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    Senators and Biden Aides Struggle to Save Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal

    A looming deadline and a last-minute need for a new revenue source are complicating a deal that was announced nearly a month ago.WASHINGTON — Congressional negotiators and the Biden administration tried on Monday to salvage a nearly $600 billion bipartisan agreement to invest in roads, water pipes and other physical infrastructure, after Republicans rejected a key component to pay for the plan and resisted Democratic plans for an initial procedural vote on Wednesday.Senators and administration officials are still working to hammer out the details of the deal, including how to ensure that a plan to finance it will secure 60 votes for Senate passage. White House officials expressed confidence on Monday that the agreement could be finalized. But its fate was uncertain.Mr. Biden is pushing his economic agenda in parts. The bipartisan agreement is meant to be Step 1 — with a much larger, Democratic bill to follow. But weeks after their announcement of a deal, the bipartisan group has not released legislative text or received external confirmation that it is fully financed. A top negotiator said over the weekend that the group jettisoned a key plan included in the deal that would have raised revenue by giving the I.R.S. more power to catch tax cheats.Republicans have come under pressure to oppose that funding method from conservative anti-tax groups, who say it would empower auditors to harass business owners and political targets. Democrats say the increased enforcement would target large corporations and people who earn more than $400,000 — and note that improved tax enforcement has been a bipartisan goal of administrations dating back decades.Still, on Monday evening Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, set up a procedural vote to begin moving toward debate on the bipartisan deal, even without the text of the plan, on Wednesday. Mr. Schumer said that if senators agreed to consider infrastructure legislation, he would move to bring up either the bipartisan deal, should one materialize this week, or a series of individual infrastructure bills that have been approved on a bipartisan basis by Senate committees.The plan was an effort to force negotiators to move toward finalizing details and a critical mass of Republicans to commit to advancing the deal, with Democrats eager to advance the legislation before the Senate leaves for its August recess. Mr. Schumer said he had support from the five main Democratic negotiators involved in talks.“It is not a deadline to determine every final detail of the bill,” he said. A vote of support on Wednesday, he added, would signal that “the Senate is ready to begin debating and amending a bipartisan infrastructure bill.”On Monday, Mr. Biden pushed for passage of the agreement during remarks at the White House, where he promoted his administration’s economic progress. But administration officials made clear later in the day that their patience for the finalization of the bipartisan agreement was running thin.“We believe it’s time to move forward with this vote — with congressional action,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said at a news briefing. Asked what the administration’s backup plan was if the plan failed to clear the test vote, Ms. Psaki demurred.“We’re not quite there yet,” she said. “There is a lot of good work that’s happened. Two days is a lifetime in Washington, so I don’t think we’re going to make predictions of the death of the infrastructure package.”Republican leaders said they wanted to see legislative text before voting on a deal.“We need to see the bill before voting to go to it. I think that’s pretty easily understood,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, told reporters on Monday. “I think we need to see the bill before we decide whether or not to vote for it.”Democrats have argued that negotiators have had nearly a month to iron out the details and that the Senate has previously taken procedural votes without finalized bill text — including when Mr. McConnell led his caucus in a failed attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act in 2017.The biggest sticking point remains how to pay for the plan. The I.R.S. plan was estimated to bring in more than $100 billion in new tax revenue over a decade.It is unclear what the group will turn to as a substitute. White House officials and the 10 core Senate negotiators — five Democrats and five Republicans — were working on Monday to find a new revenue source.Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio and a key negotiator, floated the prospect on Sunday of undoing a Trump-era rule that changes the way drug companies can offer discounts to health plans for Medicare patients as an option. The Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2019 that it would cost $177 billion over 10 years, and the rule has not yet been implemented.Ms. Psaki told reporters that the administration is “open to alternatives, very open to alternatives from this end.”“But we’ll let those conversations happen privately and be supportive of them from our end,” she said.Senators were expected to virtually meet Monday evening as they continued to haggle over the details. The group met for more than two hours Sunday evening.“I think we need to see the bill before we decide whether or not to vote for it,” Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, told reporters on Monday.Stefani Reynolds for The New York TimesMr. Biden continued to push on Monday for legislative action, casting his economic policies, along with vaccination efforts, as a critical driver of accelerating growth. He promised that his remaining agenda items would help Americans work more and earn more money while restraining price increases, pushing back on a critique from Republicans.Administration officials and Mr. Biden say the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion plan — the larger bill that would follow the bipartisan infrastructure bill — will dampen price pressures by increasing productivity. The president said the proposals would free up Americans to work more through subsidized child care, national paid leave and other measures, as well as improve the efficiency of the economy.The spending “won’t increase inflation,” Mr. Biden said. “It will take the pressure off inflation.”He also said he had faith in the independent Federal Reserve and its chair, Jerome H. Powell, to manage the situation. The Fed is responsible for maintaining both price stability and maximum employment.“As I made clear to Chairman Powell of the Federal Reserve when we met recently, the Fed is independent. It should take whatever steps it deems necessary to support a strong, durable economic recovery,” Mr. Biden said. “But whatever different views some might have on current price increases, we should be united on one thing: passage of the bipartisan infrastructure framework, which we shook hands on — we shook hands on.”Mr. Biden used more of the speech to push for the $3.5 trillion plan, which Democrats aim to pursue without Republican support through a process known as budget reconciliation, which bypasses a Senate filibuster.In describing the varied social and environmental initiatives he hopes to include in the plan, the president repeatedly stressed the need for government action as a means to raising living standards and creating jobs.That plan contains the bulk of Mr. Biden’s $4 trillion economic agenda that is not included in the bipartisan bill, like expanding educational access, building more affordable and energy-efficient housing, incentivizing low-carbon energy through tax credits and a wide range of other social programs meant to invest in workers.Republicans have also amplified concerns about inflation since Democrats pushed through a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill in March. In a letter to his conference this week, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, said that “prices on everything from gas to groceries are skyrocketing,” and he vowed that “we will continue to hold Democrats to account for their reckless handling of the economy.”Mr. Biden’s economic team has said repeatedly that inflation increases are largely a product of the pandemic and will fade in the months or years to come.Mr. Biden dismissed a question from a reporter after the speech about the potential for unchecked inflation, which he said no serious economist foresaw.Margot Sanger-Katz More

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    Yellen Says China Trade Deal Has ‘Hurt American Consumers’

    The Treasury secretary said an agreement made by the Trump administration, which remains under review, had failed to address fundamental problems between the two countries.WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has cast doubt on the merits of the trade agreement between the United States and China, arguing that it has failed to address the most pressing disputes between the world’s two largest economies and warning that the tariffs that remain in place have harmed American consumers.Ms. Yellen’s comments, in an interview with The New York Times this week, come as the Biden administration is seven months into an extensive review of America’s economic relationship with China. The review must answer the central question of what to do about the deal that former President Donald J. Trump signed in early 2020 that included Chinese commitments to buy American products and change its trade practices.Tariffs that remain on $360 billion of Chinese imports are hanging in the balance, and the Biden administration has said little about the deal’s fate. Trump administration officials tried to create tariffs that would shelter key American industries like car making and aircraft manufacturing from what they described as subsidized Chinese exports.But Ms. Yellen questioned whether the tariffs had been well designed. “My own personal view is that tariffs were not put in place on China in a way that was very thoughtful with respect to where there are problems and what is the U.S. interest,” she said at the conclusion of a weeklong trip to Europe.President Biden has not moved to roll back the tariffs, but Ms. Yellen suggested that they were not helping the economy.“Tariffs are taxes on consumers. In some cases it seems to me what we did hurt American consumers, and the type of deal that the prior administration negotiated really didn’t address in many ways the fundamental problems we have with China,” she said.But reaching any new deal could be hard given rising tensions between the two countries on other issues. The Biden administration warned U.S. businesses in Hong Kong on Friday about the risks of doing business there, including the possibility of electronic surveillance and the surrender of customer data to the authorities.Chinese officials would welcome any unilateral American move to dismantle tariffs, according to two people involved in Chinese policymaking. But China is not willing to halt its broad industrial subsidies in exchange for a tariff deal, they said.Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, has sought technological self-reliance for his country and the creation of millions of well-paid jobs through government assistance to Chinese manufacturers of electric cars, commercial aircraft, semiconductors and other products.It might be possible to make some adjustments at the margins of these policies, but China is not willing to abandon its ambitions, said both people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.Academic experts in China share the government’s skepticism that any quick deal can be achieved.“Even if we go back to the negotiating table, it will be tough to reach an agreement,” said George Yu, a trade economist at Renmin University in Beijing.The Trump administration also sought, without success, to persuade Chinese officials to abandon heavy subsidies for high-tech industries. Robert E. Lighthizer, Mr. Trump’s trade representative, ended up imposing tariffs aimed at preventing subsidized Chinese companies from driving American companies out of business.Getting China to Buy American MadeThe United States and China named last year’s pact the Phase 1 agreement, and promised to negotiate a second phase. But that never happened.The tariffs have played a particularly large role in the auto industry.In response to Mr. Trump’s 25 percent tariff on imported gasoline-powered and electric cars from China, American automakers like Ford Motor have abandoned plans to import inexpensive cars from their Chinese factories. Chinese automakers like Guangzhou Auto have also shelved plans to enter the American market.Chinese car exports have surged this spring as new factories come into production, many of them built with extensive subsidies. But the inexpensive Chinese cars have mainly gone elsewhere in Asia and to Europe, even as car prices in the United States have climbed.Ms. Yellen did not specifically address automotive tariffs.The first phase of the trade deal included a requirement for a high-level review this summer. The agreement requires China to stop forcing foreign firms to transfer their technology to Chinese companies doing business there.Phase 1 also included a Chinese pledge to buy an additional $200 billion of American goods and services through the end of this year. The agreement was intended to make sure that China did not retaliate for American tariffs by discouraging Chinese companies from buying American goods.Although China has resumed large-scale purchases of U.S. goods since the countries’ trade war, neither the overall value of these purchases nor the composition of purchases has met the Trump administration’s hopes.China fell short of its commitments by 40 percent last year and is off by more than 30 percent so far this year, said Chad P. Bown of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, who has been tracking the purchases. The pace of agricultural purchases has picked up, but China is not buying enough cars, airplanes or other products made in the United States to meet its obligations.China also pledged in the Phase 1 agreement that its purchases of American goods would continue rising from 2022 through 2025.Biden’s Blended ApproachThe Biden administration is cognizant that all of these purchase requirements have frustrated American allies who feel that the agreement has cost them sales.One reason China is not eager to reopen potentially acrimonious negotiations over American tariffs and Chinese subsidies is that the Phase 1 agreement has transformed trade relations between the two countries, said the people familiar with Chinese economic policymaking. Trade has gone from being one of their biggest sources of friction to becoming one of the least contentious areas of their relationship.Under Mr. Biden, the United States has maintained pressure on China and in some respects stepped it up, focusing on concerns about its humanitarian record that Mr. Trump usually overlooked.In March, the Biden administration placed sanctions on top Chinese officials as part of an effort with Britain, Canada and the European Union to punish Beijing for human rights abuses against the largely Muslim Uyghur minority group.In June, the White House took steps to crack down on forced labor in the supply chain for solar panels in the Chinese region of Xinjiang, including a ban on imports from a silicon producer there. It also set aside a dispute with Europe over aircraft subsidies for Boeing and Airbus in June so that the United States could more effectively corral allies to counter China’s ambitions to dominate key industries.China has also been accelerating the pace of “decoupling” from the United States, directing its technology companies to avoid initial public offerings in the United States and list in Hong Kong instead. That has been a big blow to Wall Street firms that have reaped large advisory fees from Chinese companies listing their shares in the United States.Katherine Tai, the U.S. trade representative, has said little so far about the Phase 1 agreement, preferring to emphasize that the administration is still developing its policy toward China.Pete Marovich for The New York TimesThe Treasury Department, with its close ties to Wall Street, has long been much more wary of antagonizing China than the Office of the United States Trade Representative, a separate cabinet agency that oversees trade policy. Katherine Tai, Mr. Biden’s trade representative, has said little so far about the Phase 1 agreement, preferring to emphasize instead that the administration is still developing its policy toward China.Ms. Yellen’s official meetings with her Chinese counterparts have so far been sparse. The Treasury Department announced last month that she had held a virtual call with Liu He, China’s vice premier. They discussed the economic recovery and areas of cooperation, and Ms. Yellen raised concerns about China’s human rights record.She expressed those concerns publicly during a speech in Brussels this week, telling European finance ministers that they should work together to counter “China’s unfair economic practices, malign behavior and human rights abuses.”The comment made waves within the Chinese government. A spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zhao Lijian, said that “China categorically rejects” Ms. Yellen’s remarks and described them as a smear.The Biden administration has won praise for maintaining a hawkish stance toward China without the provocative approach of the Trump administration, which destabilized the global economy with tariffs and a trade war.“Joe Biden has done what he said he would do — he has collected the allies and got them aligned in a similar manner on similar issues in a way that greatly strengthens America’s position vis a vis China,” said Craig Allen, president of the US-China Business Council.Michael Pillsbury, the Hudson Institute scholar who was one of Mr. Trump’s top China advisers, said the Biden administration’s approach to China was shaping up to be tougher and “more effective” than Mr. Trump’s because Mr. Biden’s aides were united in their view that the United States cannot successfully confront China alone.The big question is what comes next.Mr. Bown, of the Peterson Institute, said the Biden administration’s review of the China trade policy was taking so long most likely because the Trump administration had made so many sweeping and sometimes conflicting actions that it was a complicated portfolio to inherit. There are also complex political calculations to be made when it comes to removing the tariffs.“It’s politically toxic to be seen to be weak on China, so you’re going to need to have your ducks in a row in terms of your economic arguments,” Mr. Bown said.Despite the recent animosity, the United States was able to help coax China into joining the global tax agreement that Ms. Yellen has been helping to broker. The Biden administration believes that China wants to be part of the multilateral system and that fully severing ties between the two countries would not be healthy for the global economy.“I think we should maintain economic integration in terms of trade and capital flows and technology where we can,” Ms. Yellen said, adding that the relationship must balance security requirements. “Clearly, national security considerations have to be very carefully evaluated and we may have to take actions where, when it comes to Chinese investment in the United States or other supply chain issues, where we really see a national security need.”Alan Rappeport reported from Washington, and Keith Bradsher from Beijing. More

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    Building Solar Farms May Not Build the Middle Class

    To hear Democrats tell it, a green job is supposed to be a good job — and not just good for the planet.The Green New Deal, first introduced in 2019, sought to “create millions of good, high-wage jobs.” And in March, when President Biden unveiled his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, he emphasized the “good-paying” union jobs it would produce while reining in climate change.“My American Jobs Plan will put hundreds of thousands of people to work,” Mr. Biden said, “paying the same exact rate that a union man or woman would get.”But on its current trajectory, the green economy is shaping up to look less like the industrial workplace that lifted workers into the middle class in the 20th century than something more akin to an Amazon warehouse or a fleet of Uber drivers: grueling work schedules, few unions, middling wages and limited benefits.Kellogg Dipzinski has seen this up close, at Assembly Solar, a nearly 2,000-acre solar farm under construction near Flint, Mich.“Hey I see your ads for help,” Mr. Dipzinski, an organizer with the local electrical workers union, texted the site’s project manager in May. “We have manpower. I’ll be out that way Friday.”“Hahahahaha …. yes — help needed on unskilled low wage workers,” was the response. “Competing with our federal government for unemployment is tough.”For workers used to the pay standards of traditional energy industries, such declarations may be jarring. Building an electricity plant powered by fossil fuels usually requires hundreds of electricians, pipe fitters, millwrights and boilermakers who typically earn more than $100,000 a year in wages and benefits when they are unionized.But on solar farms, workers are often nonunion construction laborers who earn an hourly wage in the upper teens with modest benefits — even as the projects are backed by some of the largest investment firms in the world. In the case of Assembly Solar, the backer is D.E. Shaw, with more than $50 billion in assets under management, whose renewable energy arm owns and will operate the plant.While Mr. Biden has proposed higher wage floors for such work, the Senate prospects for this approach are murky. And absent such protections — or even with them — there’s a nagging concern among worker advocates that the shift to green jobs may reinforce inequality rather than alleviate it.“The clean tech industry is incredibly anti-union,” said Jim Harrison, the director of renewable energy for the Utility Workers Union of America. “It’s a lot of transient work, work that is marginal, precarious and very difficult to be able to organize.”The Lessons of 2009Since 2000, the United States has lost about two million private-sector union jobs, which pay above-average wages. To help revive such “high-quality middle-class” employment, as Mr. Biden refers to it, he has proposed federal subsidies to plug abandoned oil and gas wells, build electric vehicles and charging stations and speed the transition to renewable energy.Industry studies, including one cited by the White House, suggest that vastly increasing the number of wind and solar farms could produce over half a million jobs a year over the next decade — primarily in construction and manufacturing.David Popp, an economist at Syracuse University, said those job estimates were roughly in line with his study of the green jobs created by the Recovery Act of 2009, but with two caveats: First, the green jobs created then coincided with a loss of jobs elsewhere, including high-paying, unionized industrial jobs. And the green jobs did not appear to raise the wages of workers who filled them.The effect of Mr. Biden’s plan, which would go further in displacing well-paid workers in fossil-fuel-related industries, could be similarly disappointing.In the energy industry, it takes far more people to operate a coal-powered electricity plant than it takes to operate a wind farm. Many solar farms often make do without a single worker on site.In 2023, a coal- and gas-powered plant called D.E. Karn, about an hour away from the Assembly Solar site in Michigan, is scheduled to shut down. The plant’s 130 maintenance and operations workers, who are represented by the Utility Workers Union of America and whose wages begin around $40 an hour plus benefits, are guaranteed jobs at the same wage within 60 miles. But the union, which has lost nearly 15 percent of the 50,000 members nationally that it had five years ago, says many will have to take less appealing jobs. The utility, Consumers Energy, concedes that it doesn’t have nearly enough renewable energy jobs to absorb all the workers.Joe Duvall, the local union president at the D.E. Karn generating complex in Essexville, Mich. The plant, about an hour away from the Assembly Solar site, is scheduled to go offline in 2023.Erin Schaff/The New York Times“A handful will retire,” said Joe Duvall, the local union president. “The younger ones I think have been searching for what they’d like to do outside of Karn.”While some of the new green construction jobs, such as building new power lines, may pay well, many will pay less than traditional energy industry construction jobs. The construction of a new fossil fuel plant in Michigan employs hundreds of skilled tradespeople who typically make at least $60 an hour in wages and benefits, said Mike Barnwell, the head of the carpenters union in the state.By contrast, about two-thirds of the roughly 250 workers employed on a typical utility-scale solar project are lower-skilled, according to Anthony Prisco, the head of the renewable energy practice for the staffing firm Aerotek. Mr. Prisco said his company pays “around $20” per hour for these positions, depending on the market, and that they are generally nonunion.Mr. Biden has proposed that clean energy projects, which are subsidized by federal tax credits, pay construction workers so-called prevailing wages — a level set by the government in each locality. A few states, most prominently New York, have enacted similar mandates.But it’s not clear that the Senate Democrats will be able to enact a prevailing wage mandate over Republican opposition. And the experience of the Recovery Act, which also required prevailing wages, suggests that such requirements are less effective at raising wages than union representation. Union officials also say that much of the difference in compensation arises from benefits rather than pay.A Different Kind of OwnerUnion officials concede that some tasks, like lifting solar panels onto racks, don’t necessarily require a skilled trades worker. But they say that even these tasks should be directly supervised by tradespeople, and that many others must be performed by tradespeople to ensure safety and quality. “If you hire people off the street at $15 per hour, they’re not skilled and they get injuries,” Mr. Barnwell said. “We would never let a bunch of assemblers work together alone.”One potentially dangerous job is wiring the hundreds or thousands of connections on a typical project — from solar panels to boxes that combine their energy to the inverters and transformers that make the electricity compatible with the rest of the grid.Mr. Barnwell’s union has developed a contract that would employ far more skilled workers than the industry norm so that two-thirds of the workers on a project are tradespeople or apprentices. To be more competitive with nonunion employers, the contract offers tradespeople only $18 an hour in benefits, roughly half the usual amount, and a wage of slightly under $30 an hour. Apprentices earn 60 to 95 percent of that wage plus benefits, depending on experience.So far, there have been relatively few takers. A key reason is that while utilities have traditionally built their own coal- and gas-powered plants, they tend to obtain wind and solar energy from other companies through so-called power purchase agreements. That electricity is then sent to customers through the grid just like electricity from any other source.Once construction is completed, many solar farms often operate without a single worker on-site.Erin Schaff/The New York TimesWhen utilities build their own plants, they have little incentive to drive down labor costs because their rate of return is set by regulators — around 10 percent of their initial investment a year, according to securities filings.But when a solar farm is built and owned by another company — typically a green energy upstart, a traditional energy giant or an investment firm like D.E. Shaw, the owner of Assembly Solar in Michigan — that company has every incentive to hold down costs.A lower price helps secure the purchase agreement in the first place. And because the revenue is largely determined by the purchase agreement, a company like D.E. Shaw must keep costs low to have a chance of earning the kind of double-digit returns that a regulated utility earns. Every dollar D.E. Shaw saves on labor is a dollar more for its investors.“For third parties selling power to utilities, they are competing to get the contract,” said Leah Stokes, a political science professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who studies utilities. “And the difference between what they’re paid and what their costs are is profit.”Union Labor, ‘Where Possible’In mid-2019, the electrical workers union in Flint elected a trim and tightly coiled man named Greg Remington as its business manager and de facto leader. Around the same time, Mr. Remington ran into an official with Ranger Power, the company developing the project for D.E. Shaw, at a local planning commission meeting.“He was all smiles — ‘Oh, yeah, we look forward to meeting,’” Mr. Remington said of the official. “But he never returned another phone call. I sent emails and he never got back to me.”Development is the stage of a solar project in which a company buys or leases land, secures permits and negotiates a power purchase agreement with a utility. After that, the developer may cede control of the project to a company that will build, own and operate it.But the two companies often work in tandem, as in the case of D.E. Shaw and Ranger Power, which are joint-venture partners “on certain Midwest projects and assets,” according to a Ranger spokeswoman. D.E. Shaw helps fund Ranger Power’s projects, and its involvement provides the resources and credibility to get projects off the ground.Greg Remington, the business manager at the electrical workers local in Flint, Mich. “A lot of this stuff, you’ve got to strike while the iron is hot,” he said of getting a union foothold in green energy construction projects.Erin Schaff/The New York TimesWhen a lawyer for Ranger Power appeared at a Board of Zoning Appeals hearing in Indiana to help advance a Ranger project there in 2019, he emphasized that “the development backing is from D.E. Shaw Renewable Investments,” adding that “they own and operate 31 wind and solar projects across the nation, and they have over $50 billion in investments.” (The firm’s project portfolio is now much larger.)Still, given the sometimes messy maneuvering that goes into obtaining land and permits, it can be helpful for a prominent firm like D.E. Shaw to stand at arm’s length from the development process.In a 2018 letter to a local building trades council in Southern Illinois, known as the Egyptian Building Trades, a Ranger Power official wrote that a solar project the company was developing in the area was “committed to using the appropriate affiliates of the Egyptian Building Trades, where possible, to provide skilled craftsmen and women to perform the construction of the project.” The letter said any entity that acquired the project would be required to honor the commitment.But the project mostly hired nonunion workers to install solar panels. According to a complaint filed by a local union last fall with the Illinois Commerce Commission, the construction contractor has used workers who are not qualified and not supervised by a qualified person “to perform electrical wiring and connections” and paid them less than the union rate.Prairie State Solar, an entity owned by D.E. Shaw that was created to oversee the project, has denied the claims. Prairie State has hired union tradespeople for a portion of the work. Ranger officials likewise played up the construction jobs that the Assembly Solar project would bring to Michigan. But by the time Mr. Remington got involved, the county had approved the project and he had little leverage to ensure that they were union jobs. “A lot of this stuff, you’ve got to strike while the iron is hot,” he said.County officials say that the project is bringing large benefits — including payments to landowners and tax revenue — and that they have no say over organized labor’s involvement. “I don’t think it’s our responsibility in any way to intervene on behalf of or against a union,” said Greg Brodeur, a county commissioner.‘Like a Moving Assembly Line’On an afternoon in mid-May, several laborers coming off their shift at Assembly Solar said they were grateful for the work, which they said paid $16 an hour and provided health insurance and 401(k) contributions. Two said they had moved to the area from Memphis and two from Mississippi, where they had made $9 to $15 an hour — one as a cook, two in construction and one as a mechanic.Jeff Ordower, an organizer with the Green Workers Alliance, a group that pushes for better conditions on such projects, said that out-of-state workers often found jobs through recruiters, some of whom make promises about pay that don’t materialize, and that many workers ended up in the red before starting. “You don’t get money till you get there,” Mr. Ordower said. “You’re borrowing money from friends and family just to get to the gig.”The Assembly Solar workers described their jobs installing panels: Two workers “throw glass,” meaning they lift a panel onto the rack, while a third “catches it,” meaning he or she guides the panel into place. Another group of workers passes by afterward and secures the panels to the rack.One of the men, who identified himself as Travis Shaw, said he typically worked from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. six days a week, including overtime. Another worker, Quendarious Foster, who had been on the job for two weeks, said the workers motivated themselves by trying to beat their daily record, which stood at 30 “trackers,” each holding several dozen panels.“Solar is like a moving assembly line,” said Mr. Prisco, the staffing agency leader. “Instead of the product moving down the line, the people move. It replicates itself over and over again across 1,000, 2,000 acres.”The solar industry is shaping up to look less like a workers’ paradise than something more akin to an Amazon warehouse: grueling work schedules, middling wages and steady profits for wealthy investors.Erin Schaff/The New York TimesMr. Prisco and other experts said meeting a tight deadline was often critical. In some cases, project owners must pay a penalty to the electricity buyer if there are delays.Elsewhere on the site, Mr. Remington pointed out a worker whom he had seen splicing together cables, but she declined to comment when approached by a reporter. Mr. Remington, who visits frequently and has the moxie of a man who, by his own accounting, has been chased around “by some of the finest sheriffs” in Michigan during hunting season, said he had asked the worker the day before if she was a licensed journeyman or if a journeyman was directly supervising her work, as state regulations require. The worker indicated that neither was the case.A spokeswoman for McCarthy Building Companies, the construction contractor for D.E. Shaw Renewable Investments, said that all electrical apprentices were supervised by licensed journeymen at the state-mandated ratio of three-to-one or better and that all splices involved a licensed electrician.During a brief encounter on site with a reporter, Brian Timmer, the project manager who had exchanged a text with a union organizer, said, “That’s the reason I can’t talk to you” when he was asked about union labor. “It gets a lot of people upset.” (Mr. Remington said he was later told by McCarthy that it might use union electricians for a limited assignment — repairing some defective components.)The county electrical inspector, Dane Deisler, said that McCarthy had produced licenses when he had asked to see them, but that he hadn’t “physically gone through and counted” the licenses and didn’t know how many licensed electricians were on site.Mr. Remington is convinced there are far fewer than a project of this scale requires. “That’s a high-voltage splice box right there,” he said while driving around the perimeter, alluding to potential dangers. He pointed to another box and said, “Tell me if you don’t think that’s electrical work.”Later, explaining why he invested so much effort in a job site where few of his members are likely to be employed, Mr. Remington reflected on the future. “Well, this is going to be the only show in town,” he said. “I want us to have a piece of it.” More

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    Democrats Roll Out $3.5 Trillion Budget to Fulfill Biden’s Broad Agenda

    “We’re going to get a lot done,” President Biden said, as Senate Democrats began drafting the details on a social and environmental bill that could yield transformative change.WASHINGTON — President Biden and congressional Democrats vowed on Wednesday to push through a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint to vastly expand social and environmental programs by extending the reach of education and health care, taxing the rich and tackling the warming of the planet.The legislation is still far from reality, but the details that top Democrats have coalesced around are far-reaching. Prekindergarten would be universal for all 3- and 4-year-olds, two years of community college would be free, utilities would be required to produce a set amount of clean energy, and prescription drug prices would be lowered. Medicare benefits would be expanded, and green cards would be extended to some undocumented immigrants.At a closed-door luncheon in the Capitol, Mr. Biden rallied Democrats and the independents aligned with them to embrace the plan, which would require every single one of their votes to move forward over united Republican opposition. But crucial moderate lawmakers had yet to say whether they would accept the proposal, with a majority of policy details left to resolve.Mr. Biden’s message to the senators on Wednesday, said Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, was “be unified, strong, big and courageous.”Senate Democratic leaders have said they aim to pass both the budget blueprint and a narrower, bipartisan infrastructure plan that is still being written before the chamber leaves for the August recess — a complex and politically tricky task in a 50-50 Senate. The narrowly divided House would also have to pass the budget blueprint before both chambers begin tackling the detailed legislation.Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who must ultimately get the package through the House, embraced the deal, telling Democrats in a letter on Wednesday, “This budget agreement is a victory for the American people, making historic, once-in-a-generation progress for families across the nation.”The outline includes large swaths of Mr. Biden’s $4 trillion economic agenda. It wraps in every major category from his American Families Plan, including investments in child care, paid leave and education, and expanded tax credits that this week will begin providing a monthly check to most families with children.“I think we’re going to get a lot done,” Mr. Biden told reporters as he left his first in-person lunch with the Democratic caucus as president.Nodding to budget constraints, party leaders conceded that many of the programs included in their plan — including the tax credits — could be temporary, leaving a future Congress to decide whether to extend them further.The proposal also includes some measures that go beyond what Mr. Biden has called for, like expanding Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing benefits. Democratic leaders left it to the Senate Finance Committee to decide whether to include reducing the eligibility age for Medicare to 60, a priority of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the Budget Committee chairman.The resolution would also create what would effectively be a tax on imports from countries with high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. That could violate Mr. Biden’s pledge not to raise taxes on Americans earning less than $400,000 a year if the tax is imposed on products that typical consumers buy, such as electronics from China.Democrats on Mr. Sanders’s committee must produce a budget resolution in the coming days that includes so-called reconciliation instructions to other Senate committees, which in turn will draft legislation detailing how the $3.5 trillion would be spent — and how taxes would be raised to pay for it.That would pave the way for Democrats to produce a reconciliation bill this fall that would be shielded from a filibuster, allowing them to circumvent Republican opposition but requiring all 50 of their members — and a majority in the narrowly divided House — to pass it.“In some cases, it doesn’t provide all the funding that I would like to do right now,” Mr. Sanders said. “But given the fact that we have 50 members, and that compromises have got to be made, I think this is a very, very significant step forward.”He added: “If you’re asking me at the end of the day, do I think we’re going to pass this? I do.”A neighborhood in Austin, Texas, where many homes have solar panels. The blueprint of the legislation includes clean energy provisions and other social programs.Tamir Kalifa for The New York TimesAt the private lunch, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, outlined the proposal and the directives it would lay out.Democrats included the creation of a civilian climate corps to add jobs to address climate change and conservation, and to provide for child care, home care and housing investments. They are also expected to try to include a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants and address labor protections.Democrats would also extend expanded subsidies for Americans buying health insurance through the Affordable Care Act that were included in the broad pandemic aid law that Mr. Biden signed this year.Huge investments would go to renewable energy and a transformed electrical system to move the U.S. economy away from oil, natural gas and coal to wind, solar and other renewable sources. The budget blueprint is to include a clean energy standard, which would mandate the production of electricity driven by renewable sources and bolster tax incentives for the purchase of electric cars and trucks.To fully finance the bill, it is expected to include higher taxes on overseas corporate activities to alleviate incentives for sending profits overseas, higher capital gains rates for the wealthy, higher taxes on large inheritances and stronger tax law enforcement.Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the chairman of the Finance Committee, said on Wednesday that he was also preparing to overhaul a deduction for companies not organized as corporations, like many small businesses and law firms — created by the 2017 Republican tax law — in order to cut taxes from small businesses but raise additional revenues from wealthy business owners.Specific provisions will have to pass muster with the strict budgetary rules that govern the reconciliation process, which require that provisions affect spending and taxation, not just lay out new policies. The Senate parliamentarian could force Democrats to overhaul or outright jettison the clean energy standard, the provision that climate activists and many scientists most desire, as well as the immigration and labor provisions, among others.Moderate Democrats, who had balked at a progressive push to spend as much as $6 trillion on Mr. Biden’s entire economic agenda, largely declined to weigh in on the blueprint until they saw detailed legislation, saying they needed to evaluate more than an overall spending number.“We’ve got to get more meat on the bones for me,” Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, told reporters, though he added that he would ultimately vote for the budget blueprint. “I’ve got to get more information on what’s in it.”The size of the package could be shaped by the success or failure of the bipartisan infrastructure plan, which would devote nearly $600 billion in new spending to roads, bridges, tunnels, transit and broadband. The group of lawmakers negotiating that package has yet to release legislative text as they haggle over the details of how to structure and pay for the plan.“I want to be able to tell people in South Carolina: I’m for this, I’m not for that,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.Stefani Reynolds for The New York TimesIf Republicans cannot deliver enough votes to move the package past a filibuster, Democrats could simply fold physical infrastructure spending into their reconciliation plan and take away any chance for Republicans to shape it, said Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio and one of the negotiators of the bipartisan bill.“If we don’t pass infrastructure, they’re going to put even more infrastructure in than we have and worse policies,” said Mr. Portman, who fielded skepticism from his colleagues at a private Republican lunch on Tuesday. Some Republicans had hoped that a bipartisan accord on physical infrastructure projects would siphon momentum from a multitrillion-dollar reconciliation package. Instead, it appears very much on track, and it may intensify the pressure on Republicans to come to terms on a bipartisan package, even if they fiercely oppose the rest of the Democrats’ agenda.“I want to be able to tell people in South Carolina: I’m for this, I’m not for that,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the top Republican on the Budget Committee and a peripheral presence in the bipartisan talks.He added that the lengthy floor debate over the blueprint would allow Republicans to “ferociously attack it, to have amendments that draw the distinctions between the parties, to scream to high heaven that this is not infrastructure.”Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a moderate Democrat, said he looked “forward to reviewing this agreement” but was also interested in how the programs would be financed.Sarahbeth Maney/The New York TimesSenator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, the centrist Democrat whose support might be determinative, told reporters after lunch with the president that he had concerns about some of the climate language. But he did not rule out supporting the budget proposal or the subsequent package. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona and another key moderate, also hung back on Wednesday.Still, the $3.5 trillion package had plenty in it to appeal to senior Democrats who were eager to use it to advance their longtime priorities. For Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the chairwoman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, it was an extension of a more generous child tax credit, as well as subsidies for child care, prekindergarten and paid family leave.For Mr. Sanders, it was the Medicare and climate provisions.“Finally, we are going to have America in the position of leading the world in combating climate change,” he said.Mr. Tester said the need for school construction was so high that trillions could go to that alone.“The plan is a strong first step,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, adding that she was focused on funding universal child care. “We’re slicing up the money now to find the right ways to make that happen.”The budget measure is expected to include language prohibiting tax increases on small businesses, farms and people making less than $400,000, fulfilling a promise Mr. Biden has maintained throughout the negotiations. Asked on Wednesday whether the proposed carbon tariff would violate that pledge, Mr. Wyden replied, “We’ve not heard that argument.”Lisa Friedman More

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    Democrats Propose $3.5 Trillion Budget to Advance with Infrastructure Deal

    The measure, which would include money to address climate change, expand Medicare and fulfill other Democratic priorities, is intended to deliver on President Biden’s economic proposal.WASHINGTON — Top Democrats announced on Tuesday evening that they had reached agreement on an expansive $3.5 trillion budget blueprint, including plans to pour money into addressing climate change and expanding Medicare among an array of other Democratic priorities, that they plan to advance alongside a bipartisan infrastructure deal.Combined with nearly $600 billion in new spending on physical infrastructure contained in the bipartisan plan, which omits many of Democrats’ highest ambitions, the measure is intended to deliver on President Biden’s $4 trillion economic proposal. The budget blueprint, expected to be dominated by spending, tax increases and programs that Republicans oppose, would pave the way for a Democrats-only bill that leaders plan to push through Congress using a process known as reconciliation, which shields it from a filibuster.To push the package — and the reconciliation bill that follows — through the evenly divided Senate, Democrats will have to hold together every member of their party and the independents aligned with them over what promises to be unified Republican opposition. It was not clear if all 50 lawmakers in the Democratic caucus, which includes centrists unafraid to break with their party like Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, had signed off the blueprint. The package is considerably smaller than the $6 trillion some progressives had proposed but larger than some moderates had envisioned.Mr. Biden was set to attend lunch on Wednesday with Democrats, his first in-person lunch with the caucus since taking office, to rally the party around the plan and kick off the effort to turn it into a transformative liberal package. The blueprint, and subsequent bill, will also have to clear the House, where Democrats hold a razor-thin margin.The agreement, reached among Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, and the 11 senators who caucus with the Democrats on the Budget Committee, came after a second consecutive day of meetings that stretched late into the evening. Louisa Terrell, Mr. Biden’s head of legislative affairs, and Brian Deese, his National Economic Council director, were also present for the meeting.“We are very proud of this plan,” Mr. Schumer said, emerging from the session flanked by the other Democrats in the corridor outside his office just off the Senate floor. “We know we have a long road to go. We’re going to get this done for the sake of making average Americans’ lives a whole lot better.”Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the liberal chairman of the Budget Committee, and Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, a key moderate who is negotiating the details of the bipartisan framework, also confirmed their support for the agreement, in impassioned remarks.“This is, in our view, a pivotal moment in American history,” proclaimed Mr. Sanders, who had initially called for a package as large as $6 trillion.Details about the outline were sparse on Tuesday evening, as many of the specifics of the legislative package will be hammered out after the blueprint is adopted. Mr. Warner said the plan would be fully paid for, though Democrats did not offer specifics about how they planned to do so. Discussions of how to raise that money are expected to continue in the coming days, one aide said.“I make no illusions how challenging this is going to be,” said Mr. Warner, who made a point of thanking both the committee and the bipartisan group he had been negotiating with. “I can’t think of a more meaningful effort that we’re taking on than what we’re doing right now.”The resolution is expected to include language prohibiting tax increases on small businesses and people making less than $400,000, according to a Democratic aide familiar with the accord, who disclosed details on the condition of anonymity.Mr. Schumer said the resolution would call for an expansion of Medicare to provide money for dental, vision and hearing benefits, a priority for liberals like Mr. Sanders. It is also likely to extend a temporary provision in the president’s pandemic relief law that greatly expands subsidies for Americans purchasing health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, one of the largest health measures since the law was passed more than a decade ago.“Every major program” requested by Mr. Biden would be “funded in a robust way,” Mr. Schumer said.Democrats will now have to hammer out the terms of the budget resolution and the bipartisan infrastructure deal, which Mr. Schumer has said he hopes to pass in the Senate before the chamber leaves for the August recess. Once the resolution is passed, the caucus will then draft the legislative package, which will fund and detail their ambitious proposals — and most likely impose hefty tax increases on the rich and on corporations to pay for them.Even before the agreement was reached, committees had quietly been working on a series of proposals for the bill and discussing how to keep the bill within the confines of the strict rules that govern the reconciliation process.The Senate Finance Committee had been drafting tax provisions to help pay for the spending. They include a restructuring the international business tax code to tax overseas profits more heavily in an effort to discourage U.S. corporations from moving profits abroad. They would also collapse dozens of tax benefits aimed at energy companies — especially oil and gas firms — into three categories focused on renewable energy sources and energy efficiency.Finance Committee Democrats will now turn their attention to the individual side of the tax code, where they want to raise taxes on large inheritances and raise capital gains tax rates on the richest Americans.On the spending side, Mr. Biden, working with Mr. Sanders, wants to make prekindergarten access universal and two years of community college free to all Americans. Money is expected to be devoted to a series of climate provisions, after liberal Democrats warned that they would not support the bipartisan framework without the promise of further climate action.Democrats also want to extend tax credits that were in the pandemic recovery plan for many years to come, including a $300-per-child credit for poor and middle-income families that began this week.The bipartisan infrastructure framework is expected to total $1.2 trillion, though about half that amount is simply the expected continuation of existing federal programs. Still, the nearly $600 billion in new spending, combined with funds already approved in Mr. Biden’s pandemic relief law and the pending infrastructure plan, could be transformative, steering government largess toward poor and middle-class families in amounts not seen since the New Deal.Jonathan Weisman More

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    Child Tax Credit Monthly Payments to Begin Soon

    The Biden administration will send up to $300 per child a month to most American families thanks to a temporary increase in the child tax credit that advocates hope to extend.WASHINGTON — If all goes as planned, the Treasury Department will begin making a series of monthly payments in coming days to families with children, setting a milestone in social policy and intensifying a debate over whether to make the subsidies a permanent part of the American safety net.With all but the most affluent families eligible to receive up to $300 a month per child, the United States will join many other rich countries that provide a guaranteed income for children, a goal that has long animated progressives. Experts estimate the payments will cut child poverty by nearly half, an achievement with no precedent.But the program, created as part of the stimulus bill that Democrats passed over unified Republican opposition in March, expires in a year, and the rollout could help or hinder President Biden’s pledge to extend it.Immediate challenges loom. The government is uncertain how to get the payments to millions of hard-to-reach families, a problem that could undermine its poverty-fighting goals. Opponents of the effort will be watching for delivery glitches, examples of waste or signs that the money erodes the desire of some parents to work.While the government has increased many aid programs during the coronavirus pandemic, supporters say the payments from an expanded Child Tax Credit, at a one-year cost of about $105 billion, are unique in their potential to stabilize both poor and middle-class families.“It’s the most transformative policy coming out of Washington since the days of F.D.R.,” said Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey. “America is dramatically behind its industrial peers in investing in our children. We have some of the highest child poverty rates, but even families that are not poor are struggling, as the cost of raising children goes higher and higher.”Among America’s 74 million children, nearly nine in 10 will qualify for the new monthly payments — up to $250 a child, or $300 for those under six — which are scheduled to start on Thursday. Those payments, most of which will be sent to bank accounts through direct deposit, will total half of the year’s subsidy, with the rest to come as a tax refund next year.Mr. Biden has proposed a four-year extension in a broader package he hopes to pass this fall, and congressional Democrats have vowed to make the program permanent. Like much of Mr. Biden’s agenda, the program’s fate may depend on whether Democrats can unite around the bigger package and advance it through the evenly divided Senate.The unconditional payments — what critics call “welfare” — break with a quarter century of policy. Since President Bill Clinton signed a 1996 bill to “end welfare,” aid has gone almost entirely to parents who work. Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, recently wrote that the new payments, with “no work required,” would resurrect a “failed welfare system,” and provide “free money” for criminals and addicts.Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, is among those who argue the new payments will erode the desire of some parents to work. Erin Scott for The New York TimesBut compared to past aid debates, opposition has so far been muted. A few conservatives support children’s subsidies, which might boost falling birthrates and allow more parents to raise children full-time. Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, has proposed a larger child benefit, though he would finance it by cutting other programs.With Congress requiring payments to start just four months after the bill’s passage, the administration has scrambled to spread the word and assemble payment rosters.Families that filed recent tax returns or received stimulus checks should get paid automatically. (Single parents with incomes up to $112,500 and married couples with incomes up to $150,000 are eligible for the full benefit.) But analysts say four to eight million low-income children may be missing from the lists, and drives are underway to get their parents to register online.“Wherever you run into people — perfect strangers — just go on up and introduce yourself and tell them about the Child Tax Credit,” Vice President Kamala Harris said last month on what the White House called “Child Tax Credit Awareness Day.”Among the needy, the program is eliciting a mixture of excitement, confusion and disbelief. Fresh EBT, a phone app for people who receive food stamps, found that 90 percent of its users knew of the benefit, but few understand how it works.“Half say, ‘I’m really, really ready to get it,’’’ said Stacy Taylor, the head of policy and partnerships at Propel, the app’s creator. “The others are a mix of ‘I’m worried I haven’t taken the right steps’ or ‘I’m not sure I really believe it’s true.’”Few places evoke need more than Lake Providence, La., a hamlet along the Mississippi River where roughly three-quarters of the children are poor, including those of Tammy Wilson, 50, a jobless nursing aide.The $750 a month she should receive for three children will more than double a monthly income that consists only of food stamps and leaves her relying on a boyfriend. “I think it’s a great idea,” she said. “There’s no jobs here.”While the money will help with rent, Ms. Wilson said, the biggest benefit would be the ability to send her children to activities like camps and school trips.“Kids get to bullying, talking down on them — saying ‘Oh your mama don’t have money,’” she said. “They feel like it’s their fault.”Families receiving groceries at a food pantry in Queens. Experts estimate that the monthly payments will cut child poverty by nearly half.Shannon Stapleton/ReutersBut in West Monroe, a 90-minute drive away, Levi Sullivan, another low-income parent, described the program as wasteful and counterproductive. Mr. Sullivan, a pipeline worker, has been jobless for more than a year but argued the payments would increase the national debt and reward indolence.“I’m a Christian believer — I rely on God more than I rely on the government,” he said.With four children, Mr. Sullivan, who has gotten by on unemployment insurance, food stamps, and odd jobs, could collect $1,150 a month, but he is so skeptical of the program he went online to defer the payments and collect a lump sum next year. Otherwise, he fears that if he finds work he may have to pay the money back.“Government assistance is a form of slavery,” he said. “Some people do need it, but then again, there’s some people that all they’re doing is living off the system.”Progressives have sought a children’s income floor for at least a century. “No one can doubt that an adequate allowance should be granted for a mother who has children to care for,” wrote the economist and future Illinois senator Paul H. Douglas in 1925 as children’s benefits spread in Europe.Four decades later, the Ford Foundation sponsored a conference to promote the idea in the United States. The meeting’s organizer, Eveline M. Burns, lamented the “shocking extent of childhood poverty” but acknowledged strong political opposition to the payments.While hostility to unconditional cash aid peaked in the 1990s, multiple forces revived interest in children’s subsidies. Brain science showed the lasting impact of the formative years. Stagnant incomes brought worries about child-rearing costs into the middle class. More recently, racial protests have encouraged a broader look at social inequity.An existing program, the Child Tax Credit, did offer a children’s subsidy of up to $2,000 a child. But since it was only available to families with sufficient earnings, the poorest third of children failed to fully qualify. By removing that earnings requirement and raising the amount, Democrats temporarily converted a tax break into a children’s income guarantee.Analysts at Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy say the new benefits will cut child poverty by 45 percent, a reduction about four times greater than ever achieved in a single year.“Even if it only happens for a year, that’s a big deal,” said Irwin Garfinkel, a professor at the Columbia School of Social Work. “If it becomes permanent, it’s of equal importance to the Social Security Act — it’s that big.”Opponents warn that by aiding families that do not work, the policy reverses decades of success. Child poverty had fallen to a record low before the pandemic (about 12 percent in 2019), a drop of more than a third since 1990s.“I’m surprised there hasn’t been more pushback from other conservatives,” said Scott Winship of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, who argues that unconditional aid can cause the poor long-term harm by reducing the incentive to work and marry. Research suggests that framing the payments as a benefit for children leads to parents spending it on things like diapers and school supplies rather than on themselves.Jenn Ackerman for The New York TimesGetting the money to all eligible children may prove harder than it sounds. Some American children live with undocumented parents afraid to seek the aid. Others may live with relatives in unstable or shifting care.Dozens of groups are trying to promote the program, including the Children’s Defense Fund, United Way and Common Sense Media, but many eligible families have already failed to collect stimulus checks, underscoring how difficult they are to reach. The legislation contained little money that could be used for outreach, leaving many groups trying to raise private donations to support their efforts.The Rev. Starsky Wilson, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, praised the Biden administration for creating an online enrollment portal but warned, “we really need to be knocking on doors.”Gene Sperling, the White House official overseeing the payments, said that even with some families hard to reach, deep cuts in poverty were assured.“While we want to do everything possible to reach any missing children, the most dramatic impact on child poverty will happen automatically,” because the program will reach about 26 million children whose families are known but earned too little to fully benefit from the previous credit. “That will be huge.”By delivering monthly payments, the program seeks to address the income swings that poor families frequently suffer. One unknown is how families will spend the money, with critics predicting waste and supporters saying parents know their children’s needs.When Fresh EBT asked users about their spending plans, the answers differed from those about the stimulus checks. “We saw more responses specifically related to kids — school clothes, school supplies, a toddler bed,” Ms. Taylor said. “It tells me the framing of the benefit matters.”There is evidence for that theory. When Britain renamed its “family allowance” a “child benefit” in the 1970s and paid mothers instead of fathers, families spent less on tobacco and men’s clothing and more on children’s clothing, pocket money, and toys. “Calling something a child benefit frames the way families spend the money,” said Jane Waldfogel, a Columbia professor who studied the British program.While the payments will greatly reduce poverty, most beneficiaries are not poor. Jennifer Werner and her husband had a household income of about $75,000 before she quit her job as a property manager in Las Vegas two years ago to care for her first child. Since then, she has used savings to extend her time as a stay-at-home mother.Ms. Werner, 45, supports the one-year benefit but wants to see the results before deciding whether it should last. “When you have a child you realize they’re expensive — diapers, wipes, extra food,” she said. But she added “I don’t know where all that money’s coming from.”She hopes the country can be fair both to taxpayers and to children whose parents work too hard to offer sufficient attention. “If the benefit helps parents nurture their kids, that would be a wonderful thing,” she said. More

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    Biden Insists He Can Do More With Less on the Economy

    The president’s aides say they have found ways to replace lead pipes, wire homes for broadband and build charging hubs for electric cars, for less money than initially proposed.President Biden and his team have entered a “do more with less” phase of his economic agenda, dictated by the political realities of a closely divided Congress.The American Jobs Plan that Mr. Biden unveiled in March included $330 billion in new spending that the administration promised would replace every lead drinking pipe in America, connect every home to high-speed internet and build 500,000 charging stations for electric cars and trucks.The compromise agreement that Mr. Biden struck with centrist senators last month would still accomplish all of those goals, White House officials insist — even though it spends only about 40 percent of what Mr. Biden initially proposed for broadband, electric vehicles and water infrastructure.Biden aides say they have found creative ways to stretch federal dollars, often by leveraging private investment, in order to maintain the president’s top goals for his economic program. But they have had to scrap other targets as a result, and Mr. Biden is now barreling toward another round of potentially difficult compromises, this time forced by moderates in his own party, over the second half of his agenda, known as the American Families Plan.In a speech on Wednesday, Mr. Biden gave no hint that he was scaling back his ambitions.“It’s time that we have to think bigger and we have to act bolder,” Mr. Biden said at a community college in suburban Chicago, his latest stop in a tour to rally support for his agenda.Using sweeping rhetoric, the president compared his ambitions to those of former President Ronald Reagan, who presided over an economic boom during his eight-year tenure.In 1984, “Ronald Reagan was telling us it was an American morning,” Mr. Biden said, referring to Mr. Reagan’s re-election campaign ad that bragged that it was “morning in America” because of his policies.“This is going to be an American century,” Mr. Biden said.But first, there will have to be compromise. The negotiations ahead will pose a challenge to the expansive vision Mr. Biden laid out to overhaul the American economy, with new and costly government interventions to lift advanced industries and train and support the workers of the future. His objective in the weeks to come will be to pack as much of that agenda as possible into a pair of bills that are unlikely to spend as much as he wants, with his economic legacy hanging on the choices he and congressional leaders make.Administration officials say Mr. Biden will continue to prioritize large and unifying national goals, including the extension of an enlarged tax credit for parents, the creation of America’s first federally funded paid leave program for workers and a government guarantee of four additional years of public education via preschool and community college.“The president is fully committed to delivering on the full ambition of the jobs plan and the families plan,” Brian Deese, the director of the White House National Economic Council, said in an interview, in which he called the bipartisan infrastructure deal a “historic investment.”“But,” Mr. Deese added, “I think the president has made clear that he understands the nature of the legislative process — that he understands that at the end of the day, nobody’s going to get everything that they want.”Workers removing pieces of lead pipe in Newark. Mr. Biden’s original infrastructure plan promised to replace every lead drinking pipe in the country.Bryan Anselm for The New York TimesIn order to reach a $579 billion consensus framework with a group of senators that included five Republicans, Mr. Biden agreed to drop entire planks of the first half of his agenda, the jobs plan, including housing and home health care. He also lost about a third of his proposed spending in areas like roads, bridges and broadband.Some of those dropped items could resurface in a second economic package that Mr. Biden is negotiating: a plan to bundle as much as possible of the remainder of the president’s $4 trillion agenda into a bill passed entirely with Democratic votes. Along with housing and health care, that bill could include Mr. Biden’s proposals for child care, education and poverty, along with some additional efforts to reduce the emissions that cause climate change.But not all of the trimmed money will end up in that bill.Mr. Biden has promised Senate negotiators he will not push for additional spending in the partisan bill in specific areas like broadband and water pipes that were addressed in the bipartisan deal. Centrist Democrats in the Senate, including Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana, are likely to agree to only some of Mr. Biden’s proposed spending programs in the partisan bill, in large part because they oppose parts of Mr. Biden’s plans to tax corporations and high earners in order to offset the cost of new spending.Mr. Biden has repeatedly said he had to make difficult choices on physical infrastructure and settle for a deal that falls well short of his ambitions. But he has also cast the bipartisan deal as the nation’s largest increase in infrastructure spending since President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the interstate highway system, claiming that it would create “millions” of new jobs — without providing any White House estimates to back that up — and that it would achieve many of the same goals as his far more expensive original plan.In some cases, Mr. Biden has narrowed his ambitions to focus on the highest priorities of his agenda — like removing lead pipes that poison children and stunt their academic development. Administration officials say the bipartisan deal will allow them to work through far less of the nation’s road maintenance backlog than Mr. Biden’s plan would have. The administration also agreed to reduce funding for an effort to help communities of color that were disrupted by past infrastructure efforts, like Black neighborhoods in New Orleans and Syracuse, from $20 billion in Mr. Biden’s plan to $1 billion in the bipartisan bill.In other areas, the White House overhauled its entire funding approach to try to keep its goals.The American Jobs Plan would have spent $174 billion to help the United States support a rapid acceleration in electric vehicle production and usage, including the 500,000 charging stations that have been a favorite Biden talking point going back to the presidential campaign.An electric vehicle charging in Clifton, N.J. Mr. Biden’s plan included funding for 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations.Bryan Derballa for The New York TimesThe bipartisan agreement contains less than one-tenth as much spending on electric vehicles, which many Republicans say do not fit the traditional definition of infrastructure. White House officials say there is $7.5 billion in the agreement for federal grants to build charging stations across the country, and another $7.5 billion in a new financing tool that will generate loans and public-private partnerships to support charging stations.Some liberal groups blasted the switch. In a joint statement, Varshini Prakash, the executive director of the Sunrise Movement, and Alexandra Rojas, the executive director of Justice Democrats, said Mr. Biden’s jobs plan “is already based on Biden’s compromise with progressive Democrats after the 2020 primaries.”“We can’t afford to water the policies down any further,” they added.The compromise plan similarly reduces the broadband funding Mr. Biden proposed, to $65 billion from $100 billion. Aides say that will still be enough money to wire every home in the country for high-speed internet, citing estimates from the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, though they concede the effort could take longer than anticipated in Mr. Biden’s original plan. Some outside experts say the money will not be enough to reach the most difficult-to-wire homes in the country. “It will not bridge the digital divide alone,” said Adie Tomer, a fellow at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program who leads the Metropolitan Infrastructure Initiative.It could be more difficult for Mr. Biden to wring efficiencies out of his families plan, which includes $1.8 trillion in spending and tax cuts focused on what administration officials call “human infrastructure.” The plan includes federal funding for workers to take paid leave to care for themselves or a family member, universal prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds, two free years of community college and the extension of an expanded tax credit for parents that is meant to fight child poverty.If Mr. Biden is forced to trim that spending to appease Democratic centrists, he will face difficult choices. He could eliminate certain efforts entirely, or reduce their reach — for example, by guaranteeing free prekindergarten only to children of low- and middle-income families.He could also take a time-honored route in Washington when it comes to the tax credits in his plan, including the child poverty effort: Mr. Biden’s legislation could create or extend those credits for only a year or two, then count on a future Congress to make them permanent. More

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    A Planned Biden Order Aims to Tilt the Job Market Toward Workers

    Noncompete clauses, licensing requirements and corporate mergers have tended to strengthen the hand of business.Hair salon employees can have onerous licensing requirements that vary from state to state. Some barbers have also encountered noncompete agreements.Annie Tritt for The New York TimesAccording to an increasingly influential school of thought in left-of-center economic circles, corporate mergers and some other common business practices have made American workers worse off. The government, this theory holds, should address it.It appears that school has a particularly powerful student: President Biden.This week, the White House is planning to release an executive order focused on competition policy. People familiar with the order say one section has several provisions aimed at increasing competition in the labor market.The order will encourage the Federal Trade Commission to ban or limit noncompete agreements, which employers have increasingly used in recent years to try to hamper workers’ ability to quit for a better job. It encourages the F.T.C. to ban “unnecessary” occupational licensing restrictions, which can make finding new work harder, especially across state lines. And it encourages the F.T.C. and Justice Department to further restrict the ability of employers to share information on worker pay in ways that might amount to collusion.More broadly, the executive order encourages antitrust regulators to consider how mergers might contribute to so-called monopsony — conditions in which workers have few choices of where to work and therefore lack leverage to negotiate higher wages or better benefits.The order will depend on the ability of regulators to carry out the rules the White House seeks and to write them in ways that survive legal challenges. And many of the policies that labor economists see as problematic, including licensing requirements, are set at the state level, leaving a limited federal role.Still, the planned order is the most concerted effort in recent times to use the power of the federal government to tilt the playing field toward workers. It builds on years of research that has made its way from the intellectual fringes to the mainstream.“It’s increasingly appreciated that lack of competition has held down wages and that there’s a lot of scope for government to improve that,” said Jason Furman, who was chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers in the Obama administration’s second term. “I don’t think addressing competition issues will miraculously transform inequality in this country, but it will help. The government should be on your side when it comes to wages.”The council published research on these themes toward the end of the Obama presidency, but concrete policy steps were more limited than those the Biden administration is planning to seek. As vice president, Mr. Furman recalled, Mr. Biden was particularly energized by issues around wage collusion and noncompete agreements.Even with backing from the White House, a meaningful gap remains between what academics who study the labor market are finding and the laws governing the relationship between companies and their workers.Ioana Marinescu, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania, analyzed data on 8,000 specific labor markets with two co-authors and found that when a job market was heavily concentrated among a few employers, it resulted in a 5 percent to 17 percent decline in wages.But she said regulators tend to be wary of trying to block a merger on the grounds of its potential labor market impact because of a lack of legal precedent.“Legally we’re on firm ground, but it may or may not be seen that way by some particular judge who has this on their desk,” Professor Marinescu said. “That creates a risk for the agency that doesn’t like the idea they might lose a case.”She said that having pressure from the White House to pursue those legal theories would help, but that congressional legislation explicitly charging antitrust regulators with focusing on labor market conditions would help more.There has been some bipartisan discussion on Capitol Hill about reining in noncompete agreements, particularly after the emergence of some outrage-stoking stories. (Sandwich shops and hair salons contractually barred workers from going to a competitor, for example.) These disputes tend to pit incumbent businesses — who don’t want their workers to be able to quit with potentially valuable information — against start-ups who want more ability to hire people at will.Occupational licensing is also an area with potential for bipartisan agreement, uniting those who want more widespread labor market opportunity with those opposed to excessive regulation. Many more jobs require occupational licenses than in decades past, and typically a license in one state is not easily transferable to another, potentially limiting workers’ ability to move to places where they can earn more. This is particularly problematic for military families, who typically have no choice but to move regularly.Still, there are potential negative effects with the Biden approach. By creating a barrier to entry for workers entering a field, licensing may also keep wages higher for existing workers in those jobs, meaning some people may stand to lose if requirements are revoked. Moreover, research by Peter Q. Blair of Harvard and Bobby Chung of the University of Illinois suggests that women and racial minorities experience less of a pay gap in fields that involve occupational licenses.Put it all together, and the Biden administration’s push for a more competitive, less corporation-friendly labor market is decidedly not a set of magic-bullet policies that will suddenly give workers more market power overnight.Rather, it’s part of a set of policies — other aspects of the president’s agenda very much among them — that over time would nudge the balance of power away from the prevailing order of most of the last 40 years. More