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In the stimulus debate, a Senate parliamentarian wields broad influence

During the impeachment process this month, Ms MacDonough spent hours on the Senate dais, advising Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, as he played the unprecedented role of presiding over the trial of a former president. She and her advisers provided advice to Democratic senators as they got used – some for the first time, others for the first time in years – to overseeing Senate affairs as a new majority party.

Ms MacDonough has been a Member of Parliament since 2012, when she was appointed to the post with a Democratic majority. A civil servant who had never worked directly for a politician, she worked as a legislative reference assistant at the Senate library and then as editor-in-chief of the Congressional Record before being hired in the parliamentary office in 1999.

“Arbitrator, arbiter, whatever word you want to use – they’re guided by the rules of the body set by the body,” said Bob Stevenson, a longtime retired Republican aide who worked for the Committee. Senate budget and former Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader. “Just like a good basketball umpire or a good baseball umpire would tell you the same thing: the best result is the one where you stay anonymous.”

In her early days in the parliamentarian’s office, Ms MacDonough honed her understanding of basic principles under the guidance of Mr Byrd himself, who frequently stopped to ask her procedural questions in what she would later describe in the 2018 talk as “a Socratic method on steroids” which offered “a humiliating and horrible way to start each day.

“I didn’t like you when you started; I didn’t think you would come back to much, ”recalls Ms. MacDonough, Mr. Byrd told her. “But oh my God, how you surprised me.”

As Democrats move forward with Mr Biden’s economic plan with the budget reconciliation process, it is now up to Ms MacDonough to enact Mr Byrd’s reign. This is high stakes work; in 2001, then-parliamentarian Robert B. Dove was unceremoniously ousted from office after Republican leaders challenged his rulings.

The name of the rule lends itself to a number of bird-related puns commonly used to describe the stages of the reconciliation process. There’s the “Byrd Bath,” where Senators can file objections to items they believe break the rule, and Ms. MacDonough scrubs and analyzes them for judgment. Anything that does not survive the exam is known as “Byrd drop” and is removed from the legislation before it can move forward.

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Biden Ends Army Transgender Ban, Amid Broad Fight Against Discrimination

At the Pentagon, officials said they welcomed the action and said the ministry would start implementing it quickly. “The ministry will immediately take the appropriate policy measures to ensure that people who identify as transgender are eligible to enter and serve in their self-identified gender,” Austin said in a statement. “No one will be separated or fired, nor refused to be re-enlisted, solely on the basis of their gender identity.

Mr Austin said Mr Biden’s executive order “would ensure that all medically necessary transition-related and legally authorized care is available to all members of the service,” which would remove a big stumbling block for them. transgender men and women seeking to join or remain in the military. He also pledged to review the cases of all transgender servicemen who are currently forced out of the military.

Senior military officials, for their part, reacted on Monday with some relief that the Pentagon would not have to continue to defend the disputed ban – which has resulted in a number of lawsuits across the country – before the courts. law courts. While military officials have refused to speak publicly about the issue for fear of getting into politics, General Milley said during his confirmation hearing in 2019 when asked about the transgender issue that “I don’t think that ‘there is anything inherent in anyone’s identity to prevent serving in the military.

Advocacy groups who have been fighting the ban since its announcement three years ago – in a tweet from Mr Trump – argued that the Pentagon does not need to spend months studying how to allow transgender people to serve because he had already done so. One such group, the Palm Center, said in a policy brief last summer that the military could quickly reopen its doors to transgender people if ordered to do so.

“A large ship can take a long time to turn around, so often the Pentagon has to study policy changes and move with caution,” Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, said in an interview in July. “But this is the rare case that, given that the military has left an inclusive policy in place for transgender personnel already on duty even as it has implemented its ban, the switch is just waiting to be reversed. .

Others have argued that it was Mr. Trump’s ban, not his cancellation by Mr. Biden, that had been reckless.

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Biden announces broad plan to reverse Trump’s immigration policies

Ms Praeli, a former undocumented immigrant from Peru who became a citizen in 2015, said that “11 million of us live and work every day”.

“We are raising families in communities without any protection against deportation and family separation, vulnerable to exploitation and abuse in the workplace,” she added. “So it’s high time for real change.”

Ms Praeli and other activists have said they will demand Mr Biden reject attempts to water down his immigration proposals as he passes the legislation through Congress.

“We need a clear and unapologetic intervention in the direction the country is heading,” said Greisa Martinez, an undocumented immigrant who is the executive director of United We Dream, a group that has pushed to protect the Dreamers from the deportation. “The time is over for compromises. Now is the time for a bold change. Our movement and our power are undeniable. Our demands are undeniable. We are ready.”

As transitional officials have described, Mr Biden’s legislation would profoundly reshape America’s immigration system, making it more generous to current immigrants and people from other parts of the world while rejecting anti-rhetoric. immigrants that Mr. Trump has spoken out since he became presidential candidate in 2015.

And it will kick off a controversial new debate on how the United States should treat foreigners, an issue that has been at the center of the rift between the two sides for decades. While Democrats tightly control both houses of Congress, Mr. Biden will need bipartisan cooperation, especially in the Senate, where most laws require 60 votes. Because Democrats only hold 50 seats in the chamber, the new president will need 10 Republicans to support his efforts to get him into law.

Mr. Obama was successful in persuading 68 senators, including 14 Republicans, to support a comprehensive immigration bill in 2013, to put an end to the effort in the Republican-controlled House. Now, with the Democrats in charge of the House, the challenge for Mr. Biden will be in the Senate, where nearly all Republicans who have backed Mr. Obama have left.

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Yellen would take on a broad policy portfolio as Secretary of the Treasury

WASHINGTON – The expected appointment of Janet L. Yellen as Secretary of the Treasury will place the former Federal Reserve Chairman in a critical role overseeing President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s economic and national security agenda in an agency which has increasingly become a center of power.

Although Ms. Yellen’s views on monetary policy have been well known since she headed the central bank, her views on a range of issues that are part of the Treasury Department’s portfolio are less well known.

As Secretary of the Treasury, Ms. Yellen will be the principal economic diplomat in the Biden administration and will face the challenge of re-engaging with American allies who have been put off by President Trump’s “America First” economic policies. , including its use of tariffs. She will most likely be the resource person in the negotiations with China and will have a substantial contribution on trade policy, as well as on the use of US sanctions against countries such as Iran and North Korea.

Domestically, Ms. Yellen will be the driving force behind the Biden administration’s tax policy – an important role given Mr. Biden has made raising taxes on wealthy Americans and businesses a central part of his campaign. . Ms Yellen will also have the opportunity to change regulations stemming from Mr Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, which left a lot of care to the Treasury to put in place a new tax regime for multinational companies. Under a Biden administration, the department could revise those regulations to increase taxes for some companies operating abroad.

And it will also be at the center of the government’s borrowing frenzy, which is funded by the issuance of Treasury securities and has pushed the US budget deficit to levels not seen since World War II.

Here’s what we know, so far, about Ms Yellen’s views in several areas where she will have a role to play.

Although Ms Yellen is known to be dovish when it comes to monetary policy – which means she supports lower interest rates – she has repeatedly expressed concerns about the U.S. fiscal trajectory and the amount that ‘they borrow.

Ms Yellen’s budget concerns came before the coronavirus pandemic and the current downturn, a time when most economists urged the United States not to worry about the deficit and to spend as much as needed to help households and companies to overcome the crisis.

Yet Ms Yellen’s previous comments suggest that she might be reluctant to push for big spending programs without raising taxes to offset the fiscal blow. The federal budget deficit hit a record $ 3.1 trillion in fiscal 2020 and Republicans, who are expected to control the Senate, have once again started to voice concerns about how much the country is borrowing.

In a 2018 interview with the Charles Schwab Impact conference in Washington, Ms. Yellen said that the US debt trajectory was “unsustainable” and offered a remedy: “If I had a magic wand, I would go up. taxes and reduce retirement spending. ”

Last year, Ms. Yellen touched on the third rail of Democratic politics when she suggested more directly that cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security might be in order.

“I think this won’t be resolved without some additional income on the table, but I also find it hard to believe that it won’t be resolved without some changes to these programs,” Ms. Yellen told the National Center for investment for seniors. Fall Conference on Housing and Care.

Ms Yellen added that political candidates and Congress did not like dealing with the overhaul of America’s welfare programs which – according to McKnight’s Senior Living, a trade publication – she described as “the root canal economy.” .

Ms. Yellen is also a board member of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a non-partisan organization that advocates budget cuts.

As Secretary of the Treasury, Yellen will inherit a global trading system battered and destabilized by Mr. Trump’s aggressive approach to US trade policy. She will face a variety of decisions, including whether to continue Mr. Trump’s escalating sanctions against Chinese companies and officials, or his restrictions on the presence of Chinese companies in U.S. stock markets and in pension portfolios.

Ms. Yellen is known for her steadfast support for open trade and the international trading system, although she has not shied away from criticizing China’s trading practices.

Like many members of Mr. Biden’s team, Ms. Yellen seems to agree that many of the problems often attributed to trade policy actually stem from the reluctance of U.S. officials to use domestic policies to support workers suffering the worst. effects of globalization.

Ms Yellen attributed globalization and trade liberalization to increased growth and reduced poverty around the world, but she also said these trends fueled inequality and the rise of populism, leading to a backlash against US business practices. She expressed concern over the country’s withdrawal from an international leadership role under Mr. Trump’s leadership and support for the World Trade Organization.

Ms. Yellen was the president of the American Economic Association at its annual meeting in January, which drew thousands of economists to San Diego. She organized the conference schedule, she said in an interview, to focus heavily on sessions outlining the benefits of free trade and immigration for national economies and the world – a very strong position. contradiction with the Trump administration. “I organized the program and I think it’s no accident that you see it,” she says. “I think it’s very important.”

Like many economists, Ms. Yellen criticized Mr. Trump’s emphasis on bilateral trade deficits, described his tariffs on China as a tax on American consumers, and warned that his trade wars posed a recession risk for the country. American economy.

She also expressed skepticism about Mr. Trump’s possible trade deal with China, saying he left high tariffs in place that did not help American manufacturers and did not resolve an “embarrassing clash. With China on technologies such as 5G and artificial intelligence.

“We have very difficult issues ahead,” Ms. Yellen said in a speech in Hong Kong in January, in which she urged countries to remain open to the “synergies” of sharing and exchanging technology through the world.

But Ms. Yellen also acknowledged that the United States has “real problems” and “many valid concerns” in its trade relations with China, in particular China’s violation of American intellectual property, its subsidies to state-owned enterprises. and its compartmentalization. technological markets crucial to foreign competition.

As with many moderates in Mr. Biden’s administration, any policy recommendations Ms. Yellen makes on China will likely be constrained by Beijing’s increasingly aggressive and authoritarian behavior, as well as China’s harsh feelings. among Democrats and Republicans in Washington.

From her perch at the Brookings Institution, Yellen expressed concern over the Trump administration’s regulatory cuts, including those made at the Fed.

Ms Yellen said this spring that the 2008 crisis showed that the Fed should be proactive in suspending bank payments.

“We have learned that we have left far too much money at the door in this crisis,” she said in an interview in April. “We don’t know where this is going. It is truly a final event and a great threat to the country.

In the months that followed, Fed officials prevented banks from repurchasing their own shares, but only limited dividends.

But it’s not just the banks that worries her. She also identified money market mutual funds as a source of financial system instability. And, speaking on a Brookings sign in June, Ms Yellen said the coronavirus exposed lingering vulnerabilities in the financial system, which were suffocating in March before the Fed stepped in to calm it down.

“The pandemic has shown that the risks are very real and serious” to a popular financial position that hedge funds had amassed and then tried to relax when trade tightened in March, exacerbating market volatility. She also pointed to money market funds, where investors put their savings to earn more return than bank accounts offer, and the practice of lending to borrowers who are already in debt – called leveraged loans – as points. weak recognized but not resolved.

“These were things that were known; they haven’t been addressed, ”she said.

As Secretary of the Treasury, Ms. Yellen would head the Financial Stability Oversight Board, a group created after the 2008 crisis to monitor and respond to financial stability risks. This would give it considerable leeway to direct the regulations to the areas of concern it has identified.

In her post-Fed years, Ms. Yellen also focused on the risks of climate change. She chaired the Group of 30 working group on climate change and finance, which this year released a report urging governments, regulators and financial firms to take action that would sharply reduce carbon emissions.

“Carbon prices are expected to gradually increase over time to provide incentives for businesses and accelerate the net zero crossing,” Ms. Yellen said when the report was released.

His place at the head of the supervisory board will give him an important podium to talk about green finance. A report sponsored by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission this year urged the board to start focusing more concretely on climate risk.

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$ 26 billion settlement offer in opioid lawsuits enjoys broad support

Top three drug distributors and one major drugmaker move closer to $ 26 billion deal with state and local governments that would end thousands of lawsuits over corporate role in opioid epidemic , according to people familiar with the negotiations and the company’s new filings. .

The deal is $ 4 billion more than an offer made a year ago, which was rejected by most states and municipalities. A major difference in the latest offering is $ 2 billion for private attorneys who represent cities, counties, and some states.

If the deal is finalized, four of the most prominent defendants in the nationwide litigation giant – McKesson, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and Johnson & Johnson – would no longer be threatened by future opioid lawsuits from those governments. Other drug manufacturers and national drugstore chains are still facing thousands of cases.

Most of the money in the settlement agreement is intended to help fund treatment and prevention programs in communities ravaged by drug addiction and overdose. From 1999 to 2018, 232,000 Americans died from prescription opioid overdoses, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Addiction to painkillers has also triggered an epidemic of abuse of illegal opioids like heroin, contributing to an avalanche of deaths, crime and skyrocketing health care costs.

The pharmaceutical industry liability litigation has been fiercely fought, resulting in a handful of settlements and the filing of bankruptcy by some drugmakers, including Purdue Pharma, which has just reached a settlement of the criminal charges. and federal civilians.

The three distributors announced the broad outlines of their settlement offers in quarterly earnings reports published Tuesday and Thursday. Johnson & Johnson announced its share in a filing last month.

Distributors shipped more than three-quarters of the nation’s opioids to pharmacies, rarely raising red flags even when the quantities were grossly disproportionate to a store’s local population, according to federal data. In 10 years, for example, companies have shipped nearly 21 million prescription pain relievers to two pharmacies four blocks away in a West Virginia town of 2,900 people.

The latest deal is being negotiated in the shadow of two major trials tentatively scheduled for January, which the companies hope to avoid. Unlike last year’s more modest settlement offer, which was wickedly rejected by many states, but mostly lawyers negotiating for thousands of counties, cities and tribes, this offer is widely welcomed.

“The deal is making money for all communities in the United States that suffer from injury insults, first from the opioid epidemic and now with Covid as well,” said Paul J. Hanly , Jr., a lawyer who represents many small governments. , including two New York counties whose jury trial with New York State against these and other defendants is scheduled to begin in January.

Yet lawyers will have to sell the offers to the local governments they represent. “We believe it is in the best interest of these communities to start receiving a payment stream. We have looked at the finances of these companies and believe the numbers are now appropriate, ”said Hanly, who sits on an executive committee of negotiators.

Without this state and local agreement, companies could remain exposed to more opioid-related lawsuits indefinitely – and thus could forgo this agreement.

In the latest settlement offer, distributors agreed to step up their drug watch programs, which have been blasted in hundreds of lawsuits as contributing to the illegal sale of billions of pills.

According to the broad outlines of the plan outlined in this week’s filings, distributors will collectively pay about $ 21 billion over 18 years, with $ 8 billion paid for by McKesson alone.

Johnson & Johnson said it would contribute $ 5 billion, most of it in the first three years. Lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson said the company previously contracted with poppy growers in Tasmania and supplied 65% of the active ingredients of oxycodone sold in the United States. Its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, manufactured its own opioids, which have since been discontinued, and marketed them aggressively to doctors.

The money from the settlement would be used primarily for measures to alleviate the opioid crisis, including treatment programs, and to reimburse local and state governments for expenses related to the epidemic.

Attorneys general contacted for this article declined to comment as the proposal has yet to be finalized. Lawyers familiar with the talks said at least 45 states viewed the conditions positively.

New York has been described as a leader in the negotiations and a supporter of the deal. The excluded states are said to include New Mexico and Washington. Oklahoma is not fully participating as it has already won its case against Johnson & Johnson, although that verdict is under appeal.

But at least one obstacle to the deal suggests how difficult it is to reach consensus. Although the state of West Virginia established itself with distributors years ago, its counties and cities, which have their own lawsuits in federal court, have not. Indeed, a major bench lawsuit against distributors brought by the town of Huntington in West Virginia and neighboring Cabell County is scheduled to begin on January 4.

Senior counsel, Paul T. Farrell, Jr. did not accept the offer. “West Virginia fully supports the national settlement on behalf of all other states,” said Mr. Farrell, who represents many small governments in West Virginia. “It’s just not good enough for us.”

According to distributor performance reports, settlement of cases depends on a critical mass of plaintiffs signing up, although what constitutes an acceptable majority is unclear. It is said that the offer prompts states to sign as many local governments as possible. Without this broad buy-in, companies could remain exposed to more opioid-related lawsuits indefinitely – and therefore could walk away from this deal.

Over the course of nearly two years of talks, the most stubborn sticking points, aside from a net dollar figure, were about how to allocate funds to very different categories of plaintiffs – as well as squads of claimants. ‘private lawyers.

As part of the deal, each state would determine how it would distribute the settlement money. How much each state would receive would have to be determined by four factors: state population, overdose deaths, diagnoses of substance use disorders, and volume of tablets sold.

Reaching an agreement on compensation for lawyers was also a thorny issue. Cities and counties have relied on hundreds of private attorneys, who have worked on the litigation for years on a contingency basis and have already faced hundreds of millions of dollars in expenses.

Many states have also used outside advice to supplement their own staff.

Sometimes the same lawyers who represent local governments also worked for states. Local governments and states have often had contentious relationships during negotiations.

The $ 2 billion for lawyers is expected to be paid over seven years.

Characterizing the biggest difference between the deal proposed a year ago and the latter, one person familiar with the negotiations said: “There is more money for governments that have helped their citizens but a lot more money. for lawyers. “