Inflation Will Make or Break the Next Spending Bill

President Biden is set to sign $1 trillion in infrastructure spending into law. But rising prices will determine what happens to his social bill.

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Inflation may determine the fate of President Biden’s big spending bill.Credit…Susan Walsh/Associated Press

Beyond infrastructure

Later today, President Biden is expected to sign into law the $1 trillion infrastructure spending bill, aimed at upgrading American roads, bridges, broadband internet and more. But the fate of the White House’s other economic priority — its $1.8 trillion social spending plan — remains cloudy amid intensifying concerns over inflation.

Biden asserted that the bipartisan bill will help heal America’s economy, providing union jobs, improving the U.S. supply chain’s resiliency and denting inflation. Last night, he named Mitch Landrieu, the former mayor of New Orleans, to oversee “the most significant and comprehensive investments in American infrastructure in generations” and clamp down on wasteful spending.

But inflation is continuing to haunt negotiations over the social spending bill. Biden’s approval ratings have dropped amid economic discontent over rising prices. Democrats are still arguing over its causes and its effects:

Paul Krugman blamed supply shortages and tight labor markets, while counseling patience. But Larry Summers, who has long warned about the dangers of inflation, accused Krugman of minimizing its threat.

Biden himself conceded last week that earlier stimulus spending contributed to inflation — though he also argued that supply-chain disruptions were also a factor.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen asserted that ending the pandemic would help temper inflation.

The fate of the spending bill may lie on what just two lawmakers think about inflation. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have been vocal about their worries about the bill’s effect on rising prices. So once the House sends over its version of the legislation to the Senate, potentially as soon as this week, the two centrists will have outsized influence on its final form. Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, quipped last week that the bill will be “written by Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema,” and he may not be entirely wrong.

More reading: Neil Irwin of The Upshot writes that the Biden administration’s economic response to the pandemic was fighting the last war. And here’s how some big American companies have profited from inflation.

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HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING

Shell won’t go Dutch anymore. The historically Anglo-Dutch oil giant said today that it will move its tax residency to Britain, drop its dual-stock structure and retire “Royal Dutch” from its name. The moves come amid pressure from the activist hedge fund Third Point, but prompted an outcry from the Netherlands.

President Biden and President Xi Jinping will meet. At a virtual meeting of the U.S. and China leaders, the two will seek to defray rising tensions on a host of economic and military issues, including trade, Taiwan and cybersecurity. But the Biden administration is worried that the chances of keeping conflicts at bay are diminishing.

Japan’s economy contracts. The country’s G.D.P. shrank in the third quarter by an annualized rate of 3 percent, after having grown slightly in the spring. It’s the latest economic setback linked to the pandemic this fall, but there are promising signs for the Japanese economy, including a high vaccination rate and new stimulus measures.

Regrets linger over the big climate deal. The nearly 200 countries that attended COP26 agreed to work on reducing carbon emissions, and to return next year with more aggressive goals. But the pact stopped short of calling on countries to phase out coal use, and will fail to meet the summit’s target of preventing Earth from heating more than 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial levels.

The S.E.C. rejects an E.T.F. directly tied to Bitcoin’s price. In disallowing the exchange-traded fund from VanEck, the agency cited the potential for investor fraud and manipulation. It’s the latest instance of the S.E.C. rejecting E.T.F.s tied directly to Bitcoin, although the regulator has approved other index funds that are linked to the cryptocurrency’s futures.

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The grave matter of the vaccine mandate

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on Friday upheld its stay of the Biden vaccine mandate, ruling that the requirement “grossly exceeds” OSHA’s authority. The decision highlighted the legal and political questions surrounding the debate over the mandate.

The political question: Critics of the ruling said it was driven by the court’s highly conservative leanings. That comes in part from the court’s issuing an opinion despite the Justice Department asking it to wait for a lottery to choose a venue for the consolidated case of pending lawsuits against the mandate. Rick Hasen, a legal scholar at the University of California, Irvine, called the Fifth Circuit’s decision “pretty radical and anti-science.”

The legal question: Did OSHA prove the existence of grave danger, which is required to enact the rule?

The Fifth Circuit says no, arguing that the mandate was based on “a purported ’emergency’ that the entire globe has now endured for nearly two years, and which OSHA itself spent nearly two months responding to.” It drew a distinction between Covid and other workplace threats, like toxic materials in a building, saying the coronavirus was “both widely present in society (and thus not particular to any workplace) and non-life-threatening to a vast majority of employees.”

The Biden administration says yes. It has highlighted the “significant exposure and transmission” of Covid that occurs in workplaces, including “numerous workplace “clusters” and “outbreaks.” Delaying the mandate, it argued, “would likely cost dozens or even hundreds of lives per day.” The American Medical Association, which represents the nation’s doctors, filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the government.

Next steps: The lottery to pick the court overseeing the consolidated litigation against the mandate will take place on Wednesday. Both sides have been playing their odds: Lawsuits have been filed in at least 11 circuits. Still, the case is likely to make its way up to the Supreme Court, which Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond Law School said may have been the Fifth Circuit ruling’s intended audience.

“Want me to sell more stock, Bernie? Just say the word …”

Elon Musk on Twitter, picking a fight with Senator Bernie Sanders over how to tax the wealthy. Musk disclosed in regulatory filings that he sold $1.2 billion worth of Tesla shares on Friday, as he raises money to pay a tax bill.

The week ahead

Retail sales: Tomorrow, the Commerce Department will report October retail sales. Consumer spending grew in August and September, thanks to economic reopenings and inflation, but retailers have struggled with labor shortages and supply chain disruptions. Still, the National Retail Federation expects record sales growth this holiday season.

Labor disputes: The IATSE union of Hollywood workers is set to release the results of a vote on a new labor agreement today; some members have argued that it doesn’t provide enough protections for working conditions. Meanwhile, it’s unclear whether unionized workers at Deere will accept a newly revised labor agreement reached on Friday, after rejecting previous offers.

The new giving gurus

When MacKenzie Scott wanted to begin spending her billions on philanthropy — $8 billion and counting — she turned to Bridgespan, a little-known nonprofit company that has become one of the most influential advisers in the world of charitable giving, The Times’s Nick Kulish reports.

Bridgespan was founded on a big bet: that a nonprofit would do better than traditional consultants providing pro bono services to nonprofits. The organization has since become a major force in the field — its clients include the Gates, Ford and Rockefeller foundations — and brought in over $70 million in contributions last year, up more than fivefold from 2019.

How it works: Bridgespan advises not only donors but also groups seeking funding — the list includes the YMCA of the USA, Harlem Children’s Zone and even the Sesame Workshop — providing the latter with both strategic advice and even staffing.

But critics say Bridgespan’s business is full of conflicts. “Consultants at places like Bridgespan are setting the menu of what philanthropists can and should do,” Megan Tompkins-Stange of the University of Michigan told The Times. (The firm says only 5 percent of client donations go to nonprofits that are also clients.)

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THE SPEED READ

Deals

Who have been the biggest winners of the conglomerate breakup spree? M.&A. bankers, naturally. (Bloomberg)

The Trump Organization agreed to sell its Washington hotel for at least $375 million. (NYT)

Carl Icahn reportedly plans to seek to unseat all 10 members of Southwest Gas’s board. (Bloomberg)

Wall Street sees new opportunity in lending to New York City cabbies. (FT)

Duke Energy settled a challenge from the activist hedge fund Elliott Management by adding two new independent directors. (Duke Energy)

Policy

The Biden administration reportedly discouraged Intel from building a new plant in China to alleviate the global semiconductor shortage. (Bloomberg)

Conflicts between the F.A.A. and AT&T and Verizon may threaten the rollout of more 5G wireless services. (WSJ)

Best of the rest

The former Barclays C.E.O. Jes Staley reportedly exchanged over 1,200 messages with Jeffrey Epstein between 2008 and 2012, some including unexplained terms like “snow white.” (FT)

A court case in Florida may reveal the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonym of Bitcoin’s purported creator. (WSJ)

“Will Real Estate Ever Be Normal Again?” (New York Times Magazine)

The Scotch distillery industry admits that meeting its carbon emissions target is looking increasingly unlikely. (FT)

How “Succession” makes being wealthy look miserable. (The Ringer)

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