Chestnuts Roasting on a Dumpster Fire: Best 101PC Posts of 2020 – The Wrap (12/19/20)

This week: A look back at some of this year’s 101PC posts.

Welcome to The Wrap! Each week, we’ll walk through some of the big news and policy headlines from the last seven days to explain what it all means.

If you’re interested in reading more of 101 Policy Corner’s stuff, visit our home page. If you’d like to submit a 101 Request or would like to write for our site, visit our contact page.

Programming note: 101PC will be on hiatus until after the holidays! Posts will pick up again in the new year.

As of Friday evening, we’ve seen 17.5 million cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. Over 313,000 people have reportedly died.

No coverage this week of a big story. Instead, I wanted to revisit six pieces from 101PC this year deserving of some additional attention. (Links are in the headers.)

1. Climate Change, Overcoming Partisanship, & Joe Biden’s Climate Plan (by request)

This was a loooooong piece by the site’s standards, but I immensely enjoyed writing it. Not only was it reader-requested, but it gave me a reason to take a long look at then-candidate Joe Biden’s climate and clean energy economy strategy. I also had the chance to speak with Cale Jaffe, Director of the Environmental Law and Community Engagement Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law, about how partisanship on this issue grew over the past several decades.

It will be interesting to see early next year whether or not much of this will be achievable—we still don’t know what Congress will fully look like, after all.

2. Recidivism as a Policy Issue

This was one of the first pieces I wrote for the site, and it remains one of my favorites. Returning citizens should be treated with dignity, and we need to abandon stigmatizing criminal records. Still, I know that this can be a hard thing to grasp for some, which led me to make this argument for better support through a “it’s your tax money” lens.

From an economics standpoint, the way we treat returning citizens makes no sense. We do little to prevent recidivism, which costs money in at least two ways: By making it more difficult for returning citizens to become a part of their communities once again, we make sure they can’t contribute to local economies; plus the act of re-incarceration itself is costly.

By framing the issue this way, I hope some who would otherwise bristle at the idea of helping their neighbors can find it within themselves to support more compassionate measures, like ban-the-box policies and other erasures of discriminatory practices.

3. Oklahoma City Draws Some MAPS to Avoid Public Debt

Sometimes, solutions to big problems really are simple. Living and working in Chicago, I have heard nonstop about the threat of the city’s growing outstanding debt. (Rightfully so.) When I first read about Oklahoma City’s MAPS, it was like a switch was flipped in my brain.

The concept is easy to follow—instead of taking out big chunks of debt to finance necessary infrastructure projects, why doesn’t a community just “save up” for it? That’s what the different iterations of MAPS are in a nutshell.

It’s always great to be able to point at something as a clear and effective example for alternative ways to conduct ourselves.

4. Improving Our Elections with Ranked-Choice Voting

Writing about ranked-choice voting (RCV) was one of the easiest pieces to put together this year for two reasons: The benefits of implementing this are obvious, and FairVote Washington’s Ben Chapman was such an enthusiastic person to discuss this with.

At the very least, we should consider any device or process that could improve our democracy. RCV would certainly fall into this category, as it has improved representation and voter turnout while lowering campaign mudslinging and voter dissatisfaction within the jurisdictions that use it.

5. Food for Thought: One Way Cities Can Improve Their Food Systems

We actually have more than enough food in the world to feed everyone adequately. The issue is actually food access—connecting people to what they need.

This is a big problem in cities, especially since COVID-19 hit. That’s why I was particularly drawn to the concept of “municipal departments of food” that would coordinate the difference components of a communities food and nutrition landscape.

6. Intergovernmental Dysfunction and Ways to Tackle It

Maybe the most policy-wonky piece I’ve written this year (not a bad thing). Tackling the dysfunction and incompatibilities between/among governments of the same and differing levels would help solve a lot of our inefficiencies: commuter congestion on highways, inequities in environmental stewardship, holes in gun regulations, etc.

Basically, some things need to be solved within the space between our federal gov and our states or our states and cities, rather than just one of them. (Easier said than done.)


Much thanks to those who entertained me and read some of my stuff. I hope this year of 101PC has been thought-provoking, informing, and easily followed. After all, that’s the whole point of this site—to provide answers in a way that everyone can understand, and make the seemingly abstract stuff more palatable.

As always, I am constantly looking for topics and policy issues to cover. If you have one in mind or if you’d like to contribute to this site, please fill out the contact form here.

Now, there was some important news that broke this week. Let’s get to that.

Biden’s cabinet:

The president-elect shared more of his picks for top positions in his administration:

SCOTUS news:

The Supreme Court decided to delay ruling on the Trump administration’s plan to exclude undocumented immigrants from its Census apportionment process. For more background, read The Wrap from last week.

While this does seem like good news for the White House’s strategy to shift more political power toward whiter states, this does not necessarily mean the plan will be approved in the future.

The latest from Congress:

For a moment at the end of this week, it looked like Congress would eke out a solution to the budget and stimulus impasses. But instead of meeting their Friday deadline, members passed another short-term stopgap for federal spending that would get them through the weekend. Here’s how we got here:

  • The $900-ish billion package, the details of which nobody but House and Senate leadership are aware, would include more money through the Payment Protection Program for small businesses, a $300 weekly unemployment insurance boost, and stimulus checks of $600 if passed as is.
  • Senators Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have insisted on larger checks and have tried to introduce a separate bill to disburse checks of this size.
  • Their bill was blocked twice on Friday by Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), who says it’s not worth assisting Americans at a time like this because it would enlarge the federal deficit.
  • Meanwhile, much of the rest of Friday was lost after Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) proposed a measure in this stimulus package that would end many of the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending programs. These CARES Act programs have helped keep the economy afloat (the programs offer loans and grants to businesses and municipalities) but have billions of dollars leftover. That money could be useful in the new year, if its conditions were tweaked; Toomey has said these programs were meant to be shuttered at the end of this year anyway.

Notably, this current package lacks state and local government direct assistance (as in desperately needed money to be spent outside of COVID response measures) as well as liability protections for businesses.

Congress won’t pass the budget bill without doing so for the stimulus, which will prompt them to get this done. I think a deal will happen this weekend, but it will still be smaller than what’s needed.

We need to replace the revenue lost by state and local governments, and we need ongoing direct assistance to Americans, not one-time checks. Plus, the Payment Protection Plan has been riddled with disbursements to not-exactly-small businesses; to make sure small businesses are better prioritized, this program needs additional oversight measures.

In any case, maybe we should stop discussing the budget deficit at a time in which many economists have been saying for months we need to take a big swing at the next stimulus package.

What else?

  • Rollout of coronavirus vaccines has begun. However, some states are reporting shipments of the vaccine are smaller than expected. It’s not because there’s a shortage of the vaccine. Instead, it could be because of the White House’s slow development of a distribution strategy.
  • Bid deal alert: The European Union proposed a new framework for regulating Big Tech companies and digital competition. The Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act would limit groups like Google, Facebook, and Amazon from expanding their online presence and eclipsing smaller competitors. The framework includes provisions for fines and would even allow the EU to break up these companies’ European operations if needed.

___

That’s a wrap. Look for a 101PC piece after the holidays about what to expect of public policy in 2021.

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