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The big question after President Biden unveiled his new budget on Thursday is not what’s in the blueprint, or how he described his investment wish list or his values, or the fact that it won’t become law, but what happens next.

Biden, speaking in Philadelphia, said he’s ready to meet with Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to discuss funding the government in the fiscal year that begins this fall at “any time… if he has his budget” — a barb aimed at House Republicans, who have not reached consensus about their demands (Forbes). The president later told reporters, “I’m ready to meet with him tomorrow if he shows me the budget.”

The Speaker on Thursday dismissed the president’s document as “completely unserious.” 

Biden and Democrats want to see a GOP budget in detail — and they want to see House Republicans pass one. With a small majority, that will be difficult. If the Speaker and his conference can’t pass a budget resolution this spring, Democrats will gain more leverage.

▪ The Hill and CNN: Breaking down Biden’s budget. Here’s what’s in it.

▪ The Hill: Biden proposes tax hikes on the wealthy to reduce the deficit and shore up Medicare.

▪ The Wall Street Journal: Biden seeks the extension of Trump tax cuts for most households.  

▪ The Hill: Five takeaways from Biden’s $6.9 trillion budget. 

The battle between Biden and the Speaker poses real-world risks if their impasse remains unresolved for months. House Republicans are clutching a grenade — leveraging the need for Congress to raise the debt limit to pay U.S. commitments and avert default. Refusing to approve more borrowing could upend the U.S. economy. McCarthy has endorsed a hard-line strategy, coupled with assurances that Republicans do not want default.

The political imperatives for each party suggest drama and disagreement into the fall. The math is problematic on both sides. House and Senate lawmakers have said deep spending cuts they favor to reduce rising debt won’t touch Social Security, Medicare or shrink defense spending. 

If McCarthy and GOP members aim for $200 billion in spending cuts in fiscal 2024, as they’ve suggested, walling off entitlements and defense spending from the negotiating table, as some have pledged, complicates questions about where to apply the scalpels. Approximately 59 percent of the entire budget goes to Social Security, health insurance programs including Medicare, and defense, leaving less room for spending shrinkage. 

The next step is for lawmakers to forge their own budgets (The New York Times). House Republicans have begun laying the groundwork for a conservative alternative to Biden’s proposals. Republicans are focused on Medicaid, food stamps, foreign aid and other elements of domestic spending, including climate initiatives they call “woke,” which Democrats and the White House will defend.

The top two lawmakers on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the chairwoman, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the ranking member, said Biden’s blueprint opens the door to begin writing the spending bills necessary to fund the government in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

Challenging Biden’s side of the ledger: He does not propose budget balance in the next decade. Instead, he estimates nearly $3 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years. U.S. debt is swallowing the economy’s output and could rise to 133 percent of GDP this year, according to some estimates. 

“We can service this debt,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told senators on Tuesday during a hearing. “That’s not the problem. The problem is that we’re on a path where the debt is growing substantially faster than the economy, and that’s kind of, by definition, in the long run unsustainable.”

Powell said solutions are up to Congress and the White House.

The administration envisions the economy growing this year by only 0.6 percent after adjusting for inflation, a weak pace that is in line with outside expectations, The New York Times noted. The White House predicts a substantial increase in the unemployment rate — to 4.3 percent, up from January’s 3.4 percent. Biden sees the gross national debt increasing by about $18 trillion through 2033, rising to just above $50 trillion. But his budget suggests that debt increase will not threaten the economy. “The economic burden of debt would remain low and in line with recent historical experience over the next decade,” the budget document says.

Related Articles

▪ The Washington Post editorial board: The United States has a debt problem. Biden’s budget won’t solve it.

▪ The Los Angeles Times opinion, columnist Jackie Calmes: Why America can’t put a dent in its $31 trillion debt.

▪ The Hill: White House budget leans into pharmaceutical drug pricing, ObamaCare expansion. 

▪ The Hill: Biden’s defense budget concentrates on rising threats from China, Russia. 

▪ The Atlantic: With the exception of abortion rights, the president is working to downplay or defuse most cultural issues. 

▪ Politico: The president’s anticipated reelection pitch, as gauged in 15 budget requests. 

LEADING THE DAY

➤ CONGRESS

Senators grew visibly frustrated Thursday during a tense congressional hearing where the CEO of Norfolk Southern Railway, the company that operated the train that spilled hazardous chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio, when it derailed in early February, answered their push for concrete policy commitments with noncommittal statements.

“I just really thought, when you said ‘turn over a new leaf,’ you meant you were saying you were going to now support safety regulations,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told CEO Alan Shaw. “I’m sorry you can’t tell this crowd today that would like to hear that, that that is the case.”

Shaw apologized for the crash’s impact during his opening statement but did not make any specific commitments when pressed to support safety changes and pay for long-term health expenses or medical testing. When asked if he supported a bipartisan bill that would tighten railroad security procedures and increase federal oversight, Shaw said he supported the legislation’s “intent” of railroad safety, but did not say if he supported the actual bill (The Hill). Show vowed the company will clean the site in East Palestine fully and that it’s making progress. 

“We will be in the community for as long as it takes,” he said, adding there are “no strings attached” to the company’s assistance (CNBC).

Hours before Shaw testified, another Norfolk Southern train derailed in Calhoun County, Ala. The Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency said there were no reports of injuries and no reports of a hazardous leak after approximately 30 cars derailed (NBC News).

▪ ABC News: Feds looking into Norfolk Southern’s handling of additional reported hazmat concern weeks after East Palestine.

▪ Politico: Norfolk Southern’s accident rate spiked over the last decade.

The Wednesday hospitalization of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) for a concussion after a fall prompts questions about how long he will lead the Senate GOP conference, given his age of 81. As the Hill’s Alexander Bolton writes, McConnell had been widely expected to serve another term as leader after the 2024 election. GOP Whip John Thune (S.D.), Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, and Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) are each seen by colleagues as candidates to succeed McConnell as leader, although the future of Republican Senate leadership will depend heavily on the 2024 election cycle.

Time magazine: Members of Congress live with mental illness. Politics influences how they manage it.

Truth & Consequences? Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) is back in the headlines.

Santos allegedly orchestrated a 2017 credit card skimming operation in Seattle, according to the man who was convicted of the fraud and deported to Brazil, Politico reports. Gustavo Ribeiro Trelha wrote of Santos’s involvement in a sworn declaration submitted to federal authorities — the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service New York office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York — on Wednesday. In the declaration, Telha said he decided to contact law enforcement officials after seeing the newly elected congressman on television. Santos was previously questioned about the Seattle scheme by investigators for the U.S. Secret Service. He was never charged, but the investigation is still open (CBS News). 

“Santos taught me how to skim card information and how to clone cards,” Trelha said in the declaration. “He gave me all the materials and taught me how to put skimming devices and cameras on ATM machines.”

➤ POLITICS

The Manhattan district attorney’s office has signaled to former President Trump’s lawyers that he could face criminal charges for his role in the payment of hush money to adult video star Stormy Daniels, the strongest indication yet that prosecutors are nearing an indictment. 

Trump has been offered a chance to testify next week before the grand jury that has been hearing evidence in the potential case, sources told The New York Times, an offer that almost always indicates an indictment is close. It is unclear if he will appear. It would mark the first indictment of a former American president, and could upend the 2024 presidential race. Trump has faced various legal challenges over the years, but none has resulted in criminal charges.

The former president has vowed to continue his bid for a return to the White House if indicted (New York Daily News), and experts say he could still be elected if indicted or convicted (ABC News). 

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley on Wednesday advocated changing the age for retirement for a younger cohort and limiting Social Security and Medicare benefits for wealthier Americans. “The first thing you do is you change the retirement age of the young people coming up so that we can try and have some sort of system for them,” Haley said at a town hall in Council Bluffs, Iowa. 

Her campaign, however, did not immediately respond when asked what she would set as the retirement age. “You reform the entitlements, but you do it in a way that you don’t take anything away from seniors or people who are getting ready to retire. You focus on the new generation, you focus on what’s next,” Haley said. 

At the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump — who has spoken about the issue — didn’t name any fellow Republicans but alleged some members of his party “want to raise the minimum age of Social Security to 70, 75 or even 80 in some cases” and “are out to cut Medicare to a level that it will no longer be recognizable” (CNN).

ProPublica: Inside the “private and confidential” conservative group that promises to “crush liberal dominance.”

Education is a big-ticket issue for Republicans. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) addressed education in a Thursday night CNN “town hall.” On Monday, Trump will speak about education policy in Davenport, Iowa. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) takes every chance he gets to assail Democrats and liberals over what he sees as the injection of “wokeness” and liberal ideology into education. In The Memo, The Hill’s Niall Stanage asks how Democrats got pushed back onto the defensive so much on what — until relatively recently — had been a strong issue for the party.

▪ U.S. News: Republican governors line up to capitalize on the parental education movement.

▪ Roll Call: House panel backs parental school oversight, anti-trans sports bills.

▪ The Hill: GOP Education chair: “Higher ed has never been held in such low esteem as it is now.”

Sources say DeSantis has indicated privately he intends to run for president in 2024. Allies on Thursday launched a super PAC seeking to draft the governor into the race. The governor will make appearances in Davenport, Iowa, today and Las Vegas on Saturday (The Washington Post). 

Ahead of his reelection launch, events have progressives fretting about the direction in which Biden could be steering Democrats, The Hill’s Hanna Trudo reports. First, there was a bill in Washington, D.C., intended to ease some criminal penalties that could have flown under the radar. But Biden’s surprise pronouncement that he’d side with Republicans on a resolution upset liberals vying for the district’s autonomy. Then came reports that administration officials are thinking about keeping migrant families in detention centers, an immigration policy made famous by Trump, which effectively poured gasoline on everything. Now, some are wondering what could be next. 

“It’s just another reminder of who Biden actually is,” said one left-wing Democratic consultant who works with progressives. “That’s his instinct.” 

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

➤ INTERNATIONAL 

Russia launched its biggest aerial attack in weeks Thursday, hitting targets across Ukraine with a complex combination of weapons — including its newest hypersonic missiles — in what it said was retaliation for an incursion by a pro-Ukrainian armed group in Russia last week. The strikes ended weeks of relative calm in Kyiv and other cities, killing at least nine people nationwide and knocking out power in several areas (The New York Times).

▪ Reuters: Russia can fight in Ukraine for two more years at current intensity, Lithuania says.

▪ The New York Times: The leaders of Britain and France will meet in Paris with Ukraine on the agenda.

▪ The Washington Post: What you need to know about Russia’s hypersonic missiles.

▪ The New York Times: As the Kremlin seeks to remake Russia’s institutions to comport with its militaristic worldview, cultural figures are picking a side. One singer made his choice — and is growing rich.

Protesters in Israel blocked roads and attempted to stop Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from flying out the country amid nationwide demonstrations against controversial judicial reforms. The weeks-old protests are some of the biggest Israel has ever seen; critics say the reforms will undermine democracy, but the government says planned changes are better for the electorate.

Netanyahu was forced to travel by helicopter to the airport to avoid the demonstrators and to meet U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin inside the airport, rather than at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. Austin’s visit came at a time of dual crises for Netanyahu, who faces swelling protests over his plans to radically restructure the courts and escalating violence across the West Bank (BBC and The Washington Post).

Biden and U.S. lawmakers are viewing Netanyahu’s moves with concern, reports The Hill’s Laura Kelly. 

“We’ve seen the most widespread demonstrations in modern Israeli history against the proposed reforms, so, I think, more importantly than whether I’m concerned, the Israeli people are concerned, and it’s produced I think a real moment of crisis for Israel democracy,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a key foreign policy surrogate for Biden. “My hope is that the proposals will be reconsidered, modified, and I am following developments in Israel.”

▪ Haaretz: More than 90 Democrats warn Biden: Netanyahu’s actions undermine the U.S.-Israel relationship.

▪ Reuters: Georgian ruling party drops “foreign agents” bill but protests resume.

▪ Politico EU: “Over my dead body”: How Georgian protesters beat a Russian-style legal threat to their freedoms.

▪ CNN: Eight dead in shooting at a Jehovah’s Witnesses center in Germany.

▪ The Wall Street Journal: Uganda proposes a new anti-LGBTQ law with prison terms up to 10 years. 

▪ Axios: China’s Xi Jinping sworn in for historic third term. 

OPINION

■ The war in Ukraine won’t end when the fighting is over, by James M. Dubik, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3FaMFPM 

■ Fox News may be in a class by itself. That’s not a good thing, by Jennifer Rubin, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3JtrQl4 

WHERE AND WHEN

📲 Ask The Hill: Share a news query tied to an expert journalist’s insights: The Hill launched something new and (we hope) engaging via text with Editor-in-Chief Bob Cusack. Learn more and sign up HERE.

The House will convene at 9 a.m. 

The Senate meets at 9:30 a.m. for a pro forma session. 

The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. Biden at 2 p.m. will confer with President Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission at the White House. The president will depart for Delaware at 6 p.m. and arrive there an hour later.

Vice President Harris will convene a live streamed roundtable discussion with the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment at 1:30 p.m. in her ceremonial office to promote unionization. She will be joined by outgoing Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. 

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will testify before the House Ways and Means Committee at 9 a.m. The secretary at 2 p.m. will join the president during discussions with von der Leyen of the EC.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet virtually at 8 a.m. with representatives of Group of Seven nations and other leaders to discuss Ukraine and energy. He will meet this afternoon at the White House with Biden and EC President von der Leyen. 

Economic indicator: The Bureau of Labor Statistics at 8:30 a.m. will release its employment report for February.

First lady Jill Biden will visit the Louisiana Cancer Research Center in New Orleans at 2:30 p.m. as part of the administration’s Cancer Moonshot program. She will be accompanied by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a physician, to highlight the importance of investing in cancer research and to mark National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month (NOLA).

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff will speak in New York City about mental health at 10:45 a.m. at a roundtable with Latino community leaders at Pediatrics 2000 accompanied by Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D).  

The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 2:30 p.m. and will include Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young and Council of Economic Advisers Chair Cecilia Rouse.

ELSEWHERE

➤ SPRINGING FORWARD

☀️ For much of the United States, mornings are about to get darker, writes The Hill’s Gianna Melillo. Come Sunday, most Americans will “spring ahead” into daylight saving time. But depending on one’s location within time zones, the sun will rise later in certain parts of the country than others. Both sleep experts and motor vehicle organizations caution darker mornings pose risks to health and heighten the threat of driver-related accidents. 

To head off these risks, they recommend adjusting sleep schedules in the days before the change and making sure cars are as safe as possible to drive by checking headlights and tire pressure.

▪ Fortune: Daylight saving time is bad for your health. 

▪ USA Today opinion: “Spring forward” is bad for your sleep and your health. There’s a better alternative.

▪ Los Angeles Times editorial: End time-shift insanity! Give us permanent daylight saving time now.

🕜 Daylight saving time is once again on the horizon, and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) — dubbed the “Sun King” — is vowing that this can be the year that Congress ends the nation’s much-maligned, twice-yearly time changes. He got the nickname after passing legislation extending daylight saving time in 1985, and again in 2005. Now he’s one of the sponsors of a bipartisan bill that would allow states to lock in permanent daylight saving time, enabling them to “spring forward” one final time and never “fall back” again.

“Americans want more sunshine in the chilly, winter months, and Congress can deliver that to them,” Markey said. 

Markey acknowledged that the bill, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), faces an uphill battle in Congress — but argues that persistence had changed the nation’s time code before and could do so again (The Washington Post). The Senate last year passed Rubio’s daylight savings bill but it died in the House.

➤ PANDEMIC & HEALTH

LGBTQ activists and leaders are sounding alarm bells over the rising suicide rates among Black nonbinary and transgender youth, which many attribute to the spread of anti-trans laws, write The Hill’s Daniel de Visé and Brooke Migdon. A quarter of Black transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide last year, according to a bombshell report last month from the Trevor Project, a national LGBTQ youth suicide prevention organization, marking double the rate of attempted suicide by their Black LGBTQ cisgender peers. 

▪ The New York Times: These morning-after pills may prevent STIs, researchers say.

▪ The Washington Post: Food and Drug Administration sets national mammogram standards to protect women with dense breasts.

An expansion of essential health services, as well as success in fighting HIV, tuberculosis and other deadly infectious diseases, have helped countries in sub-Saharan Africa achieve extraordinary gains in healthy life expectancy over the past two decades. According to the World Health Organization, they amount to 10 additional years, the largest improvement in the world. “But this was offset by the dramatic rise in hypertension, diabetes and other noncommunicable diseases and the lack of health services targeting these diseases,” the agency said, launching a report on health care in Africa, which warned that the rise in life expectancy could be erased before the next decade is out. 

In Kenya, noncommunicable diseases now account for half of hospital bed occupancy and more than a third of deaths. Similar rates are seen across the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, and people in this region are being affected at younger ages than those in other parts of the world (The New York Times).

▪ Time magazine: People are far less likely to get long COVID-19 after omicron, study finds.

▪ The Guardian: New York City rats can carry COVID-19 variants, according to a new study. 

Information about the availability of COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots can be found at Vaccines.gov. 

Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,123,836. Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 1,862 for the week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (The CDC shifted its tally of available data from daily to weekly, now reported on Fridays.)

THE CLOSER

And finally …  👏👏👏 Bravo to the winners of this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by Women’s History Month, we looked for smart guesses about female trailblazers on Capitol Hill.

Here are the puzzlers who aced four bits of trivia: Richard Baznik, Patrick Kavanagh, Mary Anne McEnery, Tom Chabot, Paul Harris, Kathleen Kovalik, Harry Strulovici, Pam Manges, Lou Tisler, Stan Wasser, Ki Harvey, Jaina Mehta, Rick Dupré, Joan Domingues, Luther Berg, Randall S. Patrick, Amanda Fisher, Jack Barshay, Steve James and JA Ramos.

They knew that in 2022, Vermont elected its first woman to Congress — and became the last of the 50 states to make that move. Rep. Becca Balint (D) made history (VTDigger).

The “Year of the Woman” became a 1992 headline because four female candidates that year were elected to the male-dominated Senate.

It is true that women weren’t permitted to wear trousers on the Senate floor until 1993.

Jeanette Rankin was the first woman elected to Congress. (It was 1917! She was from Montana!) House GOP puts forward energy bill as top priority Biden’s budget directs billions to health programs

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