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Bill Owens: Confounding And Confusing Events 9/28/20

It is being reported that Secretary Mnuchin and Chairman Powell are urging more spending to help the economy recover. Whether this translates into a new piece of funding legislation in Congress is very difficult to fathom since we still stand at impasse, although Speaker Pelosi has restarted discussions in light of the struggling economy. The other questions in any funding bill will, of course, be how it will effect states and municipalities who are also in dire need of assistance. Much of the funds that were directed towards small business have essentially lapsed which comes at a time when the Coronavirus is again surging, new unemployment claims continue at a weekly rate around 900,000, and visits to stores and restaurants have stalled putting increase pressure on small business. This is important to watch as it will have a dramatic impact on the economy whichever way it goes.

There are conflicting pronouncements coming from the White House and the CDC as to the process related to a vaccine. Recently, the CDC indicated that its Federal Vaccine Advisory Committee will put off a vote recommending who should get initial doses of COVID-19 vaccines until the committee members learn more about the vaccine. This seems like a very reasonable approach. The next question, however, is even if the vaccine is made available, will people take it. With those potentially unwilling falling into two categories, those who do not believe the vaccine has been proven safe and those who are opposed to vaccines generally. We know from recent history we have an anti-vaccine minority in the United States and that may well rear its ugly head in this process as well.

The headline in a recent edition of Popular Mechanics states: “Archaeologist found 115,000-year-old human footprints where they shouldn’t be” which may rewrite the history of human migration. The fossils were found in Saudi Arabia and were dated to a period just subsequent to an Ice Age. These footprints were surrounded by animals, but not hunted animals who apparently were thirsty given the location of the find which was a prehistoric mud hole. These are the oldest ever human footprints on the Arabian Peninsula. The site of this mud hole was discovered in the Nefud Desert in 2017. The location of these footprints indicated, obviously, that people were walking through the area at a time not anticipated by archaeologists. The story of humankind and its migration continues to amaze.

The New York Times reports that an election year investigation by Senate Republicans into corruption allegations against Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and his son Hunter involving the Ukraine found no evidence of improper influence or wrongdoing by the former Vice President closing out an inquiry its leaders had hoped would tarnish the Democratic Presidential nominee. It is important to note that this investigation was much touted by many Republican Senators and by the President. It appears to be nothing more than a rehashing of unproven allegations. This has to be very frustrating for POTUS.

The death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg has brought to the fore her spectacular contributions to the law, and in particular, to women’s rights and the application of the 14th Amendment. Unfortunately, it has also brought a bitter dispute between Democrats and Republicans as to whether or not to proceed to confirm her replacement prior to the election, or at least prior to the end of 2020. This is, of course, disturbing to Democrats because of the Merrick Garland saga in the last year of Obama’s presidency when Mr. McConnell essentially said that he wanted to wait to see the outcome of the election. He never made any mention of the now offered reason that the President and Senate were not of the same party, and that somehow that makes logical sense. Obviously, that’s all obfuscation and they are just simply taking advantage of the situation presented to them. I think Republicans need to think very carefully about this, since they have to understand that if they lose the White House and the Senate, and they now have a 6 to 3 court, they may well wind up in short order with a 7 to 6 court, since there is no constitutional requirement for a nine person Supreme Court, and obviously, this can be accomplished very easily by a Senate comprised of even just 51 Democrats. All this is very problematic, not just in the short-term, but in the long-term, because obviously, the Republicans could do the same thing and we could wind up with a court of 25 members. How does Mark Kelly play into this since he will likely be seated before the end of 2020. We need to go back and re-think where we are and decide how we are going to proceed civilly and logically.

President Trump announced a new round of farm aid during a recent trip to Wisconsin, which is clearly an attempt to keep the farm community in his pocket for election day. As I pointed out last week, the dairy portions of the USMCA have been deemed immaterial, at least by Wisconsin dairy farmers, so Mr. Trump needs to do something a little more substantive in order to retain or bring back those farmers to vote for him. There is squabbling now going on in Congress in terms of the next COVID bill because POTUS is attempting to include this increased aid to farmers in that bill, and Democrats are resisting because they see it for what it is, which is an attempt to buy votes. It will be interesting to see given all of his trade failures which have hurt farmers significantly if that has an impact on their voting, or do they merely stay home.

Bill Owens is a former member of Congress representing the New York 21st, a partner in Stafford, Owens, Piller, Murnane, Kelleher and Trombley in Plattsburgh, NY and a Strategic Advisor at Dentons to Washington, DC.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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