WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans rejected an effort Wednesday to begin debate on the big infrastructure deal that a bipartisan group of senators brokered with President Joe Biden, but pressure was mounting as supporters insisted they just needed more time before another vote possibly next week.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., had scheduled the procedural vote to nudge along negotiations that have dragged for weeks. But Republicans mounted a filibuster, saying the bipartisan group still had a few unresolved issues and needed to review the final details. As of press time Wednesday, they were seeking a delay until Monday.
“We have made significant progress and are close to a final agreement,” the bipartisan group of senators, 11 Republicans and 11 Democrats, said in a joint statement after the vote. The senators said they were optimistic they could finish up “in the coming days.”
The nearly $1 trillion measure over five years includes about $579 billion in new spending on roads, broadband and other public works projects — a first phase of Biden’s infrastructure agenda, to be followed by a much broader $3.5 trillion measure from Democrats next month.
Biden’s top priority is at a critical juncture, posing a test of his ability to forge bipartisan cooperation in Washington and make investments the White House views as crucial to the nation’s ability to pull out of the COVID-19 crisis and spur economic growth.
The president traveled to Ohio later Wednesday to promote his economic policies, and was calling his infrastructure agenda a “blue-collar blueprint for building an American economy back.” He has said that Americans overwhelmingly support his plan.
However, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has said Biden’s big spending is “the last thing American families need.”
The party-line vote blocked the bill from advancing, 51-49, and fell far short of the 60 votes required under Senate rules. Schumer switched his vote to “no” at the end, a procedural step that would allow him to move to quickly reconsider.
The bipartisan group has labored for days with Biden aides to strike a deal, which would be a first phase of the president’s eventual $4 trillion-plus package of domestic outlays — not just for roads and bridges, but foundations of everyday life including child care, family tax breaks, education and an expansion of Medicare for seniors.
The next steps are uncertain, but the bipartisan group insists it is close to a deal and expects to finish soon.
“We’re voting no today because we’re not ready, but we’re saying we do want to take up this bill as soon as we are,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a leader of the effort. “I think that’ll be Monday.”
At least 11 Republicans signed on to a letter to Schumer saying they would vote yes to proceed on Monday, if certain details about the package are ready.
Republican Sen. Todd Young of Indiana was among the Republicans who signed the letter and said he was “cautiously optimistic” they can reach a bipartisan deal.
Restless Democrats, who are facing a crowded calendar while trying to deliver on Biden’s priorities, nevertheless said they are willing to wait if a deal is within reach.
“I’m willing to give it another chance next week,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “But we need to fish or cut bait.”
The senators in the bipartisan group were joined for a private lunch ahead of the vote by the two leaders of the House’s Problem Solvers Caucus, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., a bipartisan group generally supportive of the effort.
Schumer said senators are in the fourth week of negotiations after reaching agreement on a broad framework for infrastructure spending with the White House. He said Wednesday’s vote was no different from other times when the Senate sought to get the ball rolling on debate and “not a deadline to have every final detail worked out.”
But McConnell, who encouraged Republicans to vote against it, called the vote a “stunt” that would fail, but he emphasized senators were “still negotiating in good faith across the aisle.”
“Around here, we typically write the bills before we vote on them,” he said.
Senators are also still haggling over public transit funds. Typically, spending from the federal Highway Trust Fund has followed the formula of 80% for highways and 20% for transit. Some Republicans are concerned that the ratio would change to 82%-18% under the bipartisan bill, said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.
“Big numbers are involved,” Romney said.
But Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said: “There’s not a lot of sentiment for public transit on their side. They don’t really believe in the word ‘public.’”
Ten Republicans would have been needed in the evenly split Senate to join all 50 Democrats in reaching the 60-vote threshold required to advance the bill past a filibuster to formal consideration.
Many Republicans are wary of moving ahead with the first, relatively slim package, fearing it will pave the way for the broader $3.5 trillion effort Democrats are preparing to pass on their own under special budget rules that only require 51 votes. Vice President Kamala Harris can break a tie.
Democrats hope to show progress on that bill before lawmakers leave Washington for their recess in August.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been working to keep restless House Democrats in line as they grow impatient with the sluggish Senate pace.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, sent a letter with 30 Democrats on the panel warning that the Senate proposal was inadequate and that House lawmakers want a seat at the negotiating table for any final product.
MISSION, Kan. (AP) — COVID-19 cases tripled in the U.S. over two weeks amid an onslaught of vaccine misinformation that is straining hospitals, exhausting doctors and pushing clergy into the fray.
“Our staff, they are frustrated,” said Chad Neilsen, director of infection prevention at UF Health Jacksonville, a Florida hospital that is canceling elective surgeries and procedures after the number of mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 inpatients at its two campuses jumped to 134, up from a low of 16 in mid-May.
“They are tired. They are thinking this is déjà vu all over again, and there is some anger because we know that this is a largely preventable situation, and people are not taking advantage of the vaccine.”
Across the U.S., the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases rose over the past two weeks to more than 37,000 on Tuesday, up from less than 13,700 on July 6, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Health officials blame the delta variant and slowing vaccination rates. Just 56.2% of Americans have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Louisiana, health officials reported 5,388 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday — the third-highest daily count since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020. Hospitalizations for the disease rose to 844 statewide, up more than 600 since mid-June.
“It is like seeing the car wreck before it happens,” said Dr. James Williams, a clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at Texas Tech, who has recently started treating more COVID-19 patients. “None of us want to go through this again.”
He said the patients are younger — many in their 20s, 30s and 40s — and overwhelmingly unvaccinated.
“People were just begging for this,” he said of the vaccine. “And remarkably it was put together within a year, which is just astonishing. People don’t even appreciate that. Within a year, we got a vaccine. And now they are thinking, ‘Hmm, I don’t know if I will get it.’”
As lead pastor of one of Missouri’s largest churches, Jeremy Johnson has heard the reasons congregants don’t want the COVID-19 vaccine. He wants them to know it’s not only OK to get vaccinated, it’s what the Bible urges.
“I think there is a big influence of fear,” said Johnson, whose Springfield-based church also has a campus in Nixa and another about to open in Republic. “A fear of trusting something apart from scripture, a fear of trusting something apart from a political party they’re more comfortable following. A fear of trusting in science. We hear that: ‘I trust in God, not science.’ But the truth is science and God are not something you have to choose between.”
Now many churches in southwestern Missouri, like Johnson’s Assembly of God-affiliated North Point Church, are hosting vaccination clinics. Meanwhile, about 200 church leaders have signed onto a statement urging Christians to get vaccinated, and on Wednesday announced a follow-up public service campaign.
Opposition to vaccination is especially strong among white evangelical Protestants, who make up more than one-third of Missouri’s residents, according to a 2019 report by the Pew Research Center.
“We found that the faith community is very influential, very trusted, and to me that is one of the answers as to how you get your vaccination rates up,” said Ken McClure, mayor of Springfield.
The two hospitals in his city are teeming with patients, reaching record and near-record pandemic highs. Steve Edwards, who is the CEO of CoxHealth in Springfield, tweeted that the hospital has brought in 175 traveling nurses and has 46 more scheduled to arrive by Monday.
“Grateful for the help,” wrote Edwards, who previously tweeted that anyone spreading misinformation about the vaccine should “shut up.”
In New York City, workers in city-run hospitals and health clinics will be required to get vaccinated or get tested weekly as officials battle a rise in COVID-19 cases, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.
De Blasio’s order will not apply to teachers, police officers and other city employees, but it’s part of the city’s intense focus on vaccinations amid an increase in delta variant infections.
The number of vaccine doses being given out daily in the city has dropped to less than 18,000, down from a peak of more than 100,000 in early April. About 65% of all adults are fully vaccinated, but the inoculation rate is around 25% among Black adults under age 45. About 45% of the workforce in the city’s public hospital system is Black.
Meanwhile, caseloads have been rising in the city for weeks, and health officials say the variant makes up about 7 in 10 cases they sequence.
“We need our health care workers to be vaccinated, and it’s getting dangerous with the delta variant,” de Blasio told CNN.
Back in Louisiana, New Orleans officials weighed a possible revival of at least some of the mitigation efforts that had been eased as the disease was waning.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the city’s top health official, Dr. Jennifer Avegno, were expected to make an announcement later Wednesday. On Tuesday, Cantrell spokesman Beau Tidwell said “all options are on the table.”
The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports only 11% of American workers are in a union but Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) wants to change that with a new Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which he co-sponsored in February.
The PRO Act objectives are to bolster remedies and punish violations of workers’ rights, strengthen workers’ right to stand together and negotiate for better working conditions and make conditions more fair for workers.
“Unions make Ohio jobs pay off,” Brown said in a conference call with Ohio media Wednesday afternoon. “Unions are all about the dignity of work and giving workers a voice in the workplace. Strong unions need a strong middle class.”
Republican-driven, corporate-centered policies were directly responsible for declining union membership, he said.
“We’ve seen two generations of attacks from the right on unions,” he said. “Far right radicals and large corporate interests to weaken labor laws and union drives. Ohio legislatures are at the beck and call of First Energy. No shock there.
“Half of all workers want to join a union but they can’t because they never get the opportunity,” he said. “It’s like segregated housing. Whites are more likely to own a home because of Jim Crow laws, redlining (denial of financial services based on racial demographics rather than individual creditworthiness) and federal policies.
“Right wing attacks led to terrible policies that caused more plants to shut down here, move to China and sell goods back,” he said. “They get tax breaks to shut down and move where they face weaker labor laws and environmental protections.”
Corporate-centered policies favor Wall Street and, he said, “When workers try to organize under federal law it’s never a fair fight. We saw that with Amazon raking in profits at the expense of employees. Policies unleashed their power to fight workers.
“We saw that in northwest Ohio with the Consolidated Biscuit Company in McComb,” he said. “Harassment, firings and plant closures to stop workers from organizing.
“The Biden administration will change that,” he said. “They will make workers the center of our policy, tax and trade. The PRO Act gives everyone a fighting chance against union-busting activities.”
Retiring in October 2019 after 34 years as a Bryan police officer, Cliff Weigel has made a smooth transition as the city’s code enforcement officer.
He’s responsible for checking out property complaints and taking care of issues such as junk cars, trash, blight and high grass as part of the city’s CUB, or Curb Urban Blight, program within the city limits. And there is plenty to do to keep him busy year-round, he told the Bryan Kiwanis Club during its weekly meeting Wednesday.
For instance, he filed complaints on junk vehicles at four locations — on North Meyer and Beech streets, Huntington Drive and Glendale Avenue — in less than an hour on Tuesday.
Junk vehicles are those that have expired licenses and registration or have sat abandoned and are not in good working order.
“The objective is to clean up Bryan,” said Weigel, who handled 210 cases in 2020 and has responded to 118 cases so far this year. Occasionally he fields citizens’ complaints, but generally he tours the city in search of junked or abandoned vehicles, piles of trash and properties with excessively high grass.
The process of cleaning up a property can be slow. He first investigates the complaint and then talks with the person responsible. He says he documents the complaint with photographs in order to be able to track the progress being made in cleaning it up.
He determines whether the complaint is attributed to the owner of the property or a renter, and said 95% of complaints can be remedied through talking and working with the person who has the issue.
Weigel said vacant properties are the biggest problem and many times properties can be cleaned up just by finding a person some help. This is particularly true for people who are elderly or disabled. It can often be a friend, relative, church or civic organization that can come to the aid of a person who needs help. Such was the recent case of a residential property on South Main Street whose owner had been cited for blighted property, when community members came together to paint and fix up the house.
He said the main issue wasn’t that the person had a deteriorated property, it was that they had failed to appear to respond to the complaint.
Weigel said if a person does not respond to the issue, they can be cited for a misdemeanor, and if they continue to fail to work out a resolution and are charged, can be subject to a $100 fine plus court costs, or jail for failure to appear.
It’s rare but it does happen, he said.
Though he retired from active police duty, Weigel is still on reserve police officer status. He travels in a marked vehicle and wears a police badge, but does not wear a uniform except for the first and third Mondays of the month, when he serves as on-site security during Bryan City Council meetings.
Wearing civilian clothes is less threatening and turns the heat down on his interactions with residents, helping him to work with them to find a solution, he said.
Weigel spoke as a guest of Kiwanian Ed Lyons.
The Stryker summer festival is five weeks away and events are coming together, though village officials are unsure on a name as of yet.
Councilman Sean Ingram told the village council during its meeting Monday that a cornhole tournament, live music and food are all currently planned for the event on Aug. 21. The parade will start at 5 p.m.
“The Rotary wants to be involved in something; We have some folks over at the high school who have some different ideas,” he said. “We just have to coordinate to make sure no one is stepping on each other’s toes.”
The festival will be at the Springfield Township Park, 200 N. Defiance St.
Councilwoman Kim Feehan asked about a beer garden.
“I think it’s a great money maker and I still think it can be a family event even if there is alcohol there,” she said. “I think it draws people in, as well.”
Ingram said they discussed it, but the process takes a couple of months and they simply don’t have the time, admitting later they were “behind the eight ball.”
While a beer garden may bring some people to the event, Mayor Joey Beck said the rules at the park forbid alcohol and so not having alcohol there is also out of respect for the park’s rules.
Beck also asked about the name, as the event was called Heritage Days before but that was around the time of a special anniversary for the village and when the American Legion was preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary.
Although Beck asked Ingram (seemingly in jest) to name it, Ingram declined, saying it should be a decision for the whole committee.
Separately, the council discussed the COVID-19 funding it will receive through the American Rescue Plan Act.
Village Fiscal Officer Beth Rediger said she filed for the grant and should hear back with details within a month. The village is set to receive $136,000 in two equal payments.
“Originally, it was going to be $250,000, but it didn’t have townships in it so they went back and restructured it,” she said.
The money must be spent by 2026.
Current is required, Rediger said, to spend it on water, sewer and broadband.
“That could change, they’re still discussing it,” she said. “With the townships in it, not everyone has water and sewer. So, there’s talk of drainage being added.”
Village Administrator Alan Riegsecker said they were looking to upgrade a water main on Johnson Avenue.
Currently, the street has a 4-inch water main but the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency “has been on us about upgrading it to a 6-inch minimum,” he said. An engineer’s estimate places the project cost at $120,000.
In other business, council:
• Heard from a family who is unable to tear down a blighted house they own within the 30-day period set by the village and asked for an exception. The decision on these issues falls on Beck who didn’t want to make a knee-jerk reaction and wanted to discuss the situation with council and the administrator. He said he would have an answer by the end of the month.
• Heard the village’s judiciary committee met prior to the meeting to discuss changing an ordinance to allow a family to raise goats in the village limits. The committee recommended making no changes to the ordinance.
• Heard Riegsecker is working with the Williams County Port Authority and the Williams County Economic Development Corporation concerning village property that could be used for infrastructure projects, such as installation of solar panels.
For more than two decades, Bike to the Bridge has been a family-friendly way to have fun, get some healthy exercise and raise money for a great, locally based organization — Cancer Assistance of Williams County (CAWC).
The 21st annual Bike to the Bridge (BTTB) fundraiser is Saturday, Aug. 7. The ride is open to anyone and everyone with a bicycle and day-of registration begins at 8:30 a.m. at CAWC’s office, at 1425 E. High St., Bryan (the Williams County Community Offices/East Annex building).
Preregistration and additional event information is available at www.b2tb.club.
This year, to mark the 21st annual ride, the goal is to raise at least $15,000 for CAWC, a local 501(c)(3) non-profit that provides financial and other assistance strictly to Williams County residents with needs related to their cancer diagnosis.
In the past, around 60 riders have participated in Bike to the Bridge, which is so named because the longer rides travel to the Lockport Covered Bridge. There are multiple distances so that riders of all abilities and interests have options, including:
• A 50-mile round-trip ride to the Lockport Covered Bridge, Goll Woods and back to Bryan ($35 entry fee);
• A 25-mile round-trip ride to the Lockport Covered Bridge on County Road 21.N and back to Bryan ($25 entry fee) and;
• 5-mile and 10-mile round-trip rides ($10 entry fee).
Riders or interested parties who would like to honor and support someone with a cancer diagnosis or someone who has passed due to cancer can also sponsor signs with the honoree’s name on them.
The signs are placed along the first several miles of the route and it always creates a powerful reminder of the reason for the ride, and the important work that CAWC does, according to BTTB committee chairman Mike Kurivial.
“Everyone is pretty excited to get going, but during that initial stretch of the ride when everyone passes by those signs, it’s pretty solemn,” said Kurivial.
Entry fees cover the cost of the ride, which includes plenty of free refreshments. And several support vehicles — called SAGs, or “support and gear” — travel along the routes until 1 p.m. to assist riders with any issues, such as a flat tire, that riders might face.
Riders often secure fundraising pledges and BTTB is generously supported by a number of local corporate and business sponsors, Kurivial said.
Kurivial said as many as 70 riders have participated in past rides and he is hopeful that everyone who is tired of being cooped up due to the pandemic will come out and ride this year.
“I’d like to raise $25,000 this year. That’s optimistic but I’d like to think it can be reached,” he said.
The BTTB is the only fundraiser for CAWC, said Cheryl Andres, CAWC president. If BTTB raises $15,000, that makes up about 25% of CAWC’s annual expenses, with rest covered by grants and donations.
“It’s our only fundraiser and it’s so very important to help us carry out our mission of helping people cover those expenses that insurance doesn’t cover. Sometimes people need help with gas to get back and forth to their doctor appointments, so we help bridge those expense gaps that occur during cancer treatment.
“We cover transportation or whatever expenses or services ... needed by that particular person. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to help someone,” who needs help during what is generally a very trying time, Andres said.
She also added that BTTB also helps publicize CAWC and lets the community know that CAWC is a local resource that helps Williams County residents exclusively.
“Not a week goes by that someone calls us and says, ‘We didn’t know that (CAWC) was here.’ We’re here and we’re ready to help,” Andres said.
Cancer Assistance of Williams County is located at 1425 E. High St., Suite 110, Bryan. The phone number is 419-636-0079.