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Biden Team Readies Wider Economic Package After Virus Relief

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FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2021, file photo President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with lawmakers on investments in infrastructure, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. From left, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., Vice President Kamala Harris, Biden, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. Looking beyond the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, Biden and lawmakers are laying the groundwork for another of his top legislative priorities — a long-sought boost to the nation's roads, bridges and other infrastructure that could meet GOP resistance to a hefty price tag. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Looking beyond the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, President Joe Biden and lawmakers are laying the groundwork for another top legislative priority — a long-sought boost to the nation’s roads, bridges and other infrastructure that could run into Republican resistance to a hefty price tag.

Biden and his team have begun discussions on the possible outlines of an infrastructure package with members of Congress, particularly mindful that Texas’ recent struggles with power outages and water shortages after a brutal winter storm present an opportunity for agreement on sustained spending on infrastructure.

Republicans say if the White House approach on the COVID relief bill — which passed the House Saturday on a near party-line vote and now heads to the Senate — is a sign of things to come for Biden’s plan on infrastructure and other initiatives, it could be a difficult road ahead in Congress.

A White House proposal could come out in March.

“Now is the time to be aggressive,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, a former South Bend, Indiana, mayor who knows potholes.

At a conference with state and local highway officials Thursday, he referred to the often-promised, never-achieved mega-initiative on roads, bridges and the like from the Trump administration.

“I know you are among those who are working and waiting most patiently, or maybe impatiently, for the moment when Infrastructure Week will no longer be a kind of Groundhog’s Day promise — but actually be something that delivers generational investments,” he said.

Much of America’s infrastructure — roads, bridges, public drinking and water systems, dams, airports, mass transit systems and more — is in need of major restoration after years of underfunding, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. In its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, it gave the national infrastructure an overall grade of D+.

Both chambers of Congress will use as starting points their unsuccessful efforts to get infrastructure bills through the last session.

Democrats passed a $1.5 trillion package in the House last year, but it went nowhere with the Trump administration and the Republican-led Senate. A Senate panel approved narrower bipartisan legislation in 2019 focused on reauthorizing federal transportation programs. It, too, flamed out as the U.S. turned its focus to elections and COVID-19.

Biden has talked bigger numbers, and some Democrats are now urging him to bypass Republicans in the closely divided Congress to address a broader range of priorities urged by interest groups.

During the presidential campaign, Biden pledged to deploy $2 trillion on infrastructure and clean energy, but the White House has not ruled out an even higher price tag.

Pointing to the storm in Texas as a “wake-up call” for the need to improve energy systems and other infrastructure, Gina McCarthy, Biden’s national climate adviser, told The Associated Press that Biden’s plan will specifically aim at green and other initiatives that promote job creation. She cited as an example federal investments to boost “workers that have been left behind” by closed coal mines or power plants, as well as communities located near polluting refineries and other hazards.

“He’s been a long fan of investing in infrastructure — long outdated — long overdue, I should say,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday. “But he also wants to do more on caregiving, help our manufacturing sector, do more to strengthen access to affordable health care. So the size — the package — the components of it, the order, that has not yet been determined.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, recently told the White House that he’s ready to use the budget maneuver known as reconciliation to pass a broad economic recovery package with only Democratic votes. That drew stern warnings from Republicans, who have already closed ranks against Democrats’ COVID-19 relief bill.

“They made a conscious decision not to include us,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., on Sunday, calling the White House’s assertion that the views of Republicans were taken into account with the COVID bill a “joke.”

Cassidy, one of 10 centrist Republicans who met with Biden in early February about getting bipartisan support on that bill, said Biden “so far has been about rhetoric” when it comes to his pledge of seeking unity and bipartisanship. He called it worrisome for other legislative initiatives.

“Republicans remain willing and are working on issues that require bipartisan cooperation,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican who will be helping to craft legislation on the Senate side, said there’s bipartisan support for ambitious steps on infrastructure. But that “should not extend to a multitrillion-dollar package that is stocked full with other ideologically driven, one-size-fits-all policies that tie the hands of our states and our communities,” said Capito, the ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told the AP that he foresees a comprehensive House package that will go beyond roads, bridges and public transit. He also expects it to have money for water systems, broadband and the power grid — addressing a weak infrastructure laid bare after the crippling blackouts in Texas.

He’s not ready to talk overall costs yet. DeFazio, D-Ore., said it will be up to the Biden administration and the House Ways and Means Committee to figure out how to pay for it.

DeFazio said General Motors’ recently announced goal of going largely electric by 2035 demonstrates the need for massive spending on charging stations across the country. Biden campaigned on a plan to install 500,000 charging stations by the end of 2030.

“I’m totally willing to work with (Republicans) if they’re willing to recognize climate change,” DeFazio said, “or if they don’t want to recognize climate change, they can just recognize that electric semis and electric vehicles are a flood on the horizon and we’ve got to get ahead of it.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, D-Mich., expressed a similar sentiment, urging strong action on carbon emissions and the vehicle charging stations to help achieve a “full transition to electric.” She also wants states to have more federal grants for infrastructure repairs after natural disasters and extreme weather.

At the Senate hearing where she spoke, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland said there’s bipartisan support among governors for relieving congestion, cutting red tape, leveraging private sector investment and ensuring projects can better withstand cyber attacks and natural disasters.

Democratic Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said his goal is for his committee to pass an infrastructure bill by Memorial Day.

In the House, Rep. Sam Graves, the top Republican on the transportation panel, said Republicans would be open to a larger package as long as it didn’t greatly add to the national debt.

But many lawmakers oppose an increase in the federal gas tax, one way to help pay for the spending, while groups such as the Chamber of Commerce argue against increasing taxes on companies during a pandemic.

White House aide Cedric Richmond, a former congressman from Louisiana, told state transportation officials the president intends for most of the spending to be paid for, not added to the debt. In part, this would be by reversing some of the Trump administration tax cuts.

Ed Mortimer, a vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said removing items in last year’s infrastructure bill for renovating schools and low-income housing could lower the price tag, because the COVID relief measure passed by the House already has hundreds of billions of dollars for those purposes.

“Affordable housing, school construction, very meritorious, but we’re not sure that that’s a key focus that’s going to get a bill signed into law,” Mortimer said.

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GivingTuesday raises $3.1B for charities in tough economy

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NEW YORK (AP) — GivingTuesday raised a record $3.1 billion in 24 hours for charitable causes in the U.S. earlier this week, as the event that started as a hashtag in 2012 celebrated its 10th anniversary and its status as a staple of fundraising for nonprofits, the group’s leader said Wednesday.

Despite the difficult economic year that many households have experienced, with inflation in the costs of basic goods, gas and housing, people were still willing to give, said GivingTuesday CEO Asha Curran.

“That’s really what we saw yesterday,” she told The Associated Press. “That whatever it is that people are experiencing, they were as generous as they had the capacity to be.”

GivingTuesday estimated that giving increased about 15% from 2021′s $2.7 billion, outpacing inflation. Donations were tallied using an array of data sources that includes major community foundations, companies that offer fundraising software, the payment processor PayPal and large grantmakers like Fidelity Charitable and Vanguard Charitable. Their methodology for compiling the estimate seeks to eliminate duplicate data points, Curran said.

In another measure of the resilience of donations, Fidelity Charitable said Tuesday that for the first time since 2018, the value of grants from its donor advised funds exceeds the value of investments going into the funds.

The organization said this year’s totals marked the largest amount donated on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving since the group started tracking it.

The hashtag to promote fundraising on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving started in 2012 as a project of the 92nd Street Y and the organization GivingTuesday became an independent nonprofit in 2020. The organization has also launched a campaign to raise $26 million over five years to expand their database of giving.

In the tenth year of nonprofits and donors marking the day, Curran said, people continue to show incredible generosity.

“They give in a multitude of ways. It does not always have to do with money. It often has to do with community. It is very collective. It has a lot to do with people feeling like they are a fractal of a larger whole,” Curran said. “And yesterday was just one more reaffirmation of that.”

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Stocks fall as Fed signals rates need to go still higher

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Stocks closed lower on Wall Street and Treasury yields rose Thursday afternoon after more indications from the Federal Reserve that it may need to raise interest rates much higher than many people expect to get inflation under control.

The S&P 500 fell 0.3%, with retailers and banks among the biggest weights on the benchmark index. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped less than 0.1%, while the Nasdaq composite closed 0.3% lower.

Decliners outnumbered gainers on the New York Stock Exchange by nearly a 2-to-1 margin. Smaller company stocks fell harder than the rest of the market, pulling the Russell 2000 index 0.8% lower.

Bond yields rose and hovered around multidecade highs. The yield on the two-year Treasury note rose to 4.45% from 4.37% late Wednesday. The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which influences rates on mortgages and other consumer loans, rose to 3.77% from 3.69% late Wednesday.

The Fed has been raising rates aggressively in order to tame inflation by applying the brakes to the economy. Investors have been hoping that more signs of easing inflation could help the central bank shift to less aggressive rate increases.

The central bank, though, has been clear about its intent to keep raising rates, possibly to unexpectedly high levels, to tame inflation. James Bullard, who leads the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, reaffirmed that position in a presentation on Thursday, suggesting the Fed’s short-term rate may have to rise to a level between 5% and 7% in order to quash stubbornly hot inflation. The central bank has already raised its key rate to a range of 3.75% to 4%, up from nearly zero as recently as last March.

“Bullard’s comments this morning suggesting that they need to get the fed fund (rate) between 5% and 7% was a surprise, to say the least, to markets,” said Scott Ladner, chief investment officer at Horizon Investments. “That certainly was a shock to folks and pushed us further down.”

The S&P 500 fell 12.23 points to 3,946.56. The Dow dropped 7.51 points to 33,546.32. The Nasdaq lost 38.70 points to close at 11,144.96. The Russell 2000 index fell 14.04 points to 1,839.12. The major indexes are all headed for weekly losses.

The presentation from Bullard follows reports showing that inflation is starting to ease somewhat, but still remains extremely hot as consumers continue spending amid a very strong jobs market. Strong spending and employment remain a potential bulwark against the economy slipping into a recession. It also means the Fed will likely remain aggressive and raises the risk that it will hit the brakes hard enough on the economy to actually bring on a recession.

Stock markets “got a little bit ahead of themselves” after getting encouraging reports on consumer and wholesale prices easing a bit, said Ross Mayfield, investment strategist at Baird. “But, the Fed knows they have a long way to go.”

“When you have the (Fed) statement already laying it out and someone like Bullard saying what he said, there is a little bit of jawboning markets back down and letting investors know this fight is not over.”

Outside of concerns about inflation, the market is also worried about Russia’s war in Ukraine and lockdowns in China hurting the global economy.

The conflict in Ukraine has been weighing on the energy sector and any worsening could cause spikes in prices for oil, gas and other commodities that the region produces. U.S. oil prices fell 4.6%.

China’s “zero-COVID” approach has caused a supply crunch for some of Asia’s biggest manufacturers, denting economic growth.

Markets in Asia and Europe fell.

Companies are also wrapping up the latest round of earnings reports. Macy’s jumped 15% after beating analysts’ quarterly financial forecasts and raising its earnings outlook.

Retailer Bath & Body Works soared 25.2% after reporting strong financial results.

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CFHLA CEO Robert Agrusa Receives Recognition from State Rep. Daisy Morales

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Former State Rep. Daisy Morales recognizes CFHLA President and CEO Robert Agrusa at his office. Photo: Daisy Morales (via Facebook).
Former State Rep. Daisy Morales recognizes CFHLA President and CEO Robert Agrusa at his office. Photo: Daisy Morales (via Facebook).

ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – State Representative Daisy Morales (D-Orlando) presented Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association President and CEO Robert Agrusa with a certificate at the CFHLA headquarters last week.

Rep. Morales honored his and the CFHLA’s strong relationship and support for her office. The certificate for “Outstanding Support” reads in part: “I hereby recognize you for your support of the Office of State Representative Daisy Morales.”

 

Former State Rep. Daisy Morales recognizes CFHLA President and CEO Robert Agrusa at his office. Photo: Daisy Morales (via Facebook).

State Rep. Daisy Morales recognizes CFHLA President and CEO Robert Agrusa at his office. Photo: Daisy Morales (via Facebook).

 

“I’m honored to recognize Mr. Agrusa,” said Representative Morales. “I appreciate Mr. Agrusa’s and the CFHLA’s commitment to our rebounding and ever-growing hospitality industry.”

 

Photo: Daisy Morales (via Facebook).

Photo: Daisy Morales (via Facebook).

 

According to research done earlier this year, some 36 million travelers visited Florida in the first quarter of 2022, just six million more than the visitors in 4th quarter of 2021, and the numbers are on a steady upward trajectory. Prior to the pandemic, Florida boasted an average of over 72 million visitors per year.

The CFHLA will host its annual Hospitality Gala, its signature black tie event in which the organization recognizes hospitality industry leaders and supporters, on December 17, 2022 at the Disney Coronado Resort.

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Mellissa Thomas is Editor for Florida National News. | mellissa.thomas@floridanationalnews.com

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