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    Debate Looms Over I.M.F.: Should It Do More Than Put Out Fires?

    As the International Monetary Fund gets set for its annual meeting, economists ask if it’s time to update its mandate as the world’s financial crisis responder.Lopsided access to vaccinations, extreme economic inequality, rising food prices and staggering debt are on the agenda when the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank gather for their annual meetings in Washington next week.A pressing issue not in the official program is the controversy that has been swirling for weeks around the chief of the I.M.F., Kristalina Georgieva, threatening her leadership.An investigation last month accused Ms. Georgieva of rigging data to paint China as more business friendly in a 2018 report when she was chief executive at the World Bank. Ms. Georgieva has denied any wrongdoing.The scandal has focused on the bank’s credibility — billion-dollar decisions can be made on the basis of its information — as well as Ms. Georgieva’s culpability.But lurking behind the debate over her future are foundational questions about the shifting role of the I.M.F., which has helped guide the planet’s economic and financial system since the end of World War II.Once narrowly viewed as a financial watchdog and a first responder to countries in financial crises, the I.M.F. has more recently helped manage two of the biggest risks to the worldwide economy: the extreme inequality and climate change.Some stakeholders, though, have chafed at the scope of the fund’s ambitions, and how much it should venture onto the World Bank’s turf of long-term development and social projects. And they object to what’s perceived as a progressive tilt.“There is a modernizing streak here running through major financial institutions which is creating a kind of tension,” said Adam Tooze, a historian at Columbia University and the author of “Shutdown: How Covid Shook the World’s Economy.”Other pressures weigh on the agency as well. Washington is still home to the I.M.F.’s headquarters, and the United States is the only one of the 190 member countries with veto power, because it contributes more money than any other. But its dominance has been increasingly challenged by China — straining relations further tested by trade and other tensions — and emerging nations.The willingness of the Federal Reserve and other central banks to flush trillions of dollars into the global economy to limit downturns also means that other lenders, aside from the I.M.F., have enough surplus cash on hand to lend money to strapped nations. China has also greatly expanded its lending to foreign governments for infrastructure projects under its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.At the same time, long-held beliefs like the single-minded focus on how much an economy grows, without regard to problems like inequality and environmental damage, are widely considered outdated. And the preferred cocktail for helping debt-ridden nations that was popular in the 1990s and early 2000s — austerity, privatization of government services and deregulation — has lost favor in many circles as punitive and often counterproductive.The debate about the role of the I.M.F. was bubbling before the appointment of Ms. Georgieva, who this month started the third year of her five-year term. But she has embraced an expanded role for the agency. A Bulgarian economist and the first from an emerging economy to head the fund, she stepped up her predecessors’ attention to the widening inequality and made climate change a priority, calling for an end to all fossil fuel subsidies, for a tax on carbon and for significant investment in green technology.She has argued that however efficient and rational the market is, governments must step in to fix built-in flaws that could lead to environmental devastation and grossly inequitable opportunity. Sustainable debt replaced austerity as the catchword.When the coronavirus pandemic brutally intensified the slate of problems — malnourishment, inadequate health care, rising poverty and an interconnected world vulnerable to environmental disaster — Ms. Georgieva urged action.Here was “a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she said, “to support a transformation in the economy,” one that is greener and fairer.The I.M.F. opposed the hard line taken by some Wall Street creditors in 2020 toward Argentina, emphasizing instead the need to protect “society’s most vulnerable” and to forgive debt that exceeds a country’s ability to repay.I.M.F. headquarters in Washington, where Republicans have bristled at Ms. Georgieva’s agenda.Daniel Slim/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesThis year, Ms. Georgieva managed to create a special reserve fund of $650 billion to help struggling nations finance health care, buy vaccines and pay down debt during the pandemic.That approach has not always sat well with conservatives in Washington and on Wall Street.Former President Donald J. Trump immediately objected to the new reserve funds — known as special drawing rights — when they were proposed in 2020, and congressional Republicans have continued the criticism. They argue that the funds mostly help American adversaries like China, Russia, Syria and Iran while doing little for poor nations.Ms. Georgieva’s activist climate agenda has also run afoul of Republicans in Congress, who have opposed carbon pricing and pushed to withdraw from multinational efforts like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris climate agreement.So has her advocacy for a minimum global corporate tax like the one that more than 130 nations signed on Friday.In July, Laurence D. Fink, who runs BlackRock, the world’s largest investment management company, and was at odds with the I.M.F.’s stance on Argentina, called the fund and the World Bank outdated and said they needed “to rethink their roles.”The investigation into data rigging at the World Bank focused on what is known as the Doing Business Report, which contains an influential index of business-friendly countries. WilmerHale, the law firm that conducted the inquiry, said various top officials had exerted pressure to raise the rankings of China, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or Azerbaijan in the 2018 and 2020 editions.The law firm reported that Ms. Georgieva was “directly involved” with efforts to improve China’s rating for the 2018 edition. She said WilmerHale’s report was inaccurate and rejected its accusations. The I.M.F. executive board is reviewing the findings.The United States, which is the fund’s largest shareholder, has declined to express support for her after the allegations. Ahead of a meeting of the I.M.F. board on Friday, Ms. Georgieva maintained strong support from many of the fund’s shareholders, including France, which had lobbied hard for her to get the job in 2019. Late Friday, the I.M.F. released a statement saying the board would “request more clarifying details with a view to very soon concluding its consideration of the matter.”In Congress, Republicans and Democrats called for the Treasury Department to undertake its own investigations. A letter from three Republicans said the WilmerHale inquiry “raises serious questions about Director Georgieva’s ability to lead the International Monetary Fund.”Several people sprang to her defense, including Shanta Devarajan, an economist who helped oversee the 2018 Doing Business Report and a key witness in the investigation. He wrote on Twitter that the law firm’s conclusions did not reflect his full statements, and that the notion that Ms. Georgieva had “put her thumb on the scale to benefit one nation is beyond credulity.”“It was her job to ensure the final report was accurate and credible — and that’s what she did,” Mr. Devarajan added.In an interview, he said critics had used the investigation to discredit Ms. Georgieva. The problem, he said, is “how people may have chosen to read the findings of the report and use that to criticize Kristalina’s credibility and leadership.”Mr. Devarajan was not the only one to make the case that the controversy was functioning in some ways as a proxy for the contest over the I.M.F.’s direction. Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia, wrote in The Financial Times that Ms. Georgieva was receiving “McCarthyite treatment” by “anti-China forces” in Congress.Whatever role one might prefer for the I.M.F. — traditional, expanded or something else entirely — the scandal is both a distraction and a threat.Nicholas Stern, a British economist who formerly served as the chief economist and senior vice president of the World Bank, said this controversy could not come at a worse moment.“The coming few years are of vital importance to the future stability of the world economy and environment,” he wrote in a letter to the I.M.F. board in support of Ms. Georgieva. “This is as decisive a period as we have seen since the Second World War.”Alan Rappeport More

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    'Squid Game,' the Netflix Hit, Taps South Korean Fears

    The dystopian Netflix hit taps South Korea’s worries about costly housing and scarce jobs, concerns familiar to its U.S. and international viewers.In “Squid Game,” the hit dystopian television show on Netflix, 456 people facing severe debt and financial despair play a series of deadly children’s games to win a $38 million cash prize in South Korea.Koo Yong-hyun, a 35-year-old office worker in Seoul, has never had to face down masked homicidal guards or competitors out to slit his throat, like the characters in the show do. But Mr. Koo, who binge-watched “Squid Game” in a single night, said he empathized with the characters and their struggle to survive in the country’s deeply unequal society.Mr. Koo, who got by on freelance gigs and government unemployment checks after he lost his steady job, said it is “almost impossible to live comfortably with a regular employee’s salary” in a city with runaway housing prices. Like many young people in South Korea and elsewhere, Mr. Koo sees a growing competition to grab a slice of a shrinking pie, just like the contestants in “Squid Game.”Those similarities have helped turn the nine-episode drama into an unlikely international sensation. “Squid Game” is now the top-ranked show in the United States on Netflix and is on its way to becoming one of the most-watched shows in the streaming service’s history. “There’s a very good chance it will be our biggest show ever,” Ted Sarandos, a co-chief executive at Netflix, said during a recent business conference.Culturally, the show has sparked an online embrace of its distinct visuals, especially the black masks decorated with simple squares and triangles worn by the anonymous guards, and a global curiosity for the Korean children’s games that underpin the deadly competitions. Recipes for dalgona, the sugary Korean treat at the center of one especially tense showdown, have gone viral.A shop in Seoul selling “Squid Game”-themed dalgona.Heo Ran/ReutersLike “The Hunger Games” books and movies, “Squid Game” holds its audience with its violent tone, cynical plot and — spoiler alert! — a willingness to kill off fan-favorite characters. But it has also tapped a sense familiar to people in the United States, Western Europe and other places, that prosperity in nominally rich countries has become increasingly difficult to achieve, as wealth disparities widen and home prices rise past affordable levels.“The stories and the problems of the characters are extremely personalized but also reflect the problems and realities of Korean society,” Hwang Dong-hyuk, the show’s creator, said in an email. He wrote the script in 2008 as a film, when many of these trends had become evident, but overhauled it to reflect new worries, including the impact of the coronavirus. (Minyoung Kim, the head of content for the Asia-Pacific region at Netflix, said the company was in talks with Mr. Hwang about producing a second season.)“Squid Game” is only the latest South Korean cultural export to win a global audience by tapping into the country’s deep feelings of inequality and ebbing opportunities. “Parasite,” the 2019 film that won best picture at the Oscars, paired a desperate family of grifters with the oblivious members of a rich Seoul household. “Burning,” a 2018 art-house hit, built tension by pitting a young deliveryman against a well-to-do rival for a woman’s attention.The masked guards in “Squid Game” mete out violence during the competitions.NetflixSouth Korea boomed in the postwar era, making it one of the richest countries in Asia and leading some economists to call its rise the “miracle on the Han River.” But wealth disparity has worsened as the economy has matured.“South Koreans used to have a collective community spirit,” says Yun Suk-jin, a drama critic and professor of modern literature at Chungnam National University. But the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s undermined the nation’s positive growth story and “made everyone fight for themselves.”The country now ranks No. 11 using the Gini coefficient, one measure of income inequality, among the members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the research group for the world’s richest nations. (The United States is ranked No. 6.)As South Korean families have tried to keep up, household debt has mounted, prompting some economists to warn that the debt could hold back the economy. Home prices have surged to the point where housing affordability has become a hot-button political topic. Prices in Seoul have soared by over 50 percent during the tenure of the country’s president, Moon Jae-in, and led to a political scandal.“Squid Game” lays bare the irony between the social pressure to succeed in South Korea and the difficulty of doing just that, said Shin Yeeun, who graduated from college in January 2020, just before the pandemic hit. Now 27, she said she had spent over a year looking for steady work.“It’s really difficult for people in their 20s to find a full-time job these days,” she said.South Korea has also suffered a sharp drop in births, generated partly by a sense among young people that raising children is too expensive.“In South Korea, all parents want to send their kids to the best schools,” Ms. Shin said. “To do that you have to live in the best neighborhoods.” That would require saving enough money to buy a house, a goal so unrealistic “that I’ve never even bothered calculating how long it will take me,” Ms. Shin said.Characters in the show receive invitations to participate in the Squid Game.Netflix“Squid Game” revolves around Seong Gi-hun, a gambling addict in his 40s who doesn’t have the means to buy his daughter a proper birthday present or pay for his aging mother’s medical expenses. One day he is offered a chance to participate in the Squid Game, a private event run for the entertainment of wealthy individuals. To claim the $38 million prize, contestants must pass through six rounds of traditional Korean children’s games. Failure means death.The 456 contestants speak directly to many of the country’s anxieties. One is a graduate from Seoul National University, the nation’s top university, who is wanted for mishandling his clients’ funds. Another is a North Korean defector who needs to take care of her brother and help her mother escape from the North. Another character is an immigrant laborer whose boss refuses to pay his wages.The characters have resonated with South Korean youth who don’t see a chance to advance in society. Known locally as the “dirt spoon” generation, many are obsessed with ways to get rich quickly, like with cryptocurrencies and the lottery. South Korea has one of the largest markets for virtual currency in the world.Like the prize money in the show, cryptocurrencies give “people the chance to change their lives in a second,” said Mr. Koo, the office worker. Mr. Koo, whose previous employer went out of business during the pandemic, said the difficulty of earning money is one reason South Koreans are so obsessed with making a quick buck.“I wonder how many people would participate if ‘Squid Game’ was held in real life,” he said.Seong Gi-hun, the show’s protagonist, entering an arena for one of the games.Netflix More

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    Biden's Presidential Agenda Rests on $3.5 Trillion Spending Bill

    A plan for the economy, education, immigration, climate and more binds disparate Democratic lawmakers, but the proposal risks sinking under its own weight.WASHINGTON — No president has ever packed as much of his agenda, domestic and foreign, into a single piece of legislation as President Biden has with the $3.5 trillion spending plan that Democrats are trying to wrangle through Congress over the next six weeks.The bill combines major initiatives on the economy, education, social welfare, climate change and foreign policy, funded in large part by an extensive rewrite of the tax code, which aims to bring in trillions from corporations and the rich. That stacking of priorities has raised the stakes for a president resting his ambitions on a bill that could fail over the smallest of intraparty disputes.If successful, Mr. Biden’s far-reaching attempt could result in a presidency-defining victory that delivers on a decades-long campaign by Democrats to expand the federal government to combat social problems and spread the gains of a growing economy to workers, striking a fatal blow to the government-limiting philosophy of President Ronald Reagan that has largely defined American politics since the 1980s.But as Democrats are increasingly seeing, the sheer weight of Mr. Biden’s progressive push could cause it to collapse, leaving the party empty-handed, with the president’s top priorities going unfulfilled. Some progressives fear a watered-down version of the bill could fail to deliver on the party’s promises and undermine its case for a more activist government. Some moderates worry that spending too much could cost Democrats, particularly those in more conservative districts, their seats in the 2022 midterm elections, erasing the party’s control of Congress.The legislation, which Democrats are trying to pass along party lines and without Republican support, contains the bulk of Mr. Biden’s vision to overhaul the rules of the economy in hopes of reducing inequality and building a more vibrant middle class. But its provisions go beyond economics.Democrats hope the package will create a pathway to citizenship for as many as eight million undocumented immigrants, make it easier for workers to form unions, and lower prescription drug costs for seniors. They want to guarantee prekindergarten and community college for every American, bolster the nation’s strategic competitiveness with China and stake an aggressive leadership role in global efforts to fight climate change and corporate tax evasion.The plan includes a large tax cut for the poor and middle class, efforts to reduce the cost of child care and expand access to home health care for older and disabled Americans and create the first federally guaranteed paid leave for American workers.Democrats hope the package will create a pathway to citizenship for immigrants brought to the United States as children.Carlo Allegri/ReutersIt is almost as if President Franklin D. Roosevelt had stuffed his entire New Deal into one piece of legislation, or if President Lyndon B. Johnson had done the same with his Great Society, instead of pushing through individual components over several years.“The president is on the cusp of achieving a major expansion in public education, one of the largest expansions of the social safety net, the largest investment in climate change mitigation” and overhauls in labor law and drug pricing, said Patrick Gaspard, a former Obama administration official who is now the president of the liberal Center for American Progress in Washington..css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-1kpebx{margin:0 auto;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1kpebx{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.375rem;line-height:1.625rem;}@media (min-width:740px){#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1kpebx{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1kpebx{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1gtxqqv{margin-bottom:0;}.css-19zsuqr{display:block;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}.css-12vbvwq{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-12vbvwq{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-12vbvwq:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-12vbvwq{border:none;padding:10px 0 0;border-top:2px solid #121212;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-qjk116{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-qjk116 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-qjk116 em{font-style:italic;}.css-qjk116 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:visited{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}“Each one of these things is significant in its individual constituent parts,” he said, “but taken as a whole, it, I think, speaks to the remarkable opportunity that we have — these once-in-a-generation opportunities to set a course that creates growth for all, including and especially those who have been most vulnerable in this economy.”If the effort succeeds, Mr. Biden will have accomplished much of what he campaigned on in one fell swoop. Observers say he will carry a strengthened hand into global summits in October and November that are meant to galvanize the world around transitioning from planet-warming fossil fuels and ending the use of offshore havens that companies have long used to avoid taxation.White House officials say that the breadth of programs in the package form a unified vision for the United States’ domestic economy and its place in the world, and that the planks serve as a sort of coalition glue — a something-for-everyone approach that makes it difficult to jettison pieces of the plan in negotiations, even if they prove contentious.But the sheer scope of its contents has opened divisions among Democrats on multiple fronts, when Mr. Biden cannot afford to lose a single vote in the Senate and no more than three votes in the House.Centrists and progressives have clashed over the size of the spending in the legislation and the scale and details of the tax increases that Mr. Biden wants to use to help offset its cost. They are divided over prescription drug pricing, the generosity of tax credits for the poor, the aggressiveness of key measures to speed the transition to a lower-emission energy sector and much more.Even items that are not top priorities for Mr. Biden have opened rifts. On Friday, one of the party’s most outspoken progressives, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, took aim at a crucial priority of several top Democrats, including Senator Chuck Schumer, saying she would resist attempts to fully repeal a cap on deductions for state and local property taxes that would aid high earners in high-tax areas.If Mr. Biden’s party cannot find consensus on those issues and the bill dies, the president will have little immediate recourse to advance almost any of those priorities. Outside of a hard-fought victory on a bipartisan infrastructure package — which has passed the Senate but not yet cleared the House — Mr. Biden has found almost no reception from Republicans for his proposals. His economic, education and climate agendas, and perhaps even additional efforts to rebuild domestic supply chains and counter China, could be blocked by Republicans under current Senate rules for most legislation.Democrats hope to stake an aggressive American leadership role in global efforts to fight climate change.Kathleen Flynn/ReutersRepublicans say the breadth of the bill shows that Democrats are trying to drastically shift national policy without full debate on individual proposals.Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, complained repeatedly this week that Republicans and conservatives “believe that our government is wasting so much to kill so many American jobs.”Mr. Biden’s plan would “hook a whole new generation of the poor on government dependency,” he said.Biden administration officials say the bill’s contents are neither secret nor socialist. They say the plan tracks with the proposals Mr. Biden laid out in the 2020 campaign, in his first budget request and in an address to a joint session of Congress.“There is a through line to everything that we are advancing,” Brian Deese, who heads the White House National Economic Council, said in an interview, “from investments in education, to winning the clean energy economy of the future to restoring fairness in the tax code, that connects to how we make ourselves globally competitive in this next quarter of the 21st century.”.css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-w739ur{margin:0 auto 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a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}Ted Kaufman, a longtime aide to Mr. Biden who helped lead his presidential transition team, said the core of the bill went back much further: to a set of newsprint brochures that campaign volunteers delivered across Delaware in 1972, when Mr. Biden won an upset victory for a Senate seat.“He ran because he wanted to do all these things,” Mr. Kaufman said, both during his 1972 race and during his presidential campaign last year. But tackling so many things at once has exposed divisions among congressional Democrats, including this week, when Mr. Biden’s attempt to reduce prescription drug costs failed a House committee vote after three Democrats joined Republicans in disapproval.Party leaders are trying to balance the demands of liberals who already see a $3.5 trillion bill as insufficient for the nation’s problems and moderates, like Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who have balked at its overall cost and some of its tax and spending provisions.Many polls show the bill’s pieces largely fare well with voters, including independents and some Republicans. Margie Omero, a principal at the Democratic polling firm GBAO, which has polled on the bill for progressive groups, said the ambition of the package was a selling point that Democrats should press as a contrast with Republicans in midterm elections.“People feel like the country is going through a lot of crises, and that we need to take action,” she said.As they scuffle over the bill’s final cost and levels of taxation, Democrats have tried to find savings without discarding entire programs — by reducing spending on home health care, for example, instead of dropping it or another provision entirely.Progressive groups say that is a reason for lawmakers to not further reduce the size of the effort, worrying that scaled-back programs could undermine the case for broad government intervention to solve problems.The bill calls for expanding access to child care.Kathleen Flynn/Reuters“If the bill passes as is right now and we get a major sea change in the progressivity of the tax code, we build a serious infrastructure for, like, universal child care in this country, and we really, really sort of start to make progress toward a green economy, this is going to be a historic piece of legislation,” said Lindsay Owens, the executive director of the Groundwork Collaborative, which has pushed the administration to focus on shared prosperity that advances racial equity.If the bill is whittled down, she said, Mr. Biden risks “a situation in which we didn’t spend enough money on any piece to do it well.”“You don’t want half a child care system and a little bit of a greening of the economy in two sectors,” she added. “You really don’t want to do a lot of things poorly.”Administration officials insist that even if the bill fails entirely, other efforts by Mr. Biden — including executive actions and bipartisan measures now awaiting House approval after clearing the Senate — have reasserted the United States’ leadership on climate, competitiveness and confronting China. In some areas, though, Mr. Biden has little other recourse, like opening the pathway to citizenship for immigrants brought to the country as children.For now, the president continues to publicly set high expectations for a bill that aides say he sees as fundamental to demonstrating that democratic governments can deliver clear and tangible benefits for their people.“This is our moment to prove to the American people that their government works for them, not just for the big corporations and those at the very top,” Mr. Biden said on Thursday. He added, “This is an opportunity to be the nation we know we can be.” More

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    In Social Policy Bill, Businesses See a Lot to Like. They Oppose It.

    Resistance to tax increases outweighs the appeal of a $3.5 trillion measure containing child care credits and other items that corporations embrace.WASHINGTON — The far-reaching social policy bill under construction in Congress has much that corporate America has long sought from Washington.Federal funding for family leave would ease the burden of businesses that currently pay for it while helping those that cannot afford it compete for workers. Child care tax credits would get women back in the work force. Income supports for young families could ease upward pressure on wages.But the bill also contains plenty for corporate America to dislike — particularly the tax increases that would pay for it — and in the cold calculus of corporate lobbying, industries are working hard to bring the whole enterprise down.“It’s not fair to say we like all the spending but don’t want to pay for it. There is some investment that is more valuable than others,” said Neil Bradley, the executive vice president and chief policy officer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But, he added, “ultimately we’re making the case that taken as a whole, this is economically devastating for the country and in particular members’ districts and states.”Businesses have long seen a role for the government in creating and sustaining the kind of trained, healthy work force that can keep them competitive in a global economy.Access to affordable child care and early childhood education would help parents who stopped working during the coronavirus pandemic return to the labor force. Expanded higher education aid and worker retraining could create a more flexible labor pool, programs that business groups have supported for years. Federally financed family and medical leave would help small businesses that cannot afford it compete for talent with larger businesses providing the benefit.“What’s holding back growth? Labor force participation, which hasn’t recovered; nonaffordability of child care, which is going to take the biggest leap forward that we’ve ever had; paid leave for illness and family leave,” said Representative Donald S. Beyer Jr., a Virginia Democrat who owned and ran car dealerships before his political career. “On the business side, I think it will make for a better workplace, an easier one with less tension.”Yet the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the National Federation of Independent Business and the National Association of Manufacturers are implacably opposed. Many have made it clear: Taxes trump policy.“We’re hearing somewhere between $1.8 and $3.5 trillion on job creators in America. That would take us back to where we were before the 2017 tax reforms,” Jay Timmons, the chief executive of the manufacturers’ association, said on CNBC. “We will oppose the bill with any of those factors in there.”That 2017 tax law, signed by President Donald J. Trump, is at the heart of the opposition. The net tax cuts were supposed to cost the Treasury Department about $1.5 trillion over 10 years, but the total tax cutting, more than $5 trillion over a decade, was far larger than the tax increases now being contemplated — though it was partly offset by other tax increases, mainly on individuals.The major business groups are divided on precisely how to respond to the emerging social policy bill, but they are united in their defense of the Trump-era tax cuts. For instance, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, in a letter to congressional leaders on Thursday, embraced a proposal by President Biden to create a corporate minimum tax, declaring, “For too long, some of the largest corporations have paid minimal or no taxes.”But retailers pleaded with lawmakers to hit other companies first before even contemplating an increase in the corporate income tax rate, which the 2017 tax cut lowered to 21 percent from 35 percent. Mr. Biden has proposed raising it to 28 percent.The social policy bill under construction in Congress has much that corporate America has long sought from Washington.Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times“This is, in many ways, just a small response to the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act bill that passed under Trump, which led to some $2 trillion in lost revenue that could have gone to the public investments that we are all calling for and everyone agrees are needed,” said Didier Trinh, the director of policy at the Main Street Alliance, a liberal small-business group that is dwarfed by the groups opposing the measure. “The corporate tax rate at 28 percent would only be halfway to the pre-Trump tax rate.”Beyond the corporate tax rate, Democrats are considering taxing business repurchasing of stocks, raising taxes on overseas profits, limiting tax write-offs for foreign investment, tightening access to a special low tax rate for partnerships and other companies that do not pay corporate income taxes, and dozens of other measures.Jeffrey Hollender, a co-founder and former chief executive of Seventh Generation, which makes “green” household and personal care products, said Congress’s progress toward what would be the most significant expansion of the social safety net since the 1960s was testing the business community’s stated commitments to social change. He said he was not surprised that the calls for change were not standing up to the reality of paying for it.“People say they’re for this new stakeholder economy, that they’re committed to sustainability,” said Mr. Hollender, now the chief executive of the liberal American Sustainable Business Council. “But at the same time, there is a system of incentives designed to maximize profits, and when those profits are threatened, businesses don’t like it.”More mainline business groups recoiled at the accusation. Mr. Bradley, of the Chamber of Commerce, agreed that parts of the Democratic vision mirrored the business lobby’s longstanding wishes. Accessible child care is a high priority, he said, and addressing climate change with investments in clean energy is overdue.“The administration was right to raise I.R.S. enforcement to close the tax gap,” he added. “We want a pro-growth tax code, but we want people to comply with that tax code.”But he said the way Democrats were addressing those issues — by hastily lumping them into one voluminous $3.5 trillion measure to be passed through a fast-track process known as reconciliation — guaranteed opposition.For instance, business groups had been working with lawmakers from both parties to try to create a paid family and medical leave program that would be paid for with a payroll tax, shared among businesses, workers and the government. To satisfy Mr. Biden’s pledge not to raise any taxes on people with incomes below $400,000, the payroll tax has disappeared, replaced by a variety of tax increases on rich people and corporations that are no longer connected to the program they are to finance.“Paid family leave, outside a reconciliation context, would require intense negotiations and trade-offs, but it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility that we could find a proposal that we could support,” Mr. Bradley said. “Inside reconciliation, it’s only getting worse.”The Business Roundtable, which represents the chief executives of the nation’s largest corporations, expressed a similar desire. “There is strong bipartisan support for some of these policies, and we encourage Congress to take them up through that deliberative process, not via reconciliation,” the group said in a statement.To many Democrats, that sounds like an excuse, “a tactic to avoid having to pay,” Mr. Hollender said. For many of the programs under consideration, like paid family leave, recently championed by Ivanka Trump, former President Donald J. Trump’s older daughter, bipartisan negotiations have dragged on fruitlessly for decades. Now that legislative efforts are moving forward in earnest, supporters are dropping away.Heather Boushey, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, defended the broad-based approach of addressing social policy needs and paying for them with tax policies generally devised to address income inequality, not narrowly tailored as direct offsets to specific programs.“This is a pro-growth agenda, based on the notion that when the middle class does well everyone does well,” she said, “and one history will show is the right way to go.” More

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    800,000 New Yorkers Just Lost Federal Unemployment Benefits

    Many pandemic-era federal programs expired on Sunday, leaving jobless New Yorkers with more modest state unemployment benefits, or no aid at all.From the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, New York City has been pummeled economically unlike any other large American city, as a sustained recovery has failed to take root and hundreds of thousands of workers have yet to find full-time jobs.On Sunday, the city, like other communities nationwide, was hit with another blow: The package of pandemic-related federal unemployment benefits, which has kept families afloat for 17 months, expired.In short order, roughly $463 million in weekly unemployment assistance for New York City residents is ending, threatening to upend the city’s fledgling economic rebound and slashing the only source of income for some to pay rent and buy groceries in a city rife with inequality. About 10 percent of the city’s population, or about 800,000 people, will have federal aid eliminated, though many will continue receiving state benefits.The benefits were the sole income for the many self-employed workers and contract employees whose jobs are central to the city’s economy and vibrancy — taxi drivers, artists and hairdressers, among many others — and who do not qualify for regular unemployment benefits. “To just cut people off, it’s ridiculous and it’s unethical and it’s evil,” said Travis Curry, 34, a freelance photographer who will lose all his assistance, about $482 a week. “If we can’t buy food or go to local businesses because we don’t have money to live in New York, how will New York come back?”Federal officials say that more Americans are ready to return to work, and Republican lawmakers and small business owners have blamed the benefits for discouraging people from working at a time when there are a record number of job openings.In recent weeks, President Biden has said that states like New York with high unemployment rates could turn to leftover federal pandemic aid to extend benefits after his administration decided not to ask Congress to authorize an extension. In New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat who last week signed a new moratorium on evictions after the Supreme Court ended federal protections, said the state could not afford to extend the benefits on its own and would need the federal government to provide additional money. A spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio did not respond to requests for comment.Gov. Kathy Hochul said the state could not afford to keep financing unemployment assistance without additional federal aid.Stephanie Keith for The New York TimesThe expiring of unemployment benefits ends a period of extraordinary federal intervention to prop up the economy over the past year and a half as the virus has ravaged the country, claiming the lives of 649,000 people and leaving millions of laid-off workers struggling to secure new jobs. .css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-1kpebx{margin:0 auto;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1kpebx{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.375rem;line-height:1.625rem;}@media (min-width:740px){#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1kpebx{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1kpebx{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1gtxqqv{margin-bottom:0;}.css-19zsuqr{display:block;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}.css-12vbvwq{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-12vbvwq{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-12vbvwq:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-12vbvwq{border:none;padding:10px 0 0;border-top:2px solid #121212;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-qjk116{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-qjk116 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-qjk116 em{font-style:italic;}.css-qjk116 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:visited{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}The federal programs supplemented standard and far more modest state unemployment benefits. New York City was the first major city in the United States to be hit hard by the pandemic, decimating industries almost overnight that underpinned the city’s economy, from tourism to hospitality to office buildings. Economists have projected that New York City may not fully regain all its pandemic job losses until 2024.The federal assistance provided new streams of financial aid beyond regular unemployment payments, which are distributed by states. Jobless Americans received a $600 per week supplement, which was later reduced under Mr. Biden to $300 per week. Unemployment benefits were also offered to contract workers and the self-employed, who under normal circumstances do not qualify for assistance. Payments were extended beyond the 26 weeks offered by most states.The end of the $300 federal supplement means those who still qualify for regular benefits through New York State will lose about half of their weekly assistance.Since the jobless programs rolled out in April 2020, New York City residents have collected about $53.5 billion in unemployment aid, primarily among lower-paid workers in the service, hospitality and arts industries, according to a recent report by the economist James Parrott of the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs. The recipients also tended to be people of color, who have borne the brunt of the pandemic’s economic and health toll. That includes Ericka Tircio, who lost her job cleaning a 40-story office building in Manhattan’s Financial District in March 2020 and contracted the disease around the same time. She has collected assistance since then, but it will be reduced by about $300 per week. Ms. Tircio, an immigrant from Ecuador who has a 6-year-old son, said her company told her recently that she might be asked to return to work in the coming months.“I’m praying to God that they call me back,” Ms. Tircio, who speaks Spanish, said through a translator. “There are moments when I’ve waited so long that I feel myself falling into a depression.”Ms. Tircio is a member of 32BJ SEIU, a local chapter of the Service Employees International Union, whose president, Kyle Bragg, said thousands of its members had been laid off during the pandemic.“Workers should not be left behind to fend for themselves during the worst crisis in a century,” Mr. Bragg said.In recent months, about half the states elected to end their pandemic-related benefits long before the expiration this weekend, a deadline set by the federal government when a vigorous recovery appeared to be on the horizon. In states led by Republican governors, elected officials said that the assistance stymied economic growth and resulted in labor shortages; however, the job growth in those states has not been substantially different than in states that kept the programs.In New York, business leaders have advocated for the state to end the pandemic unemployment benefits, arguing that they hurt small businesses struggling to hire workers. Thomas Grech, president of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, said several job fairs he hosted over the summer were poorly attended.“People were disincentivized to go to work,” Mr. Grech said. “They’re making more money sitting at home. It’s a classic case of good intentions gone bad.”Mr. Grech said that raising wages as a way to lure workers, as some labor economists and advocates have recommended, was unrealistic for some restaurants “unless you want to spend $30 or $40 for a burger.”Elected officials in New York have argued that unemployment benefits helped pump money directly into the economy.“People who receive emergency unemployment assistance are going to turn around and spend that money, and that money is helpful to other people who are also struggling to get things back to normal,” said State Senator Brian Kavanagh, a Democrat who represents Lower Manhattan.The expiration of the benefits was supposed to coincide with a grand reopening of sorts for New York, as many companies announced during an early summer dip in virus cases that workers would be called back to the office in September. But the Delta variant has fueled a resurgence of the virus, postponing any hope that Manhattan’s office buildings would soon refill. Months of moderate job gains stalled over the summer and the city’s unemployment rate, 10.2 percent, increased slightly in July and is nearly double the national average.Bill Wilkins, who oversees economic development for the Local Development Corporation of East New York in Brooklyn, said unemployment and other benefits helped sustain his neighborhood, which has long suffered from high joblessness. But as the pandemic recedes from its peak, he said it was also “incumbent for individuals to be more self-reliant.”The pandemic exposed the significant skills gap in New York City, he said, resulting in large numbers of unemployed workers who do not qualify for job openings that require a college degree, such as high-paying jobs in the tech sector.“If you want a job right now, you have a job,” Mr. Wilkins said, referring to lower-paying openings at many mom-and-pop shops. “The problem is, is that job a sustainable wage? You want the higher-paying jobs, but you have to have the requisite skills that demand that type of salary.”Alex Weisman, an actor, registered for unemployment benefits for the first time after the pandemic shut down Broadway, where he had been in the ensemble for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” The checks, which ranged from about $800 to $1,100 a week, allowed him to keep paying rent for his apartment in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood of Manhattan.When the pandemic shut down Broadway, including “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” it left Alex Weisman, an actor in the show’s ensemble, jobless and reliant on supplemental federal unemployment assistance.Erin Schaff/The New York TimesMr. Weisman, 34, submits audition videos every week, hoping for steady work. Earlier this year, he booked a television job for five weeks, which allowed him to briefly go off unemployment benefits.As his benefits run out, he is considering connecting with a temp agency to find work. The last time he had a job outside acting was as a barista in 2013.“I’m going to have to get an entry-level position somewhere,” Mr. Weisman said. “Because I succeeded in the thing that I trained in and wanted to do, I have absolutely nothing to offer any other industry. It’s scary.”Mohammad Kashem, who worked for nearly two decades as a taxi driver, had similar difficulties switching industries. Before the pandemic, a bank had seized his taxi medallion after he struggled to repay his loans amid a sharp drop in yellow cab ridership. Mr. Kashem, an immigrant from Bangladesh who lives in Brooklyn, worked as a postal carrier during the pandemic but quit after one month, saying he was unaccustomed to delivering mail through rain and snow. His family has been relying on $700 a week in unemployment benefits. He and his wife could not maintain jobs during the pandemic because of health issues, he said, noting that they both contracted the coronavirus and have high blood pressure and diabetes.When the unemployment benefits expire, his wife may try finding a job as a babysitter. Mr. Kashem, 50, has been wracked with anxiety about how he will pay for rent and school supplies for his three children.“I was driving taxi many, many years,” Mr. Kashem said. “I’m not used to another job.” More

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    Democrats and Lobbyists to Battle Over Tax Increases for Biden’s Social Policy Bill

    Congressional committees this week begin drafting tax increases on the wealthy and corporations to pay for a $3.5 trillion social policy bill, but the targets are putting up a fight.WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats always knew their battle plan for raising taxes on corporations, large inheritances and the superwealthy would not survive initial contact with the enemy.They just didn’t realize that enemy would be North Dakota-nice Heidi Heitkamp.The Democratic former senator has emerged as the smiling face of a well-financed effort to defeat a proposed tax increase that is crucial to funding the $3.5 trillion social spending bill at the heart of President Biden’s agenda. Her effort is indicative of the difficult slog ahead as the business lobby mobilizes to chip away at Democrats’ tax-raising ambitions, which some lawmakers say will have to be scaled back to maintain party unity, an assessment the White House has disputed.On Thursday, the House Ways and Means Committee is set to begin formally drafting its voluminous piece of the 10-year measure to combat climate change and reweave the nation’s social safety net, with paid family and medical leave, expanded public education, new Medicare benefits and more. The committee’s purview includes much of that social policy, but also the tax increases needed to pay for it.Democrats had hoped that the tax side would be more than notations on an accounting ledger. They regard it as an opportunity to fundamentally change policies to address growing income inequality, reduce incentives for corporations to move jobs and profits overseas, and slow the amassing of huge fortunes that pass through generations untaxed.But corporate interests, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and Americans for Tax Reform, have mobilized a multifaceted lobbying and advertising blitz to stop the tax increases — or at least mitigate them.“They’re lobbying to try to escape their obligation to pay the taxes they owe, leaving working families to pay a larger share of the burden,” Mr. Biden said at the White House on Friday. “Somebody has got to pay.”The $3.5 trillion social spending bill would help fund expanded public education.Clara Mokri for The New York TimesMembers of the Senate Finance Committee will meet this week to go over more than two dozen tax proposals. Some of them are well on their way toward inclusion in the measure, which under a complex budget process known as reconciliation would be able to pass Congress without a single Republican vote.Lobbyists expect the top individual income tax rate to return to 39.6 percent from the 37 percent rate that President Donald J. Trump’s tax cuts created in 2017. The corporate income tax rate will also rise from the 21 percent in the Trump tax cuts, though not to the 35 percent rate of the Obama years. Lawmakers say a 25 percent rate is more likely.Many Democrats are determined to tax the wealth of America’s fabulously rich, much of which goes untaxed for decades before being passed along to heirs. Currently, for instance, when large estates are passed on at death, heirs are allowed to value the stocks, real estate and other assets at the price they would fetch at the time of the original owner’s death. They pay taxes only on the gain in value from that point once the assets are sold. If the assets are not sold, they are not taxed at all..css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-1kpebx{margin:0 auto;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1kpebx{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.375rem;line-height:1.625rem;}@media (min-width:740px){#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1kpebx{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1kpebx{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1gtxqqv{margin-bottom:0;}.css-19zsuqr{display:block;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}.css-12vbvwq{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-12vbvwq{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-12vbvwq:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-12vbvwq{border:none;padding:10px 0 0;border-top:2px solid #121212;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-qjk116{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-qjk116 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-qjk116 em{font-style:italic;}.css-qjk116 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:visited{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}Mr. Biden wants to have heirs to large fortunes pay taxes when the original owner dies. Those taxes would be levied on inherited assets based on the gain in value from when those assets were initially purchased.Ms. Heitkamp, who said she was recruited to the opposition campaign by the Democratic former senator-turned-superlobbyist John Breaux, is adamant that taxation upon death, regardless of wealth, is deadly politics. Ms. Heitkamp said she was finding a receptive audience among potential swing voters in rural areas, especially owners of family farms, even though Democrats say such voters would never be affected by the changes under consideration. Lobbyists already expect this piece of the estate tax changes to wash out in the lobbying deluge.“This is very consistent with my concern about revitalizing the Democratic Party in rural America,” Ms. Heitkamp said. “You may want to do this,” she said she had counseled her former colleagues, “but understand there will be risk, and risk is the entire agenda.”Even more significantly, the Finance Committee is looking at taxing the accumulated wealth of billionaires, regardless of whether it is sold. Extremely wealthy Americans like the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos would have a decade to pay a one-time tax on the value of assets like stocks that have been accruing value for years. They would then pay taxes each year on the annual gain in value of their stocks, bonds and other assets, much like many Americans pay property taxes on the annually assessed value of their homes.Another key component is the international tax code. The Biden administration has called for doubling the tax that companies pay on foreign earnings to 21 percent, so the United States complies with an international tax deal that the administration is brokering, which would usher in a global corporate minimum tax of at least 15 percent.The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development announced in July that more than 130 countries had agreed to the new framework, which aims to eliminate tax havens and end a race to the bottom on corporate tax rates. Officials have been rushing to confirm the details before the Group of 20 leaders meet in Rome in October.Extremely wealthy Americans like the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos would have a decade to pay a one-time tax on the value of assets such as stocks that have been accruing value for years.Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesBut countries such as France are concerned that the United States will not be able to live up to its end of the bargain if Congress cannot raise the minimum tax.The moment of truth is approaching. Representative Lloyd Doggett of Texas, a senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, and 40 other members of his party on Tuesday backed the White House. Yet some Democratic lawmakers have expressed concern that U.S. companies would still be at a competitive disadvantage if other countries enacted minimum tax rates as low as 15 percent and the United States had a higher rate.Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen addressed those concerns in a Twitter post on Friday.“As Congress begins to finalize their legislation, I urge them to remember the historic opportunity that we have to end the race to the bottom and finally have a foreign policy and a tax code that works for the middle class,” she wrote.Republicans are already on the attack. After the disappointing monthly jobs report on Friday, Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, said the slowing economy would “only get worse if the Democrats’ trillions in tax hikes and welfare spending is rammed through Congress in September.”Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the chairman of the Finance Committee, said he understood that business groups and Republicans would howl that the tax increases would kill jobs, stifle the economy and hurt ordinary, struggling Americans.“The big lobbies are going to attack you under any circumstance,” he said, “and half the time they’re just making it up.”But he insisted that the politics had changed. Americans who struggled during the coronavirus pandemic can see how rich others have become. New revelations from a trove of tax records leaked to ProPublica showed that household names like Mr. Bezos and Elon Musk paid virtually no federal taxes.Other lawmakers are not so sure, especially in the House, where midterm campaigns loom and a razor-thin Democratic majority is clearly at risk. Among the most vulnerable members are those from conservative-leaning districts where tax increases are particularly unpopular.“No one wants to throw the House away,” said Representative Donald S. Beyer Jr., Democrat of Virginia, a member of the Ways and Means Committee. “We’re all mindful of our frontline candidates.”Estate and capital gains tax changes proposed by the president and embraced by Mr. Wyden are aimed at the superrich, but the campaign against them frames the issue around family farms and small businesses. Ms. Heitkamp rebuffed Mr. Wyden’s assurance that he could structure the changes to affect only the very wealthy and the gain in value of their assets without taxation.“People don’t believe that, because they believe that rich people always have the lane to get into Congress,” she said. “I get that you’re trying to deal with a huge disparity in wealth in this country, and I get that you are concerned about that for the future of America. I share the concern. Taxing unrealized capital gains is not the path forward.”Some lawmakers and tax lobbyists are already circulating a document handicapping which measures are likely to survive — and which are not. A corporate tax rate increase at home and abroad is likely to pass, though it may not be as high as some Democrats would like. So is a higher top income tax rate on individuals. Capital gains tax rates are expected to rise somewhat, though not to the ordinary income tax rate of 39.6 percent for the very rich, as Mr. Biden has proposed.A measure to increase tax law enforcement, which fell out of a separate bipartisan infrastructure bill, is likely to reappear in the reconciliation bill.But lobbyists expect the proposal to make heirs pay immediate taxes on inheritances based on asset purchase prices to fall out of the plan.They also see a straight, 15 percent minimum tax on overseas income as imperiled. Even some measures that looked like slam dunks may still be rejected because of the back-room lobbying campaign that has just begun.“They’re lobbying to try to escape their obligation to pay the taxes they owe, leaving working families to pay a larger share of the burden,” Mr. Biden said of corporate interests on Friday at the White House.Stefani Reynolds for The New York TimesThat includes closing the so-called carried interest loophole, which allows richly compensated private equity and hedge fund managers to claim the fees they charge clients as investment income, subject to low capital gains tax rates, not income tax rates. Every president since Barack Obama has denounced the provision and demanded its closure, only to lose to influential lobbyists.The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday started a campaign to stop the loophole from being closed, saying doing so “would reduce investment, lead to widespread job losses and decrease tax revenues.” Mr. Wyden called the assertions “insulting to the intelligence of every American.”Administration officials insisted that taxing the rich and corporations would help sell the bill.“Should we let millions of children grow up in poverty in order to protect offshore tax loopholes?” Kate Bedingfield, the White House communications director, wrote to House Democrats in a memo on Tuesday. “Should we let middle-class families bear crushing costs for child care and elder care rather than asking the very richest among us to pay their fair share? Those are the questions before us.” More

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    From Cradle to Grave, Democrats Move to Expand Social Safety Net

    The $3.5 trillion social policy bill that lawmakers begin drafting this week would touch virtually every American, at every point in life, from conception to old age.WASHINGTON — When congressional committees meet this week to begin formally drafting Democrats’ ambitious social policy plan, they will be undertaking the most significant expansion of the nation’s safety net since the war on poverty in the 1960s, devising legislation that would touch virtually every American’s life, from conception to aged infirmity.Passage of the bill, which could spend as much as $3.5 trillion over the next decade, is anything but certain. President Biden, who has staked much of his domestic legacy on the measure’s enactment, will need the vote of every single Democrat in the Senate, and virtually every one in the House, to secure it. And with two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, saying they would not accept such a costly plan, it will challenge Democratic unity like nothing has since the Affordable Care Act.That is largely because the proposed legislation would be so transformative — a cradle-to-grave reweaving of a social safety net frayed by decades of expanding income inequality, stagnating wealth and depleted governmental resources, capped by the worst public health crisis in a century.The pandemic loosened the reins on federal spending, prompting members of both parties to support showering the economy with aid. It also uncorked decades-old policy desires — like expanding Medicare coverage or paid family and medical leave — that Democrats contend have proved to be necessities as the country has lived through the coronavirus crisis.“Polls have shown for a very long time that these issues to support American families were important, and were popular, but all of a sudden they became not a ‘nice to have’ but a ‘must have,’” said Heather Boushey, a member of Mr. Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers who has been developing such policies for decades.Democrats say they will finance their spending with proposed tax increases on corporations — which has already incited a multifaceted, big-budget effort by business groups working to kill the idea — and by possibly taxing wealth in ways that the United States has never tried before.“We’re talking about free or affordable child care where no one pays more than 7 percent of their income; we’re talking about universal pre-K programs with two years of formal instruction; we’re talking about two years of postsecondary education,” said Representative Jamaal Bowman of New York, a former teacher and principal who is vice chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. “This is how you build a strong nation.”To Republicans, who are readying a counteroffensive, the Democratic plans are nothing short of socialism. They say they are concerned that the plan is financially unsustainable and would undermine economic growth, by rendering Americans too dependent on the government for their basic needs.“What are Democrats trying to do to this country?” Representative Bruce Westerman, Republican of Arkansas, asked on Thursday, as the House Natural Resources Committee began drafting its portion of the sprawling bill.Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia said he could not support the bill at its current size. Stefani Reynolds for The New York TimesTo grasp the intended measure’s scope, consider a life, from conception to death. Democrats intend to fund paid family and medical leave to allow a parent to take some time off during pregnancy and after a child’s birth.When that parent is ready to return to work, expanded funding for child care would kick in to help cover day care costs. When that child turns 3, another part of the bill, universal prekindergarten, would ensure public education can begin at an earlier age, regardless of where that child lives.Most families with children would continue to receive federal income supplements each month in the form of an expanded child tax credit that was created temporarily by Mr. Biden’s pandemic-rescue law and would be extended by the new social policy bill. School nutrition programs, expanded on an emergency basis during the pandemic, would continue to offer more children free and reduced-price meals long after the coronavirus retreats.And at high school graduation, most students would be guaranteed two years of higher education through expanded federal financial aid, geared toward community colleges.Even after that, income supplements and generous work force training programs — including specific efforts to train home health and elder-care workers — would keep the government present in many adult lives. In old age, people would be helped by tax credits to offset the cost of elder care and by an expansion of Medicare to cover dental, hearing and vision services.“Many of us feel that this is the biggest opportunity we will have in our careers to do something deeply structural and transformational to our economy,” Representative Donald S. Beyer Jr., Democrat of Virginia, said, “and we should not miss it.”To critics, the legislation represents a fundamental upending of American-style governance and a shift toward social democracy. With it, they worry, would come European-style endemic unemployment and depressed economic dynamism.“There’s always been difference of opinion on the role of government in people’s lives, and the United States has long taken a different approach than Western Europe,” said N. Gregory Mankiw, a Harvard economist who was chairman of President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers. “This is clearly designed to take a big step toward the Western European model.”Defenders shrug off such concerns. Representative Robert C. Scott of Virginia, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said the legislation would promote economic growth, with child care subsidies that would get parents back into the work force, education spending to more equitably prepare all Americans to work, and job training to improve labor mobility.“We are making the American economy more dynamic and more globally competitive,” he said.Besides, in the longstanding struggle to balance economic growth against equality and equity, Democrats are ready to shift toward the latter.“The route we’ve taken has led to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a very few people while the rest have just struggled to survive,” Mr. Bowman said. “It’s time to try something else.”“This is how you build a strong nation,” said Representative Jamaal Bowman, a former teacher and principal who is vice chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.Desiree Rios for The New York TimesIn a mechanical sense, the legislation is not as much of a sea change as the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s, or Social Security in the 1930s. Even the Affordable Care Act of 2010 created an entirely new government infrastructure, a federally operated or regulated exchange where Americans could buy private health insurance that has to conform to government strictures on coverage and cost, noted Michael R. Strain, an economist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.In contrast, the new legislation would largely augment existing programs. Childcare support would come through the Community Development Block Grant to states, cities and counties. Universal pre-K would be secured through block grants and expanded funding to Head Start. Two years of higher education are supposed to become accessible through more generous Pell grants and other existing financial aid programsBut if it passes, Mr. Strain said the legislation could fundamentally change the relationship between the state and its citizens: “Its ambition is in its size.”Most Americans traditionally have seen the federal government’s involvement in their finances once a year, at tax time, when they claim a child credit, get a write-off for the truck they may have bought for their business, or receive a check for an earned income credit, to name a few.That would change profoundly if the social policy bill were enacted. The expanded child tax credit has begun to provide monthly checks of up to $300 per child to millions of families, but is slated to expire in 2022. Its extension for as long as a decade could make it a fixture of life that would be very difficult for future Congresses to take away. The same goes for the Child and Dependent Care Credit, which now offers up to $8,000 in child care expenses but also expires in a year.And the federal government, not private employers, would pay most of the salaries of people qualifying for family and medical leave.“If we get this passed, a decade from now, people are going to see many more touch points of government supporting them and their families,” Ms. Boushey said.One major difference between the social economy that Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats hope to create and the welfare state in Europe is how it would be paid for. Most European countries ask their citizens broadly to fund their social welfare programs, largely through a value added tax, a sales tax levied at each stage of a consumer good’s production.At the president’s insistence, the House and Senate tax-writing committees are to finance the bill’s spending with taxes on corporations and individuals with incomes over $400,000 a year.To that end, the Senate Finance Committee is considering groundbreaking ways to tax wealth, including changing how estates are taxed so that heirs must pay more taxes on inherited assets. The committee is also looking at taxing the accumulated wealth of billionaires — things like homes, boats, stocks and other assets, regardless of whether they are sold — a new frontier of tax policy that would be difficult to achieve. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the Finance Committee chairman, said such measures are the only way to ensure that the superrich must pay their fair share of taxes each year. “I’m going to bring the caucus into that discussion, but I believe billionaires ought to pay taxes every year, just like nurses and firefighters do” out of each paycheck, Mr. Wyden said. More

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    Some Say Low Interest Rates Cause Inequality. What if It’s the Reverse?

    With an increasing share of the world’s wealth in the hands of its top earners, a savings glut is pushing asset prices up and interest rates down.Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Friday.Brendan Mcdermid/ReutersIt’s an article of faith among many in the financial world: The Federal Reserve’s low interest rate policies and other steps meant to boost the economy are driving the value of stocks and other assets to the moon, and thus are a major cause of high wealth inequality.That idea can be heard in documentaries, newspaper opinion articles and many segments on cable financial news. It may also be backward.New evidence suggests high inequality is the cause, not the result, of the low interest rates and high asset prices evident in recent years. That is a provocative implication of new research presented on Friday at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s annual Jackson Hole economic symposium (which was conducted virtually because of the pandemic).Seeing how that new notion connects with the boom in markets — and the risks to financial stability whenever it ends — means grappling with just why interest rates are so low, financial asset prices are so high, and what the Fed has to do with it.Advanced economies have experienced low interest rates for more than a decade. These can be viewed as less a result of central bankers’ decisions and more as a consequence of powerful global forces pushing them downward — creating a corresponding surge in asset prices.In effect, a global glut of savings has caused a decline in the “natural rate” of interest, also known as r* (and pronounced r-star): the rate that neither stimulates nor slows the economy.Central bankers, in this story, are the equivalent of drivers on a highway who must adapt their speed to road conditions. The Fed has kept rates low for the last decade because those rates have been the ones that keep the economy stable. If it had tried to push them higher, the result would have been a recession.“Central banks now appreciate that r-star has fallen, and that means they’re going to have limited ability to tighten monetary policy in the future,” said Kristin Forbes, an economist at M.I.T., in a presentation at the symposium.But that raises the question of why this savings glut exists at all.The paper, by Atif Mian of Princeton, Ludwig Straub of Harvard and Amir Sufi of the University of Chicago, looks at two leading explanations: the demographic effects of the baby boom generation’s accumulation of retirement savings, and the effects of higher inequality, given the fact that rich people save a larger share of their income than the middle class and the poor.They found that the role of higher inequality was far more important than that of demographics.It’s not that the high earners increased their savings rates. Rather, they were winning a bigger piece of the economic pie; by the researchers’ calculations, the share of income going to the top 10 percent of earners rose to more than 45 percent in recent years, up from about 30 percent in the early 1970s.The result of high earners making more, and thus saving more, amounts to trillions of dollars in additional savings over the years — accounting for 30 percent to 40 percent of private savings from 1995 to 2019.So whatever the causes of rising income inequality — most likely a combination of technological change, decline in union power, globalization, changes in tax policy and winner-take-all market dynamics — it has set in motion forces resulting in the accumulated assets of those wealthy people skyrocketing in value.“As the rich get richer in terms of income, it creates a saving glut,” Professor Mian said. “The saving glut forces interest rates to fall, which makes the rich even wealthier. Inequality begets inequality. It is a vicious cycle, and we are stuck in it.”Their paper is hardly definitive, and other economists at the symposium noted a few issues — for example, that the decline in the natural rate of interest has been a global phenomenon, taking place even in countries with different income inequality trends than those in the United States. And Jason Furman, the Harvard economist, noted that the widening of inequality was most intense in the years before 2000, while the decline in the natural interest rate has mostly taken place since then.But regardless of just how strong a factor income inequality is in driving low rates, high asset prices and higher wealth inequality, the situation does put the Fed and other global central banks in a difficult spot.“These forces pushing down r-star are probably so powerful that the Fed could never fight against them,” Professor Sufi said in an email.And whatever the causes, it has resulted in a situation where even a modest reversal of rates could make debt obligations burdensome, causing unpredictable ripple effects.“The transition to a higher-rate environment could be pretty bumpy, given that a lot of asset values and assessments of debt sustainability are built on very low interest rates” over a very long time, said Donald Kohn, a former vice-chair of the Fed who is now at the Brookings Institution, in a speech at the symposium calling for more aggressive action to stem risks in the financial system.If nothing else, the new paper is more evidence of how some of the world’s most entrenched economic problems intersect in complex ways. And it implies that what happens next, on interest rates, inflation, growth and everything else about the economic future, is more interrelated than it might first appear. More