WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government posted a March budget deficit of $660 billion, a record high for the month, as direct payments to Americans under President Joe Biden’s stimulus package were distributed, the Treasury Department said on Monday.
The deficit for the first six months of the 2021 fiscal year ballooned to a record $1.706 trillion, compared to a $743 billion deficit for the comparable year-earlier period. The first six months of fiscal 2020 largely did not include emergency pandemic spending to counter the coronavirus-related lockdowns that started in March 2020.
The March deficit, which compared to a year-earlier deficit of $119 billion, included receipts of $268 billion and outlays of $927 billion – both record highs for that month.
A Treasury official said the March outlays were further increased by $339 billion in direct payments of $1,400 that were sent to many individuals under Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act that was enacted last month.
More funding from the $1.9 trillion stimulus package will roll out in coming months, the official said, likely keeping outlays elevated.
For the first six months of fiscal 2021, outlays were a record $3.410 trillion, while receipts were $1.704 trillion, the Treasury said. Total direct payments in the six-month period came to $487 billion, including those from a year-end stimulus package passed under former President Donald Trump, the Treasury official said.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden faces a Sunday deadline to decide whether to intervene in a trade dispute between two South Korean electric vehicle battery makers that could impact a Georgia factory and his push for more electric vehicles.
The companies, LG Chem and rival SK Innovation Co, have spent months trying to take advantage of past and promised U.S. investments, and ties to politicians.
The Biden Administration, through the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, is set to decide as early as Friday whether to take the rare step of reversing the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), unless the Korean battery companies reach a last-minute settlement.
The White House declined to comment on Thursday.
The ITC in February sided with LG Chem in its trade secrets claims, but permitted SK to import components for batteries for Ford EV F-150 program for four years, and Volkswagen’s North American EVs for two years.
Volkswagen of America CEO Scott Keogh said Wednesday Biden’s intervention was critical: “The White House could accelerate the future of zero-emission vehicles and green jobs, or threaten to reduce U.S. battery capacity and delay the transition to electric vehicles.”
The global auto industry is racing to develop EVs. Biden has proposed $174 billion to boost EV sales and charging.
Unless the White House intervenes, SK says the ITC ruling would force it to halt construction on a $2.6-billion factory in Georgia, where two newly-elected Democratic Senators are the linchpin of Biden’s slim Democratic Congressional majority.
Last month, Republican Georgia Governor Brian Kemp urged Biden to intervene, noting SK’s plant will employ nearly 2,600: “Simply put: the livelihoods of thousands of Georgians are now in your hands.”
Georgia Senator Jon Ossoff has held numerous meetings with the Korean battery makers and Biden Administration, his office confirmed, and stressed “the urgent need for both companies to come to the negotiating table and agree to a settlement to save the Georgia plant,” a spokeswoman said.
LG’s battery unit LG Energy Solution is nearing completion of an Ohio cell manufacturing plant with General Motors and is close to announcing plans build a $2.3 billion second facility in Tennessee, sources told Reuters.
LG plans to invest at least $4.5 billion in U.S. battery production over the next four years. LG insists it can handle automakers battery needs if SK abandons its Georgia plant.
SK argues LG could not handle VW and Ford contracts and warns Chinese manufacturers may replace lost battery capacity.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate leaders are preparing to introduce legislation on semiconductors, U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday as the nation wrestles with an ongoing shortage of the critical technology used in a range of devices from cars to computers.
“We’re working on that. (U.S. Senate Majority Leader) Chuck Schumer and, I think, (U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch) McConnell are about to introduce a bill along those lines,” Biden said amid remarks on his own plan to boost the nation’s infrastructure.
US President Joe Biden was pressed on how he would address the surge in migrants at the southern border at his first official press conference.
More than 17,000 children are being kept in government detention centres and Mr Biden was challenged on whether his policies could be contributing to the increase in child arrivals.
The president defended his record and vowed to be transparent.
The hour-long event also covered subjects from guns to foreign policy.
He also doubled his administration’s vaccine rollout goal, saying that he now aims to have 200 million jabs be given before his 100th day in office.
But questions about the situation at the US-Mexico border dominated the event.
What did Biden say about the surge?
During the White House news conference, Mr Biden blamed his predecessor Donald Trump for the growing humanitarian crisis on the southern border, and said it was normal for the US to experience an influx of migrants in cooler months.
“The truth of the matter is, nothing has changed,” he said, adding: “The reason they’re coming is that it’s the time they can travel with the least likelihood of dying on the way because of the heat in the desert.”
“I’d like to think it’s because I’m a nice guy, but it’s not,” he said, calling the surge a cyclical event.
He also blamed the “circumstances in their country,” including natural disasters, crime and lack of economic opportunity.
Asked when he would make government-run detention centres open to visits from reporters, Mr Biden said he “will commit to transparency”.
“You’ll have full access to everything,” he said, but declined to give a timeline.
What else was covered?
Topics raised during the press conference ranged from questions over gun control to whether the US would keep its commitment to withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by a 1 May deadline agreed to by the previous administration.
Mr Biden admitted that it would be difficult to meet that timeline, and punted on answering questions over what he could accomplish on what he called “long-term” problems such as gun legislation.
He also made news by saying he planned to run for re-election in 2024 – a question that had been a source of speculation until today.
Mr Biden opened the event with an update on the US Covid-19 response, saying that he would aim to deliver 200m jabs in his first 100 days – a plan he said was “ambitious” but possible.
“No other country in the world has even come close, not even close, to what we are doing,” he claimed.
The US has so far delivered over 130 million doses of the vaccine – but it still lags behind other countries in terms of the number of shots administered relative to the size of the population.
According to US health experts, approximately 2.5m doses are now being distributed per day.
What has been happening at the border?
The US Customs and Border Protection agency releases monthly figures of the number of “encounters” at the southwest land border.
In January and February 2021, 78,442 and 100,441 people were apprehended, respectively. This is a significant increase from previous years.
Still, the highest number in the last few years was in May 2019 during Mr Trump’s presidency – when over 140,000 people were apprehended by the authorities.
What is the reason for the surge?
There are several factors driving the surge at the southern US border. They include:
Hope in Biden – “They told us that the US president would order the removal of all obstacles on our path,” 17-year-old Michael told BBC News as he travelled from his native Honduras.
Natural disaster – “Our houses collapsed with [Hurricane] Eta. We lost everything,” says Jacqueline, a pregnant 19-year-old walking to the US on foot.
Gang Crime – “We tried to start again with our business, but they demanded money from us. We were victims of extortion,” Jacqueline adds.
Central American Violence – “One needs to risk everything. But it is better to risk your life here,” says her husband Lionel on their journey through Mexico. “In Honduras you might get killed anyway”.
President Joe Biden has said he is hopeful that America can “mark independence” from Covid-19 on 4 July if people get vaccinated.
In his first primetime address as president, Mr Biden said he would order states to make all adults eligible for vaccinations by 1 May.
Current measures prioritise people by age or health condition.
Mr Biden was speaking exactly a year to the day after the outbreak was classified a global pandemic.
Half a million Americans have since died – more than the death toll from World War One, World War Two, and the Vietnam War combined.
Schools have been closed, businesses shuttered and people kept apart.
In his speech, President Biden set a timetable for when small groups could potentially meet again.
“If we do this together, by 4 July, there is a good chance you, your family and friends can get together in your backyard or in your neighbourhood and have a cookout or a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day,” Mr Biden said.
He predicted that the country would be able to not only celebrate Independence Day but also “independence from this virus”.
The US health system is complex and individual states are in charge of public health policy. While the federal government is responsible for getting the vaccine distributed to the states, it has largely relied on them to handle the distribution.
But as part of the plans to expand vaccinations, President Biden said the number of places where people could be immunised would be increased, with veterinarians and dentists among those also allowed to vaccinate people.
Mobile units will travel into local communities to provide vaccinations in underserved communities, he said.
Mr Biden previously set a target of 100 million vaccinations by his 100th day in office, but in his address on Thursday, he said this target would be reached on day 60.
Despite the good news, he warned that the “fight is far from over”. “This is not the time to let up,” he added.
He called on people to maintain social distancing measures, hand washing and wear a mask.
“Beating the virus and getting back to normal relies on national unity,” he said.
This time last year, there were 1,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the US and about 30 people had died.
All US major sport was cancelled and then-President Donald Trump suspended travel from Europe, saying he hoped the US would be open again for Easter 2020. This prediction was repeatedly revised.
President Biden said last month he hoped that life would return to “normal” by Christmas 2021. Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious diseases expert, described this timetable as “reasonable”.
The president’s caution is at odds with some states such as Texas and Mississippi, which are relaxing restrictions in order to boost their economies.
One year ago, the United States joined the world in facing a brutal truth. The coronavirus pandemic was going to fundamentally alter everyday life. Businesses shuttered. Citizens sheltered in their home. Life ground to a halt.
On Thursday night, in his first prime-time televised address to the nation, President Joe Biden said there was light at the end of the tunnel.
The big news from his speech was that all adult Americans would be eligible for a vaccine by the beginning of May – a pace, he boasted, that was the best in the world.
His most important message, however, may have been his urging that all Americans should get the jab when it’s their turn. “I know they’re safe,” he said.
A recent opinion poll showed that nearly half of Republicans are sceptical of the vaccine. If their doubt becomes inaction, Mr Biden’s promises – widespread school openings, an ability to travel and Independence Day celebrations – will go unrealised.
His speech was part promise, part warning. Get vaccinated, continue social distancing, wear masks – or else.
“America is coming back,” he said. But, he added, Americans needed to do their part.
The bill includes $1,400 payments, an extension of jobless benefits, and a child tax credit that is expected to lift millions out of poverty. The stimulus payments are set to begin this month.
It also allocates $350bn to state and local governments, some $130bn to school reopening, $49bn for expanded Covid-19 testing and research, as well as $14bn for vaccine distribution.
Mr Biden said the relief package will rebuild “the backbone of this country”.
The spending bill, one of the largest in US history, passed Congress without a single Republican supporter.
Republicans objected to the bill’s price tag, calling for various elements of the package to be smaller. They suggested that stimulus cheques be given only to those who have lost income over the past year.
The pandemic has left more than 529,000 people dead in the US and infected over 29 million.
President Joe Biden’s $1.9tn (£1.4tn) relief bill to help Americans deal with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has cleared its final hurdle in Congress.
The House of Representatives approved the massive economic aid plan 220-211 on Wednesday along partisan lines, with no Republicans voting in favour.
Having already passed through the Senate, the relief package now heads to Mr Biden’s desk to be signed into law.
The bill passed with 220 Democrats in favour. One Democrat joined Republicans to vote against it.
Mr Biden announced shortly after the vote that he will sign it into law on Friday.
“This legislation is about giving the backbone of this nation – the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going – a fighting chance,” the president said in a statement.
The package has been broadly popular among Americans. According to a March Pew Research Center poll, 70% of US adults surveyed expressed support for the bill, including 41% of Republicans.
But Republicans in Congress have objected to the bill’s price tag.
They have called for various elements of the package to be smaller and more targeted, including suggesting stimulus cheques should not go to people who have not lost income in the past year.
“House Democrats have abandoned any pretence of unity,” House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said on the floor ahead of the vote.
“After five relief bills, it is on track to be the first passed by strictly party lines.”
He noted it was the most expensive single bill in US history.
When announcing the so-called American Rescue Plan in January, Mr Biden said the government needed to “go big” in order to boost the flagging economy.
Democrats – who control both chambers of Congress by narrow margins – have largely stuck together and managed to retain most of what was initially proposed.
The final bill includes one-off direct payments worth $1,400 to be sent off to most Americans and extends weekly jobless benefits until September.
It also allocates $350bn to state and local governments, some $130bn to school reopening, $49bn for expanded Covid-19 testing and research, as well as $14bn for vaccine distribution.
A legislative victory – at a cost
Joe Biden just notched his first legislative victory. Now that the $1.9tn Covid relief bill has cleared Congress, the new administration will have a firehose of money to fight the economic and social consequences of the pandemic.
How effectively and efficiently Biden’s team distributes that aid will go a long way toward determining the success of its first term.
If the record amounts of spending boost the economy – without overheating it – the president could reap the political benefits of a revitalised nation. And because Democrats enacted the legislation with no help from Republicans, it may also prove to be an effective cudgel in upcoming elections.
The unilateral nature of the law’s passage, however, comes at a cost. Republicans are now dug in to their partisan trenches, and Biden’s lofty inaugural rhetoric of a new era of co-operation seems a distant memory.
Because of procedural maneuvres, Democrats were able to pass Biden’s Covid bill with a simple majority. Future legislative priorities will almost certainly require some Republican support.
This massive relief package, which provides record amounts of support for low-income families, is a significant accomplishment. Democrats have a lot of work to do if they want any more such wins.
A proposal to raise the national minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour became a sticking point in the Senate and did not make it into the final version of the bill.
America’s worst public health crisis in a century has left more than 527,000 people dead and over 29 million infected.
Unemployment skyrocketed over the last year, with a current rate of 6.2%, according to the US Labor Department.
What’s the Covid-19 situation in the US?
More than 32 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, either receiving two jabs of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Alaska has become the first US state to expand eligibility for Covid-19 vaccines to all residents above the age of 16.
Texas lifts its statewide mask mandate and business capacity limits on Wednesday, becoming the second state to do so after Mississippi.
Mr Biden will announce later today that the administration has secured 100m more doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s nominees to head two key financial watchdogs will be questioned by lawmakers on Tuesday on how they plan to tackle racial and income inequality, climate change, fintech regulation, cryptocurrencies, corporate enforcement and other issues.
Gary Gensler, the White House’s nominee to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and Rohit Chopra, nominated to be director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), will appear before the Democratic-led Senate Banking Committee.
Progressives see the agencies as key to advancing policy priorities on climate change and social justice and expect the pair, both experienced corporate regulators, to take a tough line on Wall Street. Republicans have criticized Biden for bowing to leftists and have warned that Gensler and Chopra will be divisive if confirmed to the positions.
“These are both going to be key officials setting financial policy for Team Biden. For Gensler, the focus will be on investor protection and how the SEC should respond to GameStop-related market volatility. For Chopra, it will be about his vision for the agency and his enforcement priorities,” said Jaret Seiberg, an analyst at Cowen Washington Research Group.
In prepared remarks posted on Monday, the two nominees vowed to be diligent stewards of the watchdogs without delving into specifics.
As head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Gensler implemented new swaps trading rules created by Congress in 2010 in response to the global financial crisis, developing a reputation as a tough operator willing to stand up to powerful Wall Street interests.
He will join the agency in the wake of January’s social media-fueled trading frenzy in shares of video-game retail firm GameStop Corp and is likely to be grilled on how he will tackle issues raised by the saga. That includes the practice of betting that stocks will fall, or shorting, potential market manipulation on social media, and how retail brokers handle customer orders, analysts said.
Democrats will also likely push Gensler to commit to new corporate disclosures on climate change risks and political spending, and to complete executive compensation curbs. Whether the SEC will take a tougher line on cryptocurrency offerings and investments is also expected to be a focus for lawmakers, analysts said.
WALL STREET-FRIENDLY RULES
Currently a commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission, where he campaigned for tougher consumer privacy and enforcement penalties, Chopra helped establish the CFPB, which was formally launched in 2011.
Democrats will want to know Chopra’s plans for reviving the agency after the Trump administration weakened enforcement and several rules. Republicans are likely to query him on whether the CFPB overstepped its authority in the past.
Chopra will also likely be asked about gaps in minorities’ access to credit, exorbitant lending rates and abusive debt-collection practices, analysts said.
Progressives also want to repeal Wall Street-friendly rules introduced by former President Donald Trump’s regulators and may push Chopra to revisit payday lending and debt-collection rules that they say won’t protect Americans. Gensler may be pressed on reviewing SEC rules governing investment advisers and shareholder voting rights.
“Barring a major meltdown during this hearing, both Gensler and Chopra will be confirmed in the coming weeks and we will begin to see material changes at both the SEC and CFPB,” said Isaac Boltansky, director of policy research at Washington-based Compass Point Research & Trading.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he will push for funding for semiconductor legislation following a meeting with bipartisan group of lawmakers about supply chain issues.
The semiconductor industry has been urging the Biden administration and Congress to fund semiconductor incentives included in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act.
US President Joe Biden has delivered his first foreign policy speech since taking office. He framed it as a reset after four years of Donald Trump’s America First agenda, pledging to reinvest in alliances and diplomacy, and emphasising democratic values.
Here are some takeaways:
Standing up to Russia
Shortly after Biden started his speech, he delivered a quote designed to make a headline: “I made it clear to President [Vladimir] Putin, in a manner very different from my predecessor, that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions…are over.”
It was the starkest of contrasts with Trump, who seemed to go out of his way to avoid criticising the Russian president.
Biden nodded to the value of engaging with Moscow on areas of mutual interests, such as preventing nuclear war – the two leaders have just agreed to extend their last remaining arms control treaty. But he pledged to hold Vladimir Putin to account on cyberattacks and election interference, and called for the release of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
This White House is ready to use the bully pulpit against the Kremlin. But any actions it takes will be building on those of the Trump administration, which continued to penalise Russia on everything from cyberattacks to poison attacks despite Trump’s reticence.
Iran is no longer the root of all evil
Biden’s speech was notable for what he didn’t say: he made no mention of Iran.
The silence was almost jarring, given how relentlessly Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo railed against Tehran as the root of all evil in the Middle East.
That’s not to say the Biden administration doesn’t see Iran as a matter of “great urgency”. It calculates that the Islamic Republic has come much closer to the “break out” point of being able to make a nuclear bomb since Trump pulled out of the deal restricting Iran’s nuclear programme – a deal which Biden has said he’s willing to resurrect.
His administration is still figuring out how to do that. But in the meantime, he’s not looking at the region through the prism of Iran.
Most notably, he announced an end to support for Saudi Arabia’s military offensive in Yemen. Pompeo emphasised that Yemen’s Houthi rebels, against which Riyadh is fighting, were backed by Iran. Biden emphasises that the war has created the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe.
A different ‘America First’
Biden may disagree with Trump about America’s place in the world, but he still puts Americans first. He and his officials talk about a foreign policy that benefits US workers, that protects their jobs and wages.
“There’s no longer a bright line between foreign and domestic policy,” Biden said. “Every action we take in our conduct abroad, we must take with American working families in mind.” That will influence his trade policies.
He also returned to a vision of the United States as an immigrant nation, pledging to accept more refugees: he said he would increase the number to 125,000 a year after Trump whittled it down to 15,000. And he acknowledged that conduct at home had an impact on the promotion of what he sees as American democratic values, to which he is committed.
But he put a positive spin on recent violence over election fraud alleged by his predecessor, saying Americans are better equipped to unite the world in fighting to defend democracy “because we have fought for it ourselves”.
Foreign policy man
Trump’s first visit to a government organisation was the CIA, and he only got to the state department more than a year after he took office.
So Biden’s decision to start with the state department was a signal of support to foreign service officers who Trump regarded as part of the “Deep State” out to undermine him. And to the world, that America was “back”, ready to resume its engagement with allies to tackle mutual problems in multilateral settings, which has become a bit of a mantra with the Biden team.
But the visit was also an expression of who Biden is, a former senator and vice president steeped in decades of foreign policy experience. “I’ve just been trying to keep up,” said his Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who’s worked with him for some 20 years.
The president will be consumed with pressing domestic issues, but he has an abiding interest in foreign affairs and he went out of his way to underline his commitment to diplomacy.
US President Joe Biden has signed a series of executive orders aimed to address climate change, including a new ban on some energy drilling.
The orders aim to freeze new oil and gas leases on public lands and double offshore wind-produced energy by 2030.
They are expected to meet stiff resistance from the energy industry and come as a sea change from Donald Trump, who cut environmental protections.
Mr Biden will also label climate change a “national security” priority.
The series of executive orders that Mr Biden is due to sign on Wednesday will establish a White House office of domestic climate policy and announce a summit of leaders in the movement to tackle climate change to be held in April.
Mr Biden will also call upon the US Director of National Intelligence to prepare an intelligence report on the security implications of climate change.
What will the orders do?
Mr Biden is using the power he has as president to make climate change a central issue of his administration.
The executive orders and memorandum – which cannot go as far as congressional legislation in combating climate change – can be undone by future presidents, as he is currently doing to Mr Trump.
According to a statement from the White House, Mr Biden will direct the Department of the Interior, which oversees federal public lands, to pause oil and gas drilling leases on federal lands and water “to the extent possible” and to launch a review of existing energy leases.
Mr Biden aims to conserve at least 30 percent of federal lands and oceans by 2030.
According to the New York Times, fossil fuel extraction on public lands accounts for almost a quarter of all US carbon dioxide emissions.
Public lands are controlled by the federal government. Mr Biden’s order does not affect private property owners or state-held public lands.
Mr Biden’s “whole-of-government” approach, the White House says, will create the first-ever National Climate Advisor who will lead the office of Domestic Climate Policy at the White House.
Later today, Mr Biden’s envoy for climate – another new position – will join the White House press briefing.
The orders also direct all federal agencies to develop plans for how climate change will affect their facilities and operations.
It also will require agencies to determine ways to help the public better access climate change forecasts and information.
Mr Biden is also making it clear his administration will make decisions based on the best science available.
He’s directed agencies to only make “evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data”.
Pausing the extraction of oil and gas from federal lands is the Biden administration’s tremulous first step onto the toes of the US oil and gas industry.
Federal drilling is a key part of their output – providing around 22% of US oil production and 12% of gas, according to the American Petroleum Institute (API).
The API is unhappy with the move, suggesting that any ban will lead to greater reliance on imports as the US economy recovers and needs more energy.
But experts reject that argument, pointing out that drilling on public lands will likely continue to expand even if a moratorium becomes a ban.
That’s because only half of applications for extraction approved between 2014 and 2019 have actually been used.
Moving towards a ban on future federal leases fulfils a campaign pledge and will reassure environmentalists that Joe Biden is the real deal when it comes to climate change.
But making significant inroads into US carbon output will require more than executive orders and new regulations.
It will probably need legislation put before the Congress.
That will be the true test of the Biden climate commitment.
What do the orders say about jobs?
Mr Biden’s fiercest critics say that his climate change initiatives will cut American jobs as the country already suffers from record unemployment numbers amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.
He received a storm of criticism for last week’s executive order halting construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, that would have transported oil from Canada through the US.
But the Biden White House is trying to get ahead of more criticism by addressing job creation in these new executive orders.
His plan calls for the creation of new jobs in the environmental industry, and directs federal agencies to end fossil fuel subsidies and “identify new opportunities to spur innovation, commercialisation, and deployment of clean energy technologies and infrastructure”.
It calls for the creation of a “Civilian Climate Corps Initiative” – a jobs initiative that Biden officials say will “put a new generation of Americans to work conserving and restoring public lands and waters”.