Happy Monday and Happy Valentine’s Day! It’s also National Library Lovers Day, for your information. It was a very good football match between the Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg show yesterday. Here’s what else is happening, or in the case of the US Senate, what’s not happening:
Crack Pipe Panic Delays Government Funding Bill
Federal government funding runs out after Friday, which means Congress has just days to pass a stopgap bill, known as the Continuing Resolution, to prevent a shutdown and keep agencies operating until to March 11. But the Senate’s path to getting there is clouded by Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who has put the bill on hold as she seeks assurances that taxpayers’ money will not be used to distribute crack pipes.
What the heist is about: The funding extension passed the House last week and has broad bipartisan support; neither Republicans nor Democrats want a government shutdown. But Blackburn has opposed a new $30 million grant program, funded by the $19 trillion American Rescue Plan Act signed into law early last year, which aims to reduce the risk of overdoses and transmission of diseases associated with drug use. “The grant enables recipients to provide items such as testing materials for sexually transmitted diseases and overdose medications, as well as ‘safe smoking kits’ to curb the spread of disease among users of smoking drugs. “, PolitiFact explained last week.
The conservative Washington Free Beacon published an article about the harm reduction grant program last week under the title “Biden Admin To Fund Crack Pipe Distribution To Advance ‘Racial Equity.'” The story claimed that a holder- The Biden administration’s anonymous word had said the program would “provide pipes for users to smoke crack cocaine, crystal meth, and ‘any illicit substance’.”
The Biden administration has denied those claims, with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Dr. Rahul Gupta issuing a joint statement that “no federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement to recipients to put pipes in safe smoking kits.”
But conservatives, including Blackburn, pounced on the story. Blackburn last week suspended the continuing resolution, saying it wanted to ensure taxpayers’ money would not go to distributing drug paraphernalia.
Facts: Numerous fact checkers have beaten down conservative claims that the Biden administration will spend $30 million on crack pipes, noting that “safe smoking kits” — which the Washington Post says typically include things like a mouthpiece rubber to prevent cuts and burns, brass screens to filter contaminants, and disinfectant wipes — are just one of 12 categories of supplies grants can be used to purchase, and crack pipes do not part of the supplies listed in the grant proposal.
“Suggestions that the government is ‘spending $30 million on crack pipes’ are false, even beyond whether the subsidies involve the distribution of crack pipes,” PolitiFact noted. “That’s because $30 million is roughly the amount of all possible grants collectively, and smokers’ kits would be a small fraction of that.”
And after: It’s unclear how the Senate will resolve the heist. “It’s unbelievable to us that they continue to ignore this issue, and they continue to say they are fighting drugs when in fact they are enabling drugs,” Blackburn told Newsmax on Monday.
A Blackburn spokesperson told the Associated Press Monday that the senator would drop her objections if she received a written promise that taxpayers’ money would not be spent on the drains. A delay in passing the interim spending bill could mean the bill doesn’t reach President Biden’s desk in time to avoid a short hiatus in funding
“While objections like this are often resolved quickly, there are no guarantees at a time when federal government funding is about to expire,” Jennifer Shutt wrote Friday for States Newsroom.
The postal reform project also resisted: A clerical error could also delay the Senate’s consideration of a bill to reform the postal service. The House passed the legislation, intended to ease the Postal Service’s financial strain, last week, but staffers reportedly sent the Senate an earlier version of the bill that omitted the late amendments. The House fixed error by approving a technical correction bill by unanimous consent.
That solution means the Senate now needs unanimous consent to go ahead with a procedural vote on the bill, but Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) reportedly objected. The Associated Press’ Alan Fram said Scott’s aides did not return messages Monday asking for an explanation.
“The Postal Bill is the definition of legislation that should go through Congress,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Monday.
Unless Scott changes his mind, the Postal Service reform bill may have to wait a few weeks before the Senate takes it up.
The bottom line: “No, the word ‘Senate’ is not Latin for ‘It’s never easy.’ But sometimes it seems to be,” writes the AP’s Fram. Remember that on the government funding bill, lawmakers are only looking to pass a three-week patch to give negotiators more time to finalize spending bills for the full year, long delayed, which are the most basic responsibility of legislators.
The IRS has a backlog of nearly 24 million tax forms
The Internal Revenue Service is dealing with a backlog of nearly 24 million tax returns filed last year, according to a report in the Washington Post. The stacking delays the processing of returns for millions of taxpayers by up to 10 months and is also expected to slow the processing of returns filed in 2022.
The latest tally, which is considerably higher than the 10 million reported earlier this year, was recently provided to Congress by the IRS’ Taxpayer Advocacy Service. IRS officials told the Post that the agency, hampered by the coronavirus pandemic and grappling with an increased workload that includes processing Covid relief payments, is struggling to hire and train new employees to help eliminate the backlog.
A group of Republican senators sent a letter last week to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig expressing concern over the situation, calling it “untenable.” They suggested ways to address the backlog, including stopping the issuance of liens, easing tax penalties and speeding up the processing of forms.
The IRS said it was considering suspending some tax enforcement and forming a 1,200-person “reinforcement team” to focus on the backlog. But Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said over the weekend that the agency needed more money and the dire situation at the IRS was the result. of a long campaign against the agency by Republicans. in Congress, who continue to lobby against providing adequate funding. “For decades, Republicans starved the IRS of funding, and now American taxpayers are paying the price,” Neal said. “The backlog of tax returns is just one symptom of the fundamental problem that has plagued the IRS for too long: insufficient resources.”
By the numbers: The IRS said the backlog consists of 23.7 million returns that require individual processing. According to the Post, the total includes 9.7 million paper returns that must be reviewed by hand; 4.1 million returns that were reported due to Covid relief payment issues; 4.1 million declarations that have been modified and need to be revised; and 5.8 million letters that must be processed before related declarations can be completed.
“This whole ongoing business ecosystem gives the public a more complete picture of what the IRS is up against,” Chad Hooper, executive director of the nonprofit Professional Managers Association, told The Post. represents federal government managers. “And that’s a crazy number before most people have filed their taxes for this year.”