Congress to Big Tech: Do Not Pass Go – The Wrap (10/12/20)

This week: Trump-induced whiplash for stimulus talks, domestic terrorism in Michigan, and a congressional call to address Big Tech.

Welcome to The Wrap! Each Monday, we’ll walk through some of the big news and policy headlines from last week so you know what to look for in the week ahead.

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Now to the thing.

As of Sunday night, we’ve seen 7.7 million cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. Over 214,000 people have reportedly died.

President Trump further complicated stimulus negotiations, domestic terrorists tried to kidnap a governor, and a House committee said Big Tech needs to be knocked down a peg.

1. Trump causes whiplash on stimulus talks.

On Tuesday, President Trump tweeted that he was directing White House aides to cease negotiating with Congress on the next economic stimulus bill until after Election Day. In his tweets, he called out “poorly run, high crime, Democrat States” and said the GOP-held Senate should focus entirely on the confirmation process for Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Later, Trump tweeted support for standalone bills on specific components of a stimulus package, such as disbursing stimulus checks.

On Friday, Trump reversed course and offered a $1.8 trillion stimulus package to Congress, which is double what the Senate GOP passed this summer but still about $400 billion less than the House Democrats’ revised HEROES Act. Neither party has shown support for this plan.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said it’s highly unlikely a deal will be reached between now and Election Day. The WH is signaling they want to increase this offer to just under $2 trillion.

The main sticking point remains federal aid to state and local governments. All the while, the threat of evictions seems to be renewed in some states, weekly unemployment insurance filings remain historically high with little improvement over the past several weeks, and the job gains and economic recovery seems to be slowing down considerably according analysis of the September jobs report (paywall).

Related: Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell explained hours before Trump’s tweets on Tuesday that another stimulus package is vital to preventing “unnecessary hardship for households and businesses.” As for the scope of the next package, Powell said it needs to be significant: “The risks of overdoing it seem, for now, to be smaller.”

2. Domestic terrorists plotted to kidnap Governor of Michigan.

A group of domestic terrorists in Michigan plotted to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer, the FBI shared on Thursday. The attempted kidnappers, who are members of a militia, believed Whitmer to be a “tyrant” for her handling of the pandemic in the state.

Michigan has been a hotbed for anti-government militia groups for some time; the pandemic and subsequent moves by Whitmer to address it have only heightened the tensions among these groups.

This is a deeply concerning development. It shows far-right militia groups are serious threats to public safety and democracy.

It also shows that the language used regarding these two things is extremely polarized. This April, President Trump tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” in response to anti-government protests in the state. That’s a clear incitement of violence. Following the news, President Trump actually tweeted that Whitmer “has done a terrible job” instead of 1) saying he supported Whitmer in this trying and potentially traumatic time for her personally and her state or 2) not saying anything at all.

To be frank, the President’s tweets read as “she had it coming.” That’s not sympathy for Whitmer. It’s validation of the terrorists who wanted to kidnap and harm her.

Please read: This op-ed from Michigan state Senator Mallory McMorrow. She very clearly connects the dots between the plot to kidnap Governor Whitmer, far-right violence, gun extremist and white supremacist movements, and President Trump’s rhetoric.

McMorrow: “This is a horrifying and distressing place we’ve found ourselves in, and it is the direct result of a Republican Party tainted by this president and Republican leaders here in Michigan who feel comfortable aligning themselves with right-wing militias, hate groups, anti-government extremists and—we now know—domestic terrorists for political gain.”

Related: The New York Times has a running “what we know” piece on the conspirators and the kidnapping plot here (paywall).

Related: The Detroit Free Press explains how social media played a part in this plot and how it connects to the larger “boogaloo,” a violent far-right movement that’s looking to start the next American civil war.

Related: Militias? Terrorists? The Detroit Free Press explains the importance of how we name groups like these here.

3. The House Judiciary Committee called Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Google tech monopolies.

After over a year of investigating, the House Judiciary Committee released a report on Big Tech that ultimately called Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Google monopolies and calls for significant policy changes to U.S. antitrust laws.

The report, released last Tuesday, stated these four companies are exercising monopoly-like practices in the tech business, most notably by purchasing or absorbing competing firms to eliminate competition. These four companies have taken advantage of the U.S. government’s very lax implementation of antitrust law over the past few decades—they have collectively purchased some 500 companies since 1998.

Importantly, the report stated Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Google have instituted “a prevalence of fear among market participants that depend on the dominant platforms [Apple et al.], many of whom expressed unease that the success of their business and their economic livelihood depend on what they viewed as the platforms’ unaccountable and arbitrary power.”

In other words, the four companies, practically free to do what they want, continuously coerce and abuse the market.

The document itself, 449 pages long, is a bipartisan testament to what Congress can do when it decides to pursue the interests of the people. It includes input from over three dozen experts on antitrust law, data from over one million documents from the four companies, testimony from seven public hearings, and interviews from over 240 former company employees, competing firms, and other individuals.

The report includes several policy suggestions, the least of which is bolstering federal antitrust oversight. Democrats on the committee would like to go further and break up these companies; Republicans do not favor this. In any case, the report and its proposals are the most significant document regarding monopolies and antitrust policy since at least President Reagan’s administration. It’s a big deal.

Please read: This edition of BIG, a newsletter by researcher and monopoly-power expert Matt Stoller. He does a tremendous job in breaking down the report and its importance.

Policy Developments on the Campaign Trail

  • The Biden-Harris campaign released an updated plan for tribal nations on Thursday. The plan, an attempt to restore the federal government’s obligations to tribal nations and improve the relationship between the them, includes specific measures like “reinstating the annual White House Tribal Nations Conference,” nominating judges with better understandings of tribal law, expanding the Indian Health Service’s access to federal resources, and make it easier for land to be transferred to trust for tribes. There’s a lot more to this plan, but overall it’s been met with positive reception from tribal members and leaders.
    (101PC covered tribal sovereignty and land back in July.)
  • President Trump’s admin has been pushing to disburse prescription drug discount cards (“Trumpcards”) to Medicare enrollees. The $200 credit card-like cards are a $8 billion plan from the White House, but it’s also a bid to improve the President’s standing with older voters and deflect from his record on health care.
  • Trump is also looking to hit the campaign trail again after his coronavirus diagnosis last week. Meanwhile, the second debate between him and Joe Biden, originally set for October 15th is canceled. The commission in charge of these debates proposed doing one virtually to eliminate the risk of spreading the virus between the campaigns but Trump did not agree to do so.

Latest on States and Voting Access

  • The Trump campaign has an “army” of about 50,000 poll watchers, who will be present at voting locations on Election Day to observe how things are going. While poll watching is common for some elections, there’s deep concern by voting rights groups that this mass mobilization will be used to further delegitimize and politicize the election results. Read Politico’s explainer here.
  • A federal judge shot down the Trump campaign and GOP’s attempt to block Pennsylvania from deploying mail-in ballot drop boxes and implementing other election policies that would make voting in the battleground easier.

Be sure to follow voting rights activist and lawyer Marc E. Elias on Twitter for the latest on voting access in this election cycle.

What else?

  • GOP and Trump Inauguration committee donor Elliott Broidy is being charged with conspiracy to “make millions of dollars by leveraging Broidy’s access to and perceived influence with the President and his administration.”
  • A bipartisan Congressional Oversight Commission that reports on how federal CARES Act money is spent did not release its September report for the federal Municipal Lending Facility, a CARES Act program that buys municipal debt. So in other words, the Oversight Commission is not “overseeing.” The commission was a hot issue in March when Congress and the WH were hashing out the CARES Act; Democrats wanted more scrutiny over how the money was spent, Republicans were not as enthusiastic, and President Trump was openly against it. The New York Times has coverage here (paywall).
  • A New York Times piece from Tuesday reported former AG Jess Sessions and former deputy AG Rod Rosenstein were strong supporters of the child separation policy (paywall) for undocumented migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Both had downplayed their involvement with the policy. The report paints a picture of this policy that is somehow grimmer than our existing one. I encourage everyone to read it if they can, as it’s very telling on how little regard this administration has for the well-being of others.
  • The State of Vermont has legalized the sale of recreational marijuana.

What Congress is up to: The Senate began the confirmation process for Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court this morning, which will carry on for several days; try to follow where stimulus talks are going (good luck).

Campaign Comparisons: Trump and Biden’s tax plans

Who doesn’t love talking about taxes? Let’s take a quick look at how the two candidates compare.

During the RNC, President Trump said he would go all in on tax breaks and credits. Importantly, he’d like to reduce the capital gains tax and taxes on the middle class, though experts say this is difficult to do and wouldn’t benefit these earners. Trump also wants to institute a “Made in America” tax credit to increase worker take-home pay, but he has not specified what this credit actually is. He’s also said he’d like to implement a payroll tax deferral, something he did temporarily this year that would make Social Security insolvent, and expand Opportunity Zones, designated areas with tax deferments meant to spur economic development.

(Opportunity Zones were a part of the 2017 tax cuts; they have not really worked in bolstering communities but instead have mostly helped wealthy investors instead.)

Vice President Joe Biden’s tax plan also includes expanding tax credits, though his campaign has specified what those are and who they benefit, namely working families and those with children. But most importantly, Biden would increase income, payroll, and capital gains taxes for those making $400,000 or more each year and increase corporate income taxes. (Parts of these would be simply undoing provisions from the 2017 tax cuts.)

As tax plans typically do, both of these reflect the candidates’ perceptions of “well-being.” For Trump, that simply means fewer taxes, more take-home money, and an overall boost to wealthier Americans to maintain the economic success Trump had seen before the pandemic. For Biden, it means leveraging the wealth and assets America has to pay for the things it needs—housing, health care, green energy jobs. One sounds like trickle-down economics, the other is an acknowledgment that working individuals, families, and communities have been struggling for some time and deserve more support.

The Tax Foundation expertly explains both plans; you can read analyses of Trump’s and Biden’s to see what else these plans include. For a side-by-side, check out this piece from CPA Practice Advisor.


That’s a wrap. We did not put out a new piece last week, but be on the lookout for one this Thursday or Friday on state supreme courts.


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