Today’s update has the potential to give all a little optimism that things may be working out in Congress. There is still a ways to go with an agreement on infrastructure, but there are positive movements. With rain predicted for what seems like an entire week, we need some optimism on a Friday afternoon. There is also an update on where we stand as a county for vaccine rate and compares to our neighbors, as well as what schools are looking for in guidance as we near the start of the year not too far out. Stay dry!
*Daily Coronavirus update brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital
Infrastructure Deal Tests Whether Bipartisanship Can Survive
The big infrastructure deal President Biden and a group of senators from both parties announced Thursday is about much more than infrastructure. It may well be a test of whether bipartisanship can survive in today’s Washington on any big subject.
After all, if bipartisanship can’t be achieved on infrastructure—the motherhood-and-apple-pie issue of our times, where every lawmaker gets to send some federal dollars back home for projects their constituents can see and use—where can it happen?
That doesn’t mean the $1.2 trillion deal—which would represent one of the biggest investments ever made in the country’s operating systems—is sure to survive. It will face serious challenges on both left and right and could fall off the rails at many points in the weeks ahead.
What this deal may have going for it, though, is the yearning that many officials in both parties have to show they still know how to do this kind of thing together—and perhaps some reluctance to be seen as the skunk at this particular garden party.
The picture that emerged Thursday, of a president walking out the White House doors to stand with senators from both parties to announce an agreement on a big piece of legislation, shouldn’t be as startling as it was. It used to happen regularly; now, it seldom does.
President Biden, as both candidate and as new president, promised that such scenes could reappear, yet making that happen has been devilishly difficult in a hyperpolarized Washington where partisan suspicions outstrip goodwill by a wide margin, and where the political penalty for compromise with the other side increasingly is a death sentence from within your own party.
Infrastructure always held out the prospect as the issue that could bring both parties to common ground. Every lawmaker’s district or state needs infrastructure help, businesses love improvements in the physical plant around them, unions love the jobs infrastructure spending creates. Former President Donald Trump once sought an even bigger infrastructure package, until that idea fell apart amid a nasty feud with Democratic leaders.
Still, reaching this agreement in principle required some maneuvering that still could bring the deal falling down like a rickety old bridge. Getting the deal required jettisoning the spending on “human infrastructure”—education, healthcare, child care, antipoverty programs—that Democratic progressives demanded, and slimming down some of the president’s demands on physical infrastructure.
Infrastructure breakthrough marks victory for political center
President Biden’s deal with a bipartisan group of 10 senators is throwing a lifeline to one of Washington’s most endangered species: the political center. The agreement announced outside the White House and captured in back-slapping photos that quickly ricocheted throughout Washington came after significant doubt had been cast on the group’s ability to lock down a deal.
Many had predicted the talks would collapse or unravel and had said Biden was wasting time. Instead, Biden’s appearance outside the White House with the bipartisan Senate group marked a big win for Senate moderates and Biden himself, who campaigned as a dealmaker but struggled to break through with Republicans.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), in a rare gaggle with reporters on Capitol Hill, took a veiled jab at the naysayers. “Folks around D.C. and around the nation will lament and say that bipartisanship is a thing that’s gone past. And you all have heard for weeks now people saying that a bipartisan agreement couldn’t happen,” Sinema said. She said the deal “is proof that bipartisanship is alive and well in the United States Senate and in our country.”
Thursday’s breakthrough will only be the start of a weeks-long — if not months-long — slog to get an infrastructure package to Biden’s desk. The bipartisan agreement is already facing pushback from both sides of the aisle.
Some Republicans warn that Biden’s threat to not sign the bill unless a larger package is passed through special budgetary rules sidestepping the filibuster is a deal breaker. Progressives want an “ironclad” commitment that the bipartisan package won’t become law unless the sweeping Democratic-only bill has a clear path to Biden’s desk. “The challenge now is to make sure the rest of our caucus on the Democratic side and the Republican caucus know what’s in this bill and can join us on supporting it,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who acknowledged the challenge ahead.
Still, Thursday was undeniably a bright spot for Biden and centrists hoping to break the partisan fever and craft bipartisan deals. “It’s important to recognize that when we say a bipartisan bill … that signal that it sends to the country again, that we actually can work, that we actually can perform, that we can do something not for Republicans or Democrats but for Americans,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) quipped that the agreement helped show that “we’re not just, you know, a hot mess here.”
The breakthrough came after a cycle of closed-door meetings that rotated between Portman’s basement hideaway, meeting rooms in the Capitol and Sinema’s Hart office, where staffers were frequently spotted bringing in water and boxes of pizza. Even though the meetings jumped into the spotlight in recent weeks, senators have quietly been at work for months, including when Biden was still negotiating with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.).
The talks appeared to yo-yo throughout the week, appearing on the verge of collapse at one point only for negotiators to suggest that they were on the cusp of an agreement. “I think you have to push positive vibes if you’re going to get a positive result,” Tester said, asked why he continued to predict quick agreements even as others were pessimistic.
It’s the second win in roughly six months for the Senate’s moderates gang. Many of the same members were behind a bipartisan $908 billion framework that helped break the months-long stalemate late last year on a final coronavirus package during the Trump administration. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for us to show the rest of the world that we can still get big things done in a bipartisan way and lead the rest of the world,” Manchin said at the White House. Other senators were visibly exuberant as they touted their framework agreement.
Democrats argued there was little downside for Biden endorsing the agreement, even as they still need to win over enough support, noting it goes back to his political DNA as a centrist in the Senate. “I think he wants to do as much as he can bipartisan. … So long as the Dems don’t relinquish our right to use reconciliation, just like the GOP did, then I think it’s all for the good,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). And Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a Biden ally, called the White House-Senate group framework a “big accomplishment” and declared Thursday a “great day for the American people, a great day for our democracy and for bipartisanship.”
Biden, speaking with the Senate group outside the White House, appeared to briefly reminisce as he said that the agreement reminded him of his own time in the Senate. “This reminds me of the days that we used to get an awful lot done in the United States Congress. … We get bipartisan deals. Bipartisan deals mean compromise,” Biden said, at one point gripping Portman on the shoulder. “A lot of us go back a long way,” he added. “They have my word, I’ll stick with what they propose. And they’ve given me their word as well. Where I come from, that’s good enough for me.”
46% of Will County’s Population is Now Fully Vaccinated
A little more than 46% of Will County’s nearly 690,000 residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, even as the daily number of doses administered continues to fall. Although fewer than 319,000 residents are fully vaccinated, the number of daily shots given in Will County has fallen to a little more than 1,600 a day as of Wednesday, according to the latest Illinois Department of Public Health data.
A month ago, the daily doses administered in Will County was about 4,500. At the county’s vaccination peak in mid-April, the daily average was about 7,700. The county’s rolling average test positivity rate for COVID-19 has remained steady in past weeks about 1% as of last Monday, according to the IDPH.
The South Suburban region, which includes Will and Kankakee counties, had a test positivity rate of 1.1% as of Monday. The number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 in the region also has been on a downward trend in past months as more residents have been vaccinated.
As of Wednesday, only 19 COVID-19 patients remained in a hospital in the region, according to IDPH data. At the height of transmission of the virus in mid-November, nearly 380 COVID-19 patients were treated in the region’s hospitals.
One county in the Chicago area holds the highest percentage of residents vaccinated against the coronavirus, while an area in downstate Illinois has the lowest number vaccinated.
DuPage County has 55.33% of its population vaccinated against COVID-19, which compares to the 47.58% in Chicago and 50.84% vaccinated in Cook County, according to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health. Meanwhile, Alexander County, one of the southern-most areas of Illinois,14.22% of its residents are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, which is the lowest reported percentage statewide.
Here’s where the Chicago area stands in terms of vaccinations:
- DuPage: 55.33%
- Cook: 50.84%
- Kendall: 47.62%
- Chicago: 47.58%
- Lake: 47.52%
- Will: 46.06%
- McHenry: 46.03%
- Kane: 45.80%
- LaSalle: 40.83%
- DeKalb: 40.72%
- Grundy: 39.83%
Illinois Superintendents Press State for Decision on Social Distancing, Quarantining, and Masks in School
Illinois superintendents are pressuring the state board of education to release public health guidance immediately as school districts prepare to reopen classroom doors in the fall. The Large Unit District Association, which represents 52 of Illinois’ largest school districts and more than half a million students throughout the state, sent state superintendent Carmen Ayala a letter this week demanding that the state publish public health guidelines for schools aligned with the Phase 5 reopening plan. “We request that social distancing, quarantining, and masking guidelines in schools be consistent with health guidelines of Phase 5 as applied to other venues in Illinois,” said the letter.
John Burkey, executive director of the Large Unit District Association, said in an interview with Chalkbeat Chicago that school districts are excited to get students back into classrooms after the pandemic year, but district leaders need immediate guidance to bring back students. According to Burkey, some school districts are planning to start classes in early August and only have a few weeks to plan for the school year over the summer.
The state board of education passed a resolution in May requiring school districts to reopen in the fall with limited exceptions for remote learning. Since school districts have to operate at full capacity, the letter raises concerns about social distancing, masks and quarantining students who have or are exposed to COVID-19. “Under the 6-feet social distancing guidelines, it is impossible for most of our schools to operate at 100 percent capacity, “ said the letter. “Using 3-feet social distancing guidelines, full capacity is possible in most cases, but only with significant modifications.”
Echoing similar concerns raised by superintendents during the state board meeting earlier this month, Burkey said current social distancing guidelines will not allow for all students to come back to classrooms. School leaders have also said they will have a hard time planning classroom structure and activities like lunch without new rules.
Most classrooms use tables instead of desks to get young students to work collaboratively, but with current social distancing rules, school districts will have to purchase more desks, Burkey said. “I have a couple districts that have told me that they’ve got an order for desks ready to go, but they don’t want to buy the desk if the guidance is going to change,” said Burkey. “That’s obviously a wasted expenditure.”
On Tuesday, Ayala said in a weekly message that the state board of education is working with the Illinois Department of Public Health to issue guidance as soon as possible.
Program Notices & Reminders – Expanded Information
|Special Presentation: Small Business Compliance with Department of Labor
Did you know that most employees in the U.S. are covered by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)? As an employer, are you aware of and meeting your obligations?
The chamber recently joined with Andres Mendez, a Benefits Advisor with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage & Hour Division and the Employee Benefits Security Administration for an overview of the COBRA premium assistance under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, federal wage and hour laws, and how they are enforced.
Click here to view the special presentation: https://youtu.be/n5tWXm1BDyE
Connect with the Workforce Center
Visit the Workforce Center of Will County’s web page for more information about the programs, services, and activities available for Will County businesses and residents.
Small Business Tax Credit Programs
Small Disadvantaged Business Contracting Goal News
On June 1, 2021, the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre, the Biden-Harris Administration announced new steps to help narrow the racial wealth gap and reinvest in communities that have been left behind by failed policies. Specifically, the Administration is expanding access to two key wealth-creators – small business ownership and homeownership – in communities of color and disadvantaged communities.
Federal Contracting Webinar Series
Do you need help with federal contracting? The ChallengeHER webinar series offers education and training on the federal contracting system. Below is a list of upcoming webinars.
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry