newsom’s decision not to sign the bill. However, the group’s statement mainly focused on the mail-in voting system. The union did not respond to an email asking for comment on the language to eliminate that option.

Democratic Assemblyman Mark Stone added provisions to this year’s version that would let the law expire after five years unless it is renewed by lawmakers, and requiring the Agricultural Labor Relations Board to handle the ballots.

Newsom has been positioning his self for months as a leading national Democratic voice calling attention to red state governors. This has fueled speculation that he may be pursuing presidential ambitions despite his repeated denials.

Mike Madrid is a Republican strategist in California who studies Latino voting trends. He read Biden’s Labor Day Statement strongly supporting the legislation as an attempt to take Newsom down one notch.

” Madrid stated that it is impossible to ignore the fact that there is tension between these two politicians due to Gavin’s position in leaning into the presidential rumor-mill. “It’s basically just a reminder of who the sheriff is.”

Biden has long supported the union. Biden keeps a bust in the Oval Office of Cesar Chavez, co-founder of the union. Chavez’ granddaughter Julie Chavez Rodriguez is Biden’s director for intergovernmental affairs.

“In the most populous state of farmworkers, we owe them the least by making it easier for them to organize a union. Biden made this statement.

Jack Pitney is a Claremont McKenna College political science professor who said that Biden seemed to be expressing his longstanding support of unions, while Newsom was faced with the delicate task of balancing labor relations with an agricultural industry that is also in trouble.

The UFW, which is in financial trouble, recently joined the California Labor Federation. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled union organizers could not access farms’ properties to speak to their workers, the issue of farmworker unionization became even more important to labor in 2020.

Newsom signed another union-backed bill on Labor Day. It created a Fast Food Council that can set minimum standards for California’s wages, hours, and working conditions. It was blocked by the restaurant industry a day later.


Associated Press Writer Kathleen Ronayne contributed to this story.

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Rohingya seek reparations from Facebook for role in massacre

Rohingya seek reparations from Facebook for role in massacre

With roosters crowing in the background as he speaks from the crowded refugee camp in Bangladesh that’s been his home since 2017, Maung Sawyeddollah, 21, describes what happened when violent hate speech and disinformation targeting the Rohingya minority in Myanmar began to spread on Facebook.

” We were good with most people there. He said that some narrow-minded and nationalist people spread hate against Rohingya via Facebook. “And the people who were kind, in close contact with Rohingya. They changed their minds about Rohingya and it became hateful.” For years, Meta Platforms Inc. (now Facebook) promoted the narrative that it was a neutral platform that was used by malicious people in Myanmar. It also claimed that it failed to remove hateful and violent material despite its best efforts. That narrative echoes its response to the role it has played in other conflicts around the world, whether the 2020 election in the U.S. or hate speech in India. But a new comprehensive report by Amnesty International shows that Facebook’s preferred narrative has been discredited. Amnesty International claims that the platform wasn’t just a passive site with limited content moderation. Instead, Meta’s algorithms “proactively amplified content” on Facebook. This promoted hatred against the Rohingya as early as 2012..

Despite years of warnings from Amnesty, the company failed to remove hate speech and disinformation about the Rohingya and actively propagated it until it culminated with the 2017 massacre. This coincided with the growing popularity of Facebook in Myanmar, where it was the only way to connect to the internet. This effectively made Facebook the internet for a large portion of Myanmar’s population.

More than 700,000 Rohingya fled into neighboring Bangladesh that year. Myanmar security forces were accused in mass rapes, murders and torching thousands homes owned by Rohingya.

“Meta, with its dangerous algorithms and relentless pursuit of profit, substantially contributed to the serious human right violations against the Rohingya,” says the report. A spokesperson for Meta declined to respond to questions regarding the Amnesty report. In a statement, the company said it “stands in solidarity with the international community and supports efforts to hold the Tatmadaw accountable for its crimes against the Rohingya people.”

“Our safety and integrity work in Myanmar remains guided by feedback from local civil society organizations and international institutions, including the U.N. Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar; the Human Rights Impact Assessment we commissioned in 2018; as well as our ongoing human rights risk management,” Rafael Frankel, director of public policy for emerging markets, Meta Asia-Pacific, said in a statement.

Like Sawyeddollah, who is quoted in the Amnesty report and spoke with the AP on Tuesday, most of the people who fled Myanmar — about 80% of the Rohingya living in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine at the time — are still staying in refugee camps. They are asking Meta for reparations for its role as a genocide victim in the brutal repression of Rohingya Muslims, Myanmar, earlier this year.

Amnesty’s report, out Wednesday, is based on interviews with Rohingya refugees, former Meta staff, academics, activists and others. It also relied upon documents that Frances Haugen, a whistleblower and former Facebook data scientist, disclosed to Congress last January. It noted that Meta has been improving its civil society engagement and certain aspects of its content moderation in Myanmar over the past years, according to digital rights activists. After a violent coup, the platform banned the military of the country from its platform in January 2021,.

But, critics, including some Facebook employees, have long maintained that such an approach will not work. Meta is trying to remove harmful content while its algorithms designed for pushing “engaging” content that’s more likely get people riled up actually work against it.

” These algorithms are dangerous to our human rights. “What happened to the Rohingya? And Facebook’s role is in that particular conflict risks happening again, across many different contexts around the world,” said Pat de Brun (Amnesty researcher and advisor on artificial intelligence and human right).

“The company has shown itself completely unwilling or incapable of resolving the root causes of its human rights impact.”

After the U.N.’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar highlighted the “significant” role Facebook played in the atrocities perpetrated against the Rohingya, Meta admitted in 2018 that “we weren’t doing enough to help prevent our platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence.”

In the following years, the company “touted certain improvements in its community engagement and content moderation practices in Myanmar,” Amnesty said, adding that its report “finds that these measures have proven wholly inadequate.”

In 2020, for instance, three years after the violence in Myanmar killed thousands of Rohingya Muslims and displaced 700,000 more, Facebook investigated how a video by a leading anti-Rohingya hate figure, U Wirathu, was circulating on its site.

The probe revealed that over 70% of the video’s views came from “chaining” — that is, it was suggested to people who played a different video, showing what’s “up next.” The video was not found by Facebook users, but rather had been provided to them by the platform’s algorithms.

Wirathu was banned from Facebook in 2018.

“A well-resourced approach in content moderation would not have been enough to prevent or mitigate these algorithmic harms. According to Amnesty’s report, content moderation does not address the root cause Meta’s algorithmic amplifying of harmful content.

The Rohingya refugee are seeking unspecified damages from Menlo Park’s social media giant, which is based in California, for its role as a facilitator of genocide. Meta, which is the subject of twin lawsuits in the U.S. and the U.K. seeking $150 billion for Rohingya refugees, has so far refused.

“We believe the genocide against Rohingya could only have been possible because of Facebook,” Sawyeddollah stated. “They communicated with one another to spread hatred, and they organized campaigns via Facebook. But Facebook was silent.”

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Amazon to raise average hourly pay by $1 to $19 in October

Amazon to raise average hourly pay by $1 to $19 in October

Amazon announced Wednesday that it will raise its starting pay for frontline workers from $18 up to $19 an hour. This could help it attract more workers in a tight labor market, as the holiday season approaches.

Amazon said that beginning in October, warehouse and transportation workers would earn between $16 and $26 an hour, depending on their position and location in the U.S. The minimum wage at the Seattle-based e-commerce company, which employed roughly 1.5 million frontline workers as of the end of June, will remain $15 an hour.

The pay raise follows an announcement from Amazon that it will hold a Prime-Day like holiday shopping event in October, the first time it is having a major sales drive twice in a year, following its Prime Day deals event in July. Target and Walmart announced last week that they will offer holiday deals and gift returns in October to help cash-strapped customers who plan to shop earlier and spread their holiday spending. The pay bump is being offered by the company amid growing unionization movements in its warehouses. This movement has been fueled by worker complaints about working conditions and pay. Next month, Amazon warehouse workers in upstate New York will vote in a union election following an organizing drive spearheaded by the Amazon Labor Union, the grassroots group of former and current Amazon workers who pulled off a union win at a Staten Island warehouse in April. The union lost another election at a nearby warehouse.

Amazon had increased its hourly average pay to $18 an hr last year. According to Amazon, the new raise will cost them $1 billion over the next year.

Separately, the company said its pay access program, Anytime Pay, will also change to allow employees to get paid more than once or twice a month.

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Smith & Wesson sued over link to July 4 parade mass shooting

Smith & Wesson sued over link to July 4 parade mass shooting

CHICAGO — Survivors of the mass shooting at a suburban Chicago Independence Day parade and family members of those killed filed 11 lawsuits Wednesday against the manufacturer of the rifle used in the attack, accusing gun-maker Smith & Wesson of illegally targeting its ads at young men at risk of committing mass violence. The latest effort by dozens victims of the Highland Park shooting and anti-gun violence advocates, as well as private attorneys, to hold gun manufacturers responsible for a mass murder despite broad protections provided for the industry under federal law.

The group’s strategy is similar to the one used by the relatives of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shootings. They reached a $73million settlement in February with the firearms company that manufactured the weapon used in that attack. That was believed to be the largest payment by a gun-maker related to a mass killing and hinged on the families’ accusation that Remington violated Connecticut consumer protection law by marketing its AR-15-style weapons to young men already at risk of committing violence.

” The shooter didn’t act alone,” stated Alla Lefkowitz (senior director of affirmative litigation at Everytown gun safety organization). “What happened in Highland Park on July 4 was the result of deliberate choices made by certain members of the industry.”

Liz Turnipseed is among the Highland Park survivors alleging that the gun manufacturer, the accused shooter, his father and two gun sellers bear some responsibility for the attack.

Turnipseed stated that she was enjoying the parade with her husband, 3-year-old daughter and pointing out instruments in high school band while talking to The Associated Press this week. Turnipseed was shot in the pelvis, and she remembers falling to the ground. She also recalls seeing her 3-year-old daughter’s stroller lying on its side and asking her husband for help to get her to safety.

Turnipseed said she required weeks of intense wound care, expects to need a cane for some time and is in therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. She also was forced to delay an embryo transfer scheduled for July 12; her doctors now fear it’s dangerous for her to become pregnant.

Despite her emotional and physical pain, the Highland Park resident was determined to speak out for those who were not able to survive mass shootings in America, especially the 19 teachers and children who were killed at an elementary school in Uvalde in Texas in May.

” I had the unique opportunity to put a face on what guns do to people, and… give it an honest perspective,” Turnipseed stated. Because there aren’t many of us who survive. Because they’re that deadly.”

Representatives for Smith & Wesson, based in Springfield, Massachusetts, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Wednesday.

Survivors of the attack and family members of those killed spoke to reporters Wednesday, highlighting the dramatic changes in their lives since the shooting and repeatedly blamed the firearms producer for enabling the shooter.

Family members for three of the seven Highland Park victims — Stephen Straus and Jackie Sundheim — are suing. Eduardo Uvaldo’s family retained the Sandy Hook attorneys.

” The pain, loss, and grief we must endure are never ending,” Jon Straus (one of Straus’ sons) said at an event that announced the suits. “This time it wasn’t our family. Next time, it could be yours.”

Prosecutors have said Robert E. Crimo III admitted to the parade killings once police arrested him hours after the attack. Authorities have identified Smith & Wesson’s M&P semiautomatic rifle (which he used to fire at the parade) as the weapon he used.

Turnipseed argues that Smith & Wesson ads mimic the shooter’s-eye view popularized by video games, use misleading imagery of apparent military or law enforcement personnel and emphasize the M&P 15’s combat features — all with a dangerous appeal to “impulsive young men with hero complexes and/or militaristic delusions.”

Advertising text also billed the rifle as “capable of handling as many rounds as you are” and providing “pure adrenaline.” One ad shows the M&P 15 on a dark background above the phrase “kick brass” in a bold red font and capital letters. Her attorneys claim that Smith & Wesson knowingly promoted, advertised, and promoted their Rifle to civilians for illegal reasons, including carrying out offensive, military-style combat missions against perceived enemies.”

Ari Scharg is an attorney at the Chicago-based Edelson PC who represents Turnipseed. She said that lawyers for Highland Park victims are determined get their cases before a juror.

“There’s certainly a long path, and it’s an uphill battle,” Scharg said. “But I think this is the most important case in the country being litigated right now … and we’re going to see it through to the end.”

The victims also are suing the accused gunman for assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress and his father, Robert Crimo Jr., for negligence, particularly for sponsoring his son’s application for a state firearms license in 2019 within months of the 19-year-old attempting to kill himself and threatening family members. Two gun sellers are charged with violating assault weapons bans in Highland Park, and the home of the accused gunman, Highwood.

Crimo II faces 21 charges of first-degree murder, 48 attempts to murder and 48 aggravated battery. These are the cases of those who were killed or injured during the Highland Park parade.

Lake County Prosecutors have not filed any criminal charges against his dad and have repeatedly declined the possibility that Crimo Jr. might be charged in future.

A Crimo Jr. attorney did not respond to a Wednesday comment request. Crimo III is represented in Lake County by the Lake County Public Defender’s Office, which does not comment about ongoing cases.

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What’s in Democrats’ big bill? Climate, health care, savings

What’s in Democrats’ big bill? Climate, health care, savings

WASHINGTON — Not as robust as the proposal President Joe Biden once envisioned to rebuild America’s public infrastructure and family support systems, the Democrats’ compromise of health care, climate change and deficit-reduction strategies is still a substantial undertaking.

The estimated $740 billion package — passed Sunday by the Senate and heading to the House — is full of party priorities. Those include capping prescription drug costs at $2,000 out of pocket for seniors, helping Americans pay for private health insurance and what Democrats are calling the most substantial investment in history to fight climate change, some $375 billion over the decade.

Almost half the money raised, $300 billion, will go toward paying down federal deficits.

It’s all paid for largely with new corporate taxes, including a 15% minimum tax on big corporations to ensure they don’t skip out on paying any taxes at all, as well as projected federal savings from lower Medicare drug costs.

Called the “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022,” it’s not at all clear the 755-page bill will substantially ease inflationary pressures, though millions of Americans are expected to see some relief in health care and other costs.

Votes fell strictly along party lines in the 50-50 Senate, with all Democrats in favor, all Republicans opposed, and Vice President Kamala Harris providing a tie-breaking vote for 51-50 passage. The House is expected to vote by Friday.

A look at what’s in and out of the final package:


Launching a long-sought goal, the bill would allow the Medicare program to negotiate prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, saving the federal government some $288 billion over the 10-year budget window.

Those new revenues would be put back into lower costs for seniors on medications, including a $2,000 out-of-pocket cap for older adults buying prescriptions from pharmacies.

The money would also be used to provide free vaccinations for seniors, who now are among the few not guaranteed free access, according to a summary document.

Seniors would also have insulin prices capped at $35 a dose. A provision to extend that price cap on insulin to Americans with private health insurances was out of line with Senate budget rules and Republicans stripped it from the final bill.


The bill would extend the subsidies provided during the COVID-19 pandemic to help some Americans who buy health insurance on their own.

Under earlier pandemic relief, the extra help was set to expire this year. But the bill would allow the assistance to keep going for three more years, lowering insurance premiums for people who are purchasing their own health care policies.


The bill would invest nearly $375 billion over the decade in climate change-fighting strategies including investments in renewable energy production and tax rebates for consumers to buy new or used electric vehicles.

It’s broken down to include $60 billion for a clean energy manufacturing tax credit and $30 billion for a production tax credit for wind and solar, seen as ways to boost and support the industries that can help curb the country’s dependence on fossil fuels. The bill also gives tax credits for nuclear power and carbon capture technology that oil companies such as Exxon Mobil have invested millions of dollars to advance.

The bill would impose a new fee on excess methane emissions from oil and gas drilling while giving fossil fuel companies access to more leases on federal lands and waters.

A late addition pushed by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and other Democrats in Arizona, Nevada and Colorado would designate $4 billion to combat a mega-drought in the West, including conservation efforts in the Colorado River Basin, which nearly 40 million Americans rely on for drinking water.

For consumers, there are tax breaks as incentives to go green. One is a 10-year consumer tax credit for renewable energy investments in wind and solar. There are tax breaks for buying electric vehicles, including a $4,000 tax credit for purchase of used electric vehicles and $7,500 for new ones.

In all, Democrats believe the strategy could put the country on a path to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030, and “would represent the single biggest climate investment in U.S. history, by far.”


The biggest revenue-raiser in the bill is a new 15% minimum tax on corporations that earn more than $1 billion in annual profits.

It’s a way to clamp down on some 200 U.S. companies that avoid paying the standard 21% corporate tax rate, including some that end up paying no taxes at all.

The new corporate minimum tax would kick in after the 2022 tax year and raise more than $258 billion over the decade.

The revenue would have been higher, but Sinema insisted on one change to the 15% corporate minimum, allowing a depreciation deduction used by manufacturing industries. That shaves about $55 billion off the total revenue.

To win over Sinema, Democrats dropped plans to close a tax loophole long enjoyed by wealthier Americans — so-called carried interest, which under current law taxes wealthy hedge fund managers and others at a 20% rate.

The left has for years sought to boost the carried interest tax rate, hiked to 37% in the original bill, more in line with upper-income earners. Sinema wouldn’t allow it.

Keeping the tax break for the wealthy deprives the party of $14 billion in revenue they were counting on to help pay for the package.

In its place, Democrats, with Sinema’s nod, will impose a 1% excise tax on stock buybacks, raising some $74 billion over the decade.

Money is also raised by boosting the IRS to go after tax cheats. The bill proposes an $80 billion investment in taxpayer services, enforcement and modernization, which is projected to raise $203 billion in new revenue — a net gain of $124 billion over the decade.

The bill sticks with Biden’s original pledge not to raise taxes on families or businesses making less than $400,000 a year.

The lower drug prices for seniors are paid for with savings from Medicare’s negotiations with the drug companies.


With some $740 billion in new revenue and around $440 billion in new investments, the bill promises to put the difference of about $300 billion toward deficit reduction.

Federal deficits spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic when federal spending soared and tax revenues fell as the nation’s economy churned through shutdowns, closed offices and other massive changes.

The nation has seen deficits rise and fall in recent years. But overall federal budgeting is on an unsustainable path, according to the Congressional Budget Office, which put out a new report this week on long-term projections.


This latest package emerged suddenly at the end of July after 18 months of start-stop negotiations leaves behind many of Biden’s more ambitious goals.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., struck a deal with Sen. Joe Manchin to revive Biden’s package, slimming it down to bring the West Virginia Democrat back to the negotiating table. Next, they drew Sinema, the remaining party holdout, with additional changes.

The package remains robust, by typical standards, but nowhere near the sweeping Build Back Better program Biden once envisioned.

While Congress did pass a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill for highways, broadband and other investments that Biden signed into law last year, the president’s and the party’s other key priorities have slipped away.

Among them is a continuation of a $300 monthly child tax credit that was sending money directly to families during the pandemic and is believed to have widely reduced child poverty.

Also gone, for now, are plans for free pre-kindergarten and community college, as well as the nation’s first paid family leave program that would have provided up to $4,000 a month for births, deaths and other pivotal needs.


Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

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Senate Democrats approve big Biden deal; House to vote next

Senate Democrats approve big Biden deal; House to vote next

WASHINGTON — Democrats pushed their election-year economic package to Senate passage Sunday, a hard-fought compromise less ambitious than President Joe Biden’s original domestic vision but one that still meets deep-rooted party goals of slowing global warming, moderating pharmaceutical costs and taxing immense corporations.

The estimated $740 billion package heads next to the House, where lawmakers are poised to deliver on Biden’s priorities, a stunning turnaround of what had seemed a lost and doomed effort that suddenly roared back to political life. Cheers broke out as Senate Democrats held united, 51-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote after an all-night session.

“Today, Senate Democrats sided with American families over special interests,” President Joe Biden said in a statement from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. “I ran for President promising to make government work for working families again, and that is what this bill does — period.”

Biden, who had his share of long nights during his three decades as a senator, called into the Senate cloakroom during the vote on speakerphone to personally thank the staff for their hard work.

The president urged the House to pass the bill as soon as possible. The House seemed likely to provide final congressional approval when it returns briefly from summer recess on Friday.

“It’s been a long, tough and winding road, but at last, at last we have arrived,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., ahead of final votes.

“The Senate is making history. I am confident the Inflation Reduction Act will endure as one of the defining legislative measures of the 21st century.”

Senators engaged in a round-the-clock marathon of voting that began Saturday and stretched late into Sunday afternoon. Democrats swatted down some three dozen Republican amendments designed to torpedo the legislation. Confronting unanimous GOP opposition, Democratic unity in the 50-50 chamber held, keeping the party on track for a morale-boosting victory three months from elections when congressional control is at stake.

The bill ran into trouble midday over objections to the new 15% corporate minimum tax that private equity firms and other industries disliked, forcing last-minute changes.

Despite the momentary setback, the “Inflation Reduction Act” gives Democrats a campaign-season showcase for action on coveted goals. It includes the largest-ever federal effort on climate change — close to $400 billion — caps out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors on Medicare to $2,000 a year and extends expiring subsidies that help 13 million people afford health insurance. By raising corporate taxes, the whole package is paid for, with some $300 billion extra revenue for deficit reduction.

Barely more than one-tenth the size of Biden’s initial 10-year, $3.5 trillion Build Back Better initiative, the new package abandons earlier proposals for universal preschool, paid family leave and expanded child care aid. That plan collapsed after conservative Sen. Joe. Manchin, D-W.Va., opposed it, saying it was too costly and would fuel inflation.

Nonpartisan analysts have said the “Inflation Reduction Act” would have a minor effect on surging consumer prices.

Republicans said the new measure would undermine an economy that policymakers are struggling to keep from plummeting into recession. They said the bill’s business taxes would hurt job creation and force prices skyward, making it harder for people to cope with the nation’s worst inflation since the 1980s.

“Democrats have already robbed American families once through inflation, and now their solution is to rob American families a second time,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., argued.

In an ordeal imposed on all budget bills like this one, the Senate had to endure an overnight “vote-a-rama” of rapid-fire amendments. Each tested Democrats’ ability to hold together a compromise negotiated by Schumer, progressives, Manchin and the inscrutable centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

Progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., criticized the bill’s shortcomings and offered amendments to further expand the legislation’s health benefits, but those efforts were defeated. Republicans forced their own votes designed to make Democrats look soft on U.S.-Mexico border security and gasoline and energy costs, and like bullies for wanting to strengthen IRS tax law enforcement.

Before debate began, the bill’s prescription drug price curbs were diluted by the Senate’s nonpartisan parliamentarian. Elizabeth MacDonough, who referees questions about the chamber’s procedures, said a provision should fall that would impose costly penalties on drug makers whose price increases for private insurers exceed inflation.

It was the bill’s chief protection for the 180 million people with private health coverage they get through work or purchase themselves. Under special procedures that will let Democrats pass their bill by simple majority without the usual 60-vote margin, its provisions must be focused more on dollar-and-cents budget numbers than policy changes.

But the thrust of their pharmaceutical price language remained. That included letting Medicare negotiate what it pays for drugs for its 64 million elderly recipients, penalizing manufacturers for exceeding inflation for pharmaceuticals sold to Medicare and limiting beneficiaries out-of-pocket drug costs to $2,000 annually.

The bill also caps Medicare patients’ costs for insulin, the expensive diabetes medication, at $35 monthly. Democrats wanted to extend the $35 cap to private insurers but it ran afoul of Senate rules. Most Republicans voted to strip it from the package, though in a sign of the political potency of health costs seven GOP senators joined Democrats trying to preserve it.

The measure’s final costs were being recalculated to reflect late changes, but overall it would raise more than $700 billion over a decade. The money would come from a 15% minimum tax on a handful of corporations with yearly profits above $1 billion, a 1% tax on companies that repurchase their own stock, bolstered IRS tax collections and government savings from lower drug costs.

Sinema forced Democrats to drop a plan to prevent wealthy hedge fund managers from paying less than individual income tax rates for their earnings. She also joined with other Western senators to win $4 billion to combat the region’s drought.

Several Democratic senators joined the GOP-led effort to exclude some firms from the new corporate minimum tax.

The package keeps to Biden’s pledge not to raise taxes on those earning less than $400,000 a year.

It was on the energy and environment side that compromise was most evident between progressives and Manchin, a champion of fossil fuels and his state’s coal industry.

Clean energy would be fostered with tax credits for buying electric vehicles and manufacturing solar panels and wind turbines. There would be home energy rebates, funds for constructing factories building clean energy technology and money to promote climate-friendly farm practices and reduce pollution in minority communities.

Manchin won billions to help power plants lower carbon emissions plus language requiring more government auctions for oil drilling on federal land and waters. Party leaders also promised to push separate legislation this fall to accelerate permits for energy projects, which Manchin wants to include a nearly completed natural gas pipeline in his state.


Associated Press writer Chris Megerian in Rehoboth, Del., contributed to this report.

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