Dems push “human infrastructure” in $3.5T budget. Delta variant storms Mississippi. Taliban takeover in Afghanistan marches on.
Democrats float $3.5 trillion budget proposal
Congressional Democrats have crafted a $3.5 trillion budget resolution. The details of the plan are not finalized. However, since the budget can pass through reconciliation, without Republican votes, Democrats have an opportunity to include some of President Biden’s “human infrastructure” priorities that have been excluded from the $600 billion bipartisan infrastructure proposal. So far, the proposals that have come to light include an extension of new child tax credit, new clean energy standards, universal pre-k, and an expansion of Medicare coverage to dental, hearing and vision.
Proposed pay-fors include rolling back Trump tax breaks for corporations and taxpayers making more than $400,000 a year. The plan also hopes to save money on healthcare spending by introducing bargaining for prescription drug prices for Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries.
Since Republicans are unlikely to support these proposals, Democrats must ensure that all 50 of their senators are on board. However, some key Democrats have already voiced concerns about the budget proposal. For instance, perennial question mark Sen. Joe Manchin (WV), who hails from coal country, is not happy about the proposal’s emphasis on renewable energy. He also has concerns about how the plan will be paid for.
Delta variant takes Mississippi by storm
Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs is sounding the alarm once again about rising COVID numbers in the state. This time it is about the growing prevalence of delta strain cases. The strain has taken firm hold in areas throughout the country, especially in places with a large percentage of still-unvaccinated people.
Much of the national comment has focused on Missouri, which is also experiencing a resurgence in some areas. Steve Edwards, CEO of CoxHealth in southwest Missouri, noted earlier this week that patients there are “younger and sicker” than this time last year.
The picture is much the same in Mississippi, according to Dobbs. Dobbs tweeted this week that 7 children in the state were in ICUs due to COVID, two of them on ventilators. Their ages range from under 1 to 17. Dr. Alan Jones of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson has also seen a “significant increase” in pediatric patients in recent weeks.
Among the general population, Dobbs as said the rise in COVID infections and hospitalizations across the state is “pretty alarming”. The current cases are “pretty much all delta”.
Younger and sicker
With only one-third of the state’s total population fully vaccinated, Mississippi has the second-lowest vaccination rate of any state in the country. In Alabama, the least vaccinated state, 96% of recent COVID deaths have been among unvaccinated people.
The delta strain is more aggressive than previous strains. In the last three weeks, the number of COVID patients requiring medical care has doubled. Hospitalizations have risen 26.7% in the last week alone.
The strain is also opportunistically targeting younger and younger people, many of whom are still not vaccinated. Across the country, the average COVID patient is now in their 20s.
The long-suffering Dobbs has often been at odds with Gov. Tate Reeves. When Reeves lifted the state’s mask mandate, Dobbs immediately took to Twitter to implore Mississippians to continue wearing masks, insisting the danger wasn’t over. Now, Dobbs is advising Mississippians over 65 and those with underlying conditions, vaccinated or not, to avoid even masked indoor gatherings.
Afghan Taliban capture Pakistani border crossing
As the US continues to withdraw troops, the Taliban is rapidly capturing more and more territory across the country. Today, Taliban forces captured a busy border crossing with Pakistan. Most of the Afghan soldiers who were manning the post immediately surrendered. Four who dared to put up a fight quickly were quickly dispatched.
This entry point is important for the Taliban both monetarily and strategically. It crosses into Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, where the Taliban already has a considerable presence. Controlling this crossing would allow the Taliban’s fighters into Baluchistan to cross freely into Afghanistan and potentially bolster their numbers and eventually launch a full scale assault on Kabul.
For now, the Taliban is concentrating on controlling key border crossings. This strategy allows them to both to choke off economic arteries to Kabul, and to force neighboring countries to recognize their authority.
Taliban forces are also taking over key provincial cities. These include areas dominated by ethnic Tajiks and Turkmen (most Taliban are Pashtun). But rather than an outside invasion, the Taliban has opened negotiations with local leaders in these areas and recruited them.
Officially, Taliban leadership say the goal of the military offensives is to strengthen the group’s negotiating position in peace talks with the Afghan government. But one Taliban commander, speaking anonymously, has plainly told NPR: “These military achievements are so we can rule the country”.
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