Tuesday News: Here we go again...


SENATE REPUBLICANS PUSH FOR ANOTHER TAX CUT, $1.8 BILLION THIS TIME AROUND: Senate GOP leaders plan to push legislation that would decrease the state's income tax rate of 5.25% to 4.99% next year, according to Sen. Paul Newton, a Cabarrus County Republican and finance committee co-chairman. “We have yet another year of excess revenues and we are going to be proposing to the rest of the legislature and the governor that we reduce taxes as a result,” Newton told the AP. “We have incredible headroom because of the economic growth and prosperity in North Carolina." Senate Republicans endorsed a tax package proposed by Newton in a caucus meeting late Monday, according to Lauren Horsch, a spokeswoman for Senate leader Phil Berger. The soon-to-be-filed bill is likely to advance through the chamber, then get incorporated into the Senate GOP’s state budget proposal that could surface in late April.

RALEIGH HOMELESS CAMP STARK EVIDENCE THE ABOVE TAX CUT IS SELFISH AND IRRESPONSIBLE: Trash bags, shopping carts and other debris from a homeless camp tucked between Interstate 540 and an exit ramp to Capital Boulevard grab the attention of people driving by. Several have called or emailed NCDOT urging it to clean the site up. But NCDOT says for now it will let the camp be, as long as it doesn’t pose a safety risk to the public or the people living there. The department says it is following guidelines from the Centers for Disease and Prevention, which says clearing homeless camps during the COVID-19 pandemic risks spreading the virus. The camp at one of Wake County’s busiest interchanges calls attention to the growing but often invisible problem of homelessness. Triangle Family Services, which provides food, clothing and other basics to homeless people, is aware of at least 30 encampments around the county. Homan says NCDOT hasn’t done an inventory but says camps seem to have become more common along its highways, particularly near interchanges where people stand with signs asking for help.

LOCKDOWN OF NC NURSING HOMES COMES TO AN END, VISITATIONS ARE ALLOWED (AND HIGHLY RECOMMENDED): Earlier this month the state rescinded a health order that restricted visits to residents in long-term care facilities like nursing homes after new federal guidance indicated in-person visits in nursing homes and other care settings could resume. “Facilities should allow responsible indoor visitation at all times and for all residents,” the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said a little more than a week ago, regardless of vaccination status of the visitor or resident. The past year has been “catastrophic” for people in long-term care, who have mostly been socially isolated, said Lauren Zingraff, executive director for the nonprofit Friends of Residents in Long-Term Care. “In many cases, they have essentially been in their rooms by themselves. The only contact they’ve had has been with staff members who have been wearing PPE and masks to bring them meal trays three times a day,” Zingraff said, referring to personal protective equipment. A few months into the pandemic, Zingraff said, people started noticing changes in their loved ones, such as increases in depression or anxiety. Some residents stopped eating and drinking. “They would verbally share, ‘Why am I even alive?’” Zingraff said.

MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS ON OXFORD/ASTRAZENECA VACCINE PERFORMANCE: Oxford University and the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca may have only used partial data when the team announced the strong results from a U.S. trial of its coronavirus vaccine, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said Tuesday in a highly unusual advisory. The agency, part of the National Institutes of Health, said that late Monday, it was notified by the Data and Safety Monitoring Board of its concerns “that AstraZeneca may have included outdated information from that trial, which may have provided an incomplete view of the efficacy data.” On Monday, Oxford and AstraZeneca announced via news releases and interviews that its 32,000-person clinical trials in the United States, Chile and Peru showed that its vaccine was 79 percent effective in protecting volunteers from symptomatic covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus — and that it was 100 percent effective against severe illness. AstraZeneca said Monday it would apply for emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration in the coming weeks. The U.S. government has preordered 300 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, but with three others vaccines already approved — from Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson — it is not clear what role the AstraZeneca shot will play in the United States. Some researchers described the reaction by the U.S. scientists — and the public airing over the meaning of the AstraZeneca data — as highly unusual. Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, told science reporters Tuesday that it is not unknown for the data monitoring board to disagree with investigators over the interpretation of trial results. AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine was designed to be a cheap, easy-to-administer dose that would protect not just citizens of wealthy nations but also those in the most vulnerable countries.

BIDEN TOUTS STIMULUS IMPROVEMENTS TO AFFORDABLE CARE ACT IN SHORT TOUR: Eleven years after President Barack Obama signed his signature domestic achievement, and after several near-death experiences, the health law is again expanding. The Biden White House will celebrate Tuesday’s anniversary in a big way. The president will visit Ohio as part of his “Help Is Here” tour to talk up the stimulus law, which greatly expanded subsidies to make insurance affordable for tens of millions of people. And Mr. Biden’s newly installed health secretary, Xavier Becerra, whom the Senate confirmed just last week, will travel to Carson City, Nev., to help mark the moment. The provision in the $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” is the first major change to the health law since its passage. The new subsidies last for only two years, and it will take some time for the full emergency aid to reach people. Even so, nearly everyone who buys insurance will be eligible to do so at a discount. But Mr. Biden has a new challenge: living up to his campaign promise to expand the law, including making the new subsidies permanent, creating a “public option” for consumers who wish to buy into a government-run insurance plan, and tackling not only the rising cost of health insurance premiums, but also the soaring price of prescription drugs. On Capitol Hill, Mr. Biden is facing pressure from the left. Last week, progressives introduced legislation to create what they call “Medicare for all,” a single-payer, government-run insurance program that has been embraced by Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York. Interest among Democrats appears to be growing; a majority of the caucus now backs the bill, and several moderates have recently signed on as sponsors, including Representative Frank Pallone Jr., Democrat of New Jersey and the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the measure. He has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday to consider legislation to expand health coverage and lower costs. “The energy around it is largely stoked by the horrible things we’ve seen over the last year,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington, the lead sponsor of the Medicare for All Act. She added, “Even if we do the things we are doing right now, we are still leaving out too many people, and we are still not addressing the cost issues of this unsustainable for-profit system.”