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Daily Briefing – 424

Post: Dec. 14, 2021

Congress Votes to Raise Debt Limit to $ 31.4 Trillion

Democrats voted Tuesday to raise the debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion to $31.4 Trillion, which they expect will lift the nation’s borrowing cap until 2023.  The House also could vote as soon as Tuesday. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has given lawmakers until Wednesday to keep the country solvent.

Senate Democrats unveiled a resolution to raise the debt ceiling on Tuesday, shortly before they are scheduled to take a procedural vote on the measure.  Senate Democrats are expected to vote to raise the debt ceiling on Tuesday as part of a deal worked out with Senate GOP leadership that gives them a one-time exemption to raise the debt ceiling without needing to overcome a 60-vote filibuster.

Read more at The Hill

Working the Ref – Democrats Try to Influence Senate Parliamentarian on Spending Bill

Democrats are ramping up talks this week with the Senate parliamentarian to meet a self-imposed deadline to pass President Biden’s spending bill, hoping to clear one of the biggest hurdles to getting the legislation to the floor by Christmas.  More than half of the 12 committees responsible for drafting the bill released text as of Monday. But behind the scenes, Democrats still need to get signoff from Elizabeth MacDonough, a nonpartisan Senate referee, before they can bring the spending bill to the floor and try to start debate.

A Senate Democratic leadership aide said that staff for all 12 of the committees had finished the Democratic-only meetings with MacDonough. After Democrats have their one-on-one meetings, Republicans then meet with the parliamentarian on their own. After those informal talks, the two sides of each of the committees sit down with MacDonough together to pitch their respective cases. 

Read more at The Hill

The Economist COVID Tracker Follows Omicron Across the Globe

Any new virus has known unknowns. How contagious is it, and how deadly? Which mutations will emerge, and where will they go? As SARS-CoV-2 moves from novel threat to endemic disease, no one knows how it will continue to evolve. What is known is that some new variants of the virus are especially concerning, as they may have made it more contagious or more deadly.

The latest is Omicron, a mutation of the virus first identified in a sample taken in South Africa on November 8th. Our data tracker is tracking its spread across the world—as well as vaccinations, diagnosed cases and official deaths to covid-19.

Visit The Economist Tracker (COVID Coverage remains free)

U.S. Producer Prices Climbed Sharply in November

The Labor Department said Tuesday that its producer-price index rose 9.6% in November from a year earlier, the most since records began in 2010. The so-called core PPI, which excludes often volatile food and energy components, climbed 7.7% from a year ago, also the highest on record. The index, which generally reflects supply conditions in the economy, rose 0.8% from October, an acceleration from the 0.6% gain in each of the previous three months. Higher prices for energy, wholesale food, and transportation and warehousing contributed to the pickup in inflation.

The higher-than-expected producer-price numbers suggest that consumer inflation, which hit a nearly four-decade high of 6.8% last month, will stay elevated into 2022 as price pressures persist.

Read more at the WSJ

US COVID Update – CDC’s Early Omicron Findings

The CDC released its first report on Omicron, discussing 43 cases detected in 25 states between December 1 and December 8. Since then, Omicron cases have been detected in at least 5 more states and Washington, DC. Nearly 80% (34) of the patients were fully vaccinated and one-third (14) had received a booster dose, although 5 of those were not 2 weeks from their last dose.

Additionally, 6 of the patients were previously infected with SARS-CoV-2, and nearly all cases experienced mild cold-like symptoms, including congestion, cough, and fatigue. Only 1 patient was hospitalized. State-level community transmission is listed as high across nearly the entire country, which does not bode well in the face of what appears to be the more infectious Omicron variant. As the US nears 50 million cumulative COVID-19 cases and passes 800,000 related deaths, the CDC predicts the weekly number of COVID-19 related deaths will rise from 8,800 last week to 10,000 next week and to more than 11,000 in 4 weeks. The full impact of Omicron in the US, and around the world, will become more apparent as we enter 2022, the third year of the pandemic.

Read more at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security

NYS Vaccine and COVID Update  

Vaccine Stats as of  December 13:

One Vaccine Dose 

  • 81.1% of all New Yorkers – 15,209,7770 (plus 18,917 from a day earlier).
  • In the Hudson Valley 1,595,361 (plus 2,823).

Fully Vaccinated

  • 70.5% of all New Yorkers – 13,595,167 (plus 15,581).
  • In the Hudson Valley – 1,398,742 (plus 2,346). 

The Governor  updated COVID data through December 12 .  There were 57 COVID related deaths for a total of 59,990. 


  • Patients Currently in Hospital statewide: 3,772.

7 Day Average Positivity Rate  – Cases per 100K population

  • Statewide 4.65%    –    54.15 positive cases per 100,00 population
  • Mid-Hudson: 4.59%   –  47.72 positive  cases per 100,00 population

Useful Websites:

Pfizer Says Its Covid-19 Pill Likely Works Against Omicron

Preliminary laboratory tests gave encouraging signs that Pfizer Inc.’s experimental Covid-19 pill for the newly infected could work against Omicron, the company said. Pfizer also said Tuesday that a final analysis of late-stage study results confirmed the drug, named Paxlovid, was 89% effective at reducing the risk of hospitalization and death in adults at high risk of severe Covid-19.

Doctors and health experts have been looking for an antiviral like Paxlovid, which people could easily take at home within several days of symptoms emerging to prevent their cases from turning serious and requiring hospitalization. The emergence of Omicron has shadowed the approach of such antivirals, however, because of uncertainty whether the new strain could elude treatments and vaccines.

Read more at the WSJ

Kroger to Remove Some COVID Benefits for Unvaccinated Employees

Kroger will eliminate some Covid-19 benefits for unvaccinated employees starting next year, as the supermarket chain pushes more workers to get inoculated amid growing concerns over the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant. Kroger, among the biggest private employers in the United States, had about 465,000 full and part-time workers as of Jan. 31, according to a regulatory filing.

The grocer will no longer provide unpaid Covid-19 leave for unvaccinated employees and will apply a $50 monthly health insurance surcharge to salaried non-union workers who are unvaccinated and enrolled in a company healthcare plan, a spokesperson said on Tuesday.

 Read more at CNBC

Appeals Court Declines to Block United Airlines Vaccine Mandate

 A divided U.S. appeals court has rebuffed a request by six employees to block United Airlines from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for workers that imposes unpaid leave on those who are granted religious or medical exceptions. A panel of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 on Monday night to reject the emergency request for an injunction while the employees appeal a November ruling by a federal judge in favor of the airline.

United Airlines was the first major air carrier to issue a vaccine requirement and others followed. United has granted around 2,000 religious and medical exemptions to employees in roles including pilots, flight attendants and customer service agents.

Read more at Reuters

Will an Inflation-Fighting Fed Break its Vow on Inclusivity?

With the Federal Reserve expected to soon adopt an inflation-fighting posture, it might seem at a glance as though the U.S. central bank will have to jettison its goal of broad and inclusive full employment barely a year after rolling it out.  The reality, though, is more nuanced than a simple either-or choice.

A first step in the central bank’s pivot is expected at the end of its two-day policy meeting today with a widely anticipated acceleration of its bond-purchasing “taper,” a move that would clear the way for the trickier proposition of raising interest rates next year.  Doing so risks going back on a promise first made in September 2020 to leave the federal funds rate at the near-zero level until the labor market fully heals, though giving up on job gains to control inflation is, in this view, a tradeoff that Fed Chair Jerome Powell simply has to make.

Read more at Reuters

U.K. Sees First Death of a Person With Omicron as Government Warns of Wave of Cases

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed Monday that at least one patient infected with the new omicron variant of Covid-19 has died in the country. It’s the first publicly confirmed death globally from the new variant.

“Sadly yes, omicron is producing hospitalizations and sadly at least one patient has been confirmed to have died with omicron,” Johnson told reporters on a visit to a vaccination clinic near Paddington, London, according to Sky News.  “So I think the idea that this is somehow a milder version of the virus, I think that’s something we need to set on one side and just recognize the sheer pace at which it accelerates through the population. So the best thing we can do is all get our boosters,” he said.

Read more at CNBC

Almost Half of Small Business Owners are Taking Out Loans Because of Inflation

More than seven out of 10 small business owners say the rising costs of goods and services significantly impacted their operations within the past 12 months, according to the latest Small Business Index report released Tuesday. The quarterly analysis, conducted between Oct. 13-27, surveyed 750 small business operators across the country. 

To combat the effects of inflation on their bottom lines, 63% of small businesses increased their prices, and about 40% say they’ve decreased staff. But a surprising 45% of small businesses say they’ve dealt with inflation by taking out a loan over the past year. That’s significantly higher than a similar survey released by the National Federation of Independent Business in October, which asked a different question and found that 23% of owners reported borrowing on a regular basis.

Read more at Fortune

Why U.S. Job Gains Are So Hard to Count During Covid-19

The monthly U.S. jobs report moves trillions of dollars in market trades and influences key policy decisions such as the Federal Reserve’s interest-rate plans. But during the Covid-19 pandemic, economists have had an especially hard time predicting the report’s headline number of jobs added. Meanwhile, the government itself has routinely made big revisions to its initial estimates.

Why? Two big reasons. Economists have struggled to guess the behavior of consumers and companies during unprecedented government stimulus, labor-market shifts and virus fears. Second, the government has seen a sharp decline in the payroll data it collects from employers. During one of the most volatile periods in recent memory, private and public-sector economists have a less firm grasp of what the labor market is doing.

Read more at the WSJ

15% of Unemployed Say They Aren’t Working Due to Mental Health Problems

Nearly 15% of unemployed people blame their lack of work on mental health problems, according to a new survey highlighting a growing problem that is keeping many Americans from getting jobs.  
The number of those who cited mental health issues as their top cause of unemployment is up 2 percentage points from March, the survey by business consulting firm McKinsey on Monday found.

In another sign of mental health struggles during the pandemic, more than one in 10 adults have reported starting or increasingly use alcohol since COVID arrived. Deaths from drug overdoses also grew, largely due to synthetic opioids. About 93,000 drug overdose deaths were reported in 2020, the highest on record and a 30% increase from 2019. 

Read more at Fortune

The COVID-19 Pandemic is Set to Dismantle Nearly 2 Decades of Global Progress Toward Universal Health Coverage

The Pandemic is impacting health coverage and is increasing the number of people pushed into extreme poverty due to out-of-pocket healthcare costs, already at more than half a billion people prior to the pandemic, according to 2 new reports from the WHO and the World Bank. In 2020, the pandemic disrupted health services, caused immunization rates to drop for the first time in 10 years, spurred increases in tuberculosis and malaria deaths, and sparked the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, the agencies said, warning that further financial hardships are likely as governments and households face tighter fiscal constraints.

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on governments to “immediately resume and accelerate” efforts to rebuild and strengthen healthcare and social support systems so that every person can access services without financial consequences. The reports were released to mark International Universal Health Coverage Day on December 12.

Read more at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security