Senate Dems strike jobless aid deal, relief bill OK in sight

Senate Dems strike jobless aid deal, relief bill OK in sight
The compromise, announced by the West Virginia lawmaker and a Democratic aide late Friday, seemed to clear the way for the Senate to begin a climactic, marathon series of votes and, eventually, approval of the sweeping legislation. (File/AFP)
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Updated 06 March 2021

Senate Dems strike jobless aid deal, relief bill OK in sight

Senate Dems strike jobless aid deal, relief bill OK in sight
  • The overall bill, President Joe Biden’s foremost legislative priority, is aimed at battling the killer pandemic and nursing the staggered economy back to health

WASHINGTON: Senate leaders and moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin struck a deal over emergency jobless benefits, breaking a logjam that had stalled the party’s showpiece $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.
The compromise, announced by the West Virginia lawmaker and a Democratic aide late Friday, seemed to clear the way for the Senate to begin a climactic, marathon series of votes and, eventually, approval of the sweeping legislation.
The overall bill, President Joe Biden’s foremost legislative priority, is aimed at battling the killer pandemic and nursing the staggered economy back to health. It would provide direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans and money for COVID-19 vaccines and testing, aid to state and local governments, help for schools and the airline industry and subsidies for health insurance.
Shortly before midnight, the Senate began to take up a variety of amendments in rapid-fire fashion. The votes were mostly on Republican proposals virtually certain to fail but designed to force Democrats to cast politically awkward votes. It was unclear how long into the weekend the “vote-a-rama” would last.
More significantly, the jobless benefits agreement suggested it was just a matter of time until the Senate passes the bill. That would ship it back to the House, which was expected to give it final congressional approval and whisk it to Biden for his signature.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden supports the compromise on jobless payments.
Friday’s lengthy standoff underscored the headaches confronting party leaders over the next two years — and the tensions between progressives and centrists — as they try moving their agenda through the Congress with their slender majorities.
Manchin is probably the chamber’s most conservative Democrat, and a kingmaker in the 50-50 Senate. But the party can’t tilt too far center to win Manchin’s vote without endangering progressive support in the House, where they have a mere 10-vote edge.
Aiding unemployed Americans is a top Democratic priority. But it’s also an issue that drives a wedge between progressives seeking to help jobless constituents cope with the bleak economy and Manchin and other moderates who have wanted to trim some of the bill’s costs.
Biden noted Friday’s jobs report showing that employers added 379,000 workers — an unexpectedly strong showing. That’s still small compared to the 10 million fewer jobs since the pandemic struck a year ago.
“Without a rescue plan, these gains are going to slow,” Biden said. “We can’t afford one step forward and two steps backwards. We need to beat the virus, provide essential relief, and build an inclusive recovery.”
The overall bill faces a solid wall of GOP opposition, and Republicans used the unemployment impasse to accuse Biden of refusing to seek compromise with them.
“You could pick up the phone and end this right now,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said of Biden.
But in an encouraging sign for Biden, a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 70% of Americans support his handling of the pandemic, including a noteworthy 44% of Republicans.
The House approved a relief bill last weekend that included $400 weekly jobless benefits — on top of regular state payments — through August. Manchin was hoping to reduce those costs, asserting that level of payment would discourage people from returning to work, a rationale most Democrats and many economists reject.
As the day began, Democrats asserted they’d reached a compromise between party moderates and progressives extending emergency jobless benefits at $300 weekly into early October.
That plan, sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, also included tax reductions on some unemployment benefits. Without that, many Americans abruptly tossed out of jobs would face unexpected tax bills.
But by midday, lawmakers said Manchin was ready to support a less generous Republican version. That led to hours of talks involving White House aides, top Senate Democrats and Manchin as the party tried finding a way to salvage its unemployment aid package.
The compromise announced Friday night would provide $300 weekly, with the final check paid on Sept. 6, and includes the tax break on benefits.
During the “vote-a-rama,” the Senate narrowly passed an amendment from Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, that would have extended the $300 unemployment insurance benefit to July 18. But Portman’s victory was short-lived and the proposal was canceled out when the chamber subsequently passed the unemployment insurance proposal worked out by the Democrats.
Before the unemployment benefits drama began, senators voted 58-42 to kill a top progressive priority, a gradual increase in the current $7.25 hourly minimum wage to $15 over five years.
Eight Democrats voted against that proposal, suggesting that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and other progressives vowing to continue the effort in coming months will face a difficult fight.
That vote began shortly after 11 a.m. EST and was not formally gaveled to a close until nearly 12 hours later as Senate work ground to a halt amid the unemployment benefit negotiations.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell chided Democrats, calling their daylong effort to work out the unemployment amendment a “spectacle.”
“What this proves is there are benefits to bipartisanship when you’re dealing with an issue of this magnitude,” McConnell said.
Republicans criticized the overall relief bill as a liberal spend-fest that ignores that growing numbers of vaccinations and signs of a stirring economy suggest that the twin crises are easing.
“Democrats inherited a tide that was already turning.” McConnell said.
Democrats reject that, citing the job losses and numerous people still struggling to buy food and pay rent.
“If you just look at a big number you say, ‘Oh, everything’s getting a little better,’” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “It’s not for the lower half of America. It’s not.”
Friday’s gridlock over unemployment benefits gridlock wasn’t the first delay on the relief package. On Thursday Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, forced the chamber’s clerks to read aloud the entire 628-page relief bill, an exhausting task that took staffers 10 hours and 44 minutes and ended shortly after 2 a.m. EST.
Democrats made a host of other late changes to the bill, designed to nail down support. They ranged from extra money for food programs and federal subsidies for health care for workers who lose jobs to funds for rural health care and language assuring minimum amounts of money for smaller states.
In another late bargain that satisfied moderates, Biden and Senate Democrats agreed Wednesday to make some higher earners ineligible for the direct checks to individuals.


Saudi Arabia’s key role in fight against climate change

Saudi Arabia’s key role in fight against climate change
Updated 20 April 2021

Saudi Arabia’s key role in fight against climate change

Saudi Arabia’s key role in fight against climate change
  • Aramco has spent billions on research and development into cleaner oil production technologies

DUBAI: Climate change is the big long-term issue of the post-pandemic world, and this weekend we will all be better placed to judge the global state of play when US President Joe Biden convenes the Leaders’ Summit on Climate he promised soon after moving into the White House.

Some 40 leaders have been invited to take part in the two-day event, including King Salman. In a demonstration of the importance Biden puts on the issue, and the impact of summitry drama, the event will be available for global public consumption via livestream.

The aim of the summit is for global leaders to update each other on their progress toward the goals of the Paris Agreements on climate change mitigation ahead of the COP26 (26th UN conference of the parties) meeting in November, when the targets can be adjusted according to the needs of the planet.

Most climate experts accept that there is an urgent need to accelerate the process of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In Paris, all the nations of the world agreed to reduce emissions, however pollution levels have continued to increase over the past five years.

Even the massive hit to the global economy and transport last year due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic caused only a blip in the rising curve, which is expected to climb sharply upwards this year and next as economic recovery accelerates.

The question — both for the Biden summit and COP26 — is what can be done about it, and this is where Saudi Arabia has a unique contribution to make.

The Kingdom, of course, is the biggest exporter of hydrocarbons in the world, and sits on huge reserves of oil and gas. Its resources have fueled economic development at home and around the globe for decades.

Some people do not appreciate this. The eco-warriors of Europe and North America appear to want nothing at all to do with the most powerful and efficient fuel in history and would like to scrap all further investment in hydrocarbons as a prelude to some green utopia where the streets are crammed with Teslas and all business is conducted via Zoom.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The recent announcement of the Sakaka solar project was a massive step toward the Kingdom’s ambitions in renewables, with the promise of more to come.

• Saudi Aramco already produces the cleanest oil in the world, according to independent scientific studies.

But — and this will probably come as news to Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg and her friends — the Kingdom has also been hyperactive in the climate change campaign over the past couple of years. This is the message it wants to reinforce at Biden’s summit.

It pioneered the framework of the Circular Carbon Economy, an integrated intellectual strategy for tackling emissions while enabling economic growth. This was endorsed by G20 leaders at the summit under Saudi presidency last year.

It has committed the Kingdom to satisfying 50 percent of its domestic energy needs from renewables by 2030, at the same time launching a project — the Saudi Green Initiative — to plant 10 billion trees in the country to mitigate CO2 emissions.

The recent announcement of the Sakaka solar project was a massive step toward the Kingdom’s ambitions in renewables, with the promise of more to come.

Saudi Aramco — which already produces the cleanest oil in the world, according to independent scientific studies — has spent billions on research and development into cleaner oil production technologies and more efficient engineering to optimize hydrocarbon fuel usage in internal combustion engines.

The Kingdom has pioneered the use of hydrogen, in “green” and “blue” forms, which some energy visionaries see as the fuel of the future. Saudi Aramco shipped the first ever consignment of the fuel last summer.

Saudi Arabia, similar to the rest of the world, still has plenty of work to do. In particular, along with other participants at the Biden summit, it must refine and adjust its national commitments under the Paris Agreements.

And it must strive to ensure its ambitious measures to combat climate change come through as fully implemented and actionable policies.

It could also take the lead in investment to find an economically viable technology for carbon capture, utilization, and storage, which some experts see as the silver bullet against CO2 pollution.

But above all it must hammer home the point that economic growth, which the world urgently needs after the COVID-19 pandemic recession, can only be fueled by the responsible and sustainable use of the world’s precious hydrocarbon wealth.


Egypt offers treasury bonds worth $1.05bn

Egypt offers treasury bonds worth $1.05bn
Updated 44 min 32 sec ago

Egypt offers treasury bonds worth $1.05bn

Egypt offers treasury bonds worth $1.05bn
  • Move aims to help Finance Ministry clear the govt budget deficit

CAIRO: The Central Bank of Egypt has issued treasury bonds worth EGP 16.5 billion ($1.05 billion), as part of efforts to help the Ministry of Finance clear the government budget deficit.

In a statement, the bank said the value of the first offering amounted to EGP 5 billion for a period of three years, the second offering amounted to EGP 6 billion for a period of five years, and the third 10-year term offering was valued at EGP 5.5 billion.

The government resorted to financing the budget deficit by offering bonds and treasury bills as debt instruments, and government banks are their largest buyers.

Last Saturday, Minister of Finance Mohammed Maait announced that JP Morgan decided to include Egypt in its watchlist for government bonds for emerging markets.

FASTFACTS

• In a statement, the bank said the value of the first offering amounted to EGP 5 billion for a period of three years, the second offering amounted to EGP 6 billion for a period of five years, and the third 10-year term offering was valued at EGP 5.5 billion.

• The minister said that Egypt will enter the index with 14 issues, with a total value of $24 billion.

The minister said that Egypt will enter the index with 14 issues, with a total value of $24 billion.

Nevin Mansour, adviser to the deputy minister of finance for financial policies, expected that Egypt would attract new foreign investments in local treasury bonds at about $4.4 billion over a period ranging from six months to a year after Egypt entered the JP Morgan emerging market index in October or November.

Mansour explained that Egypt will receive a 1.78 percent share of any investments that will be pumped into the index and that the inclusion on the index allows international investment banks to evaluate the performance of Egyptian debt instruments and their trading movements, which will result in attracting new foreign investments.


Toyota to review climate stance as investors turn up the heat

Toyota to review climate stance as investors turn up the heat
Updated 53 min 22 sec ago

Toyota to review climate stance as investors turn up the heat

Toyota to review climate stance as investors turn up the heat
  • The carmaker came under scrutiny after siding with the Trump administration in 2019 in a bid to bar the state of California from setting its own fuel efficiency rules

TOKYO: Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp. signaled a shift in its climate change stance on Monday, saying it would review its lobbying and be more transparent on what steps it is taking as it faces increased activist and investor pressure.

The carmaker came under scrutiny after siding with the Trump administration in 2019 in a bid to bar the state of California from setting its own fuel efficiency rules. Toyota “will review public policy engagement activities through our company and industry associations to confirm they are consistent with the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement,” it said in a statement, adding that actions will be announced by the end of this year.

The automaker also said it will “strive to provide more information so that our stakeholders can understand our effort to achieve carbon neutrality.”

A company spokeswoman, who confirmed that “public policy engagement activities” includes lobbying, was not able to respond immediately to questions about pressure from investors.

Four funds with about $235 billion in assets under management are pressuring Toyota before its annual shareholder meeting in June to draw a line under its lobbying against international efforts to prevent catastrophic global warming.

“This move must not be a PR exercise but instead signal a clear end to its role in negative climate lobbying which has given it a laggard status,” Jens Munch Holst, chief executive officer of Danish pension fund AkademikerPension, told Reuters.

AkademikerPension has “escalated via intense direct engagement” with Toyota after a decade of communicating with the automaker through a third party, Troels Børrild, spokesman at the Danish fund, told Reuters.

AkademikerPension will consider preparing a shareholders resolution to submit at next year’s annual general meeting if “Toyota fails to deliver on its commitment,” Børrild said.

The fund would consider selling its Toyota holding if there is no change, but the spokesman said fund officials did not believe it would come to that.

“Right up until now, the company has repeatedly undermined climate action, from opposing the UK government’s ban on internal combustion engines by 2030 to opposing car fuel economy standards in the US,” Munch Holst said. The Toyota spokeswoman told Reuters that it would need more time to respond to Munch Holst’s comments.

The other investors are Church of England Pensions Board, Sweden’s AP7 and Norway’s Storebrand.

Toyota was among major automakers that supported the Trump administration in its attempt to bar California from setting its own fuel efficiency rules or zero emission requirements.

They have since dropped that support in a “gesture of good faith an to find a constructive path forward” with the Biden administration.

With pressure growing on carmakers to slash emissions, Toyota is also scrambling to produce EVs that can compete globally with rivals’ models.

Toyota this year settled a lengthy Justice Department civil probe into its delayed filing of emissions-related defect reports for $180 million.


Oilfields Supply Center to invest $570m in new facility at Saudi energy park

Oilfields Supply Center to invest $570m in new facility at Saudi energy park
Updated 19 April 2021

Oilfields Supply Center to invest $570m in new facility at Saudi energy park

Oilfields Supply Center to invest $570m in new facility at Saudi energy park
  • The OSC base will contribute to Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 efforts to localize more of the energy supply chain

RIYADH: Oilfields Supply Center Limited (OSC) is to invest $570 million building a center at the King Salman Energy Park (SPARK).

The OSC base, measuring 1 million square meters and including multiple areas and zones, will contribute to Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 efforts to localize more of the energy supply chain.

“OSC is providing pre-built industrial solutions which de-risk the set-up phase for investors and give them flexibility to rent industrial facilities and workshops on demand, in addition to providing a full set of supporting services,” Dr. Mohammad Yahya Al-Qahtani, chairman of the SPARK board of directors, said in a press statement on Monday. “The base is expected to create thousands of jobs in the energy fields.” 

Iqbal Mohammad Abedin, OSC’s director and corporate affairs general manager, said all phases of work on the site were due to be completed by the fourth quarter of 2023. 

Dr. Mohammad Yahya Al-Qahtani

“The creation of an oil and gas supply base on site at SPARK, the region’s only fully integrated energy hub, is another example of how the project complements Aramco’s In-Kingdom Total Value Add Program, which encourages the development of a diverse, sustainable and globally competitive energy sector in the Kingdom,” Abedin said. 

SPARK will be built in three phases. Last month, it announced that 80 percent of the infrastructure work for phase one had been completed, with the remaining 20 percent due to be finished this year. 

The first phase’s near-completion means the allotted land is ready for investment, and 35 investment applications have been approved for companies and their support services. Contracts have already been signed with 23 other companies, the company said in March.

Two strategic agreements have also been signed with the Industrialization and Energy Services Co. (TAQA) and the Arab Minerals Co. (AMCO).

Under the agreement, TAQA is seeking to expand its local operations through the TAQA Industrial Complex, with an initial investment of up to SR300 million ($80 million). AMCO is investing SR260 million to develop a new center in the city.

SPARK is being built on an area of 50 square kilometers. Phase one will be 14 square kilometers, in addition to a dedicated logistics zone and dry port.

OSC is owned by the Dubai government and was established in the early 1960s.


Libya’s NOC declares force majeure on Hariga port in statement

Libya’s NOC declares force majeure on Hariga port in statement
Updated 19 April 2021

Libya’s NOC declares force majeure on Hariga port in statement

Libya’s NOC declares force majeure on Hariga port in statement

TRIPOLI:  Libya's National Oil Corp (NOC) declared force majeure on Monday on exports from the port of Hariga and said it could extend the measure to other facilities due to a budget dispute with the country's central bank.
Daily lost income "may exceed 118 million dinars ($26 million)", NOC said in its statement.
Arabian Gulf Oil Co (AGOCO), the NOC subsidiary which runs Hariga, said on Sunday it had suspended output because it had not received its budget since September. Its Hariga port manager and an oil engineer said production had been reduced.
NOC said the Central Bank of Libya (CBL) had refused to finance the oil sector for months, adding that "this painful reality may extend to the rest of the companies".
Libyan oil output was halted for much of last year after eastern-based forces in the country's civil war blockaded oil terminals, causing NOC to declare force majeure on all exports.
Production resumed after a deal that emerged after fighting ended last summer, but before the major peacemaking effort that has led to a new unity government.