Railroad strike averted after marathon White House talks – National & International News – THU 15Sep2022


Railroad strike averted after marathon White House talks. Trouble brews between liberal, moderate Dems over must-pass funding bill. US unfreezes billions in Afghan funds to stabilize economy.



Railroad strike averted after marathon White House talks

All week, fears have been building all week of a railroad workers strike over an impasse in contract negotiations. Such a strike would have have snarled freight and commuter rail transport indefinitely. The halt in freight transport alone would have cost the nation $2 billion in productivity per day. Late last night, the White House announced that unions and industry representatives had reached a tentative agreement, heading off a strike that would have begun tomorrow.

Democrats in particular are breathing a sigh of relief, Had the strike gone ahead, it would have presented them with a no-win scenario. Dems would have had to choose whether to allow the workers to strike and risk disastrous economic fallout, or forcibly impose an unpopular contract on railroad workers, thus alienating their union voting block. Neither would be helpful to Dems just weeks ahead of the midterms.

The details of the deal between unions and railroad companies aren’t yet public. A deal that was already on the table would have given workers significant pay increases, but didn’t address workers’ concerns about punishing and inflexible work schedules. It’s not clear how this conflict was resolved or how long this truce between the industry and unions will hold.

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Trouble brews between liberal, moderate Dems over must-pass funding bill

Back in July, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer struck a deal with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) in order to pass the major climate and tax reconciliation bill. As part of that deal, Schumer made a controversial promise to Manchin, who’d been withholding his vote on the reconciliation bill for a year. The deal would bring a vote to the floor to fast-track permitting for energy infrastructure projects.

Though nominally a Democrat, Manchin is also a coal baron. He’s long used his power, first as Governor of West Virginia and now as chair of the Senate Energy Committee, to oppose most climate legislation and regulation of carbon emissions and push through legislation to enrich himself.

It recently came to light that Schumer and Manchin agree to push this permitting issue through on the back of an upcoming vote on a must-pass government funding bill. This has set up a clash between progressive and mainline Democrats. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has threatened to vote against the bill if it includes Manchin’s permit provision and has rallied other progressives to do the same.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) also claims that his members were completely unaware of Schumer’s side deal with Manchin. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) confirmed the deal but denies Democratic leadership were kept in the dark about it. Should an impasse occur, Pelosi says they will simply pass a “clean” bill to avoid a government shutdown. They would then bring Manchin’s measure to a vote at another time.



US unfreezes billions in Afghan funds to stabilize economy

When the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan last year, the US froze $7 billion in assets belonging to Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB- Afghanistan’s central bank). The assets had been held in the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. Families who lost loved ones in the Sept. 11 World Trade Center wanted to seize those assets as compensation.

Initially, President Biden decided to split the baby, setting aside $3.5 billion for “the benefit of the Afghan people” and allowing 9/11 victims to try to claim the rest in court. Last month, a federal judge ruled that the 9/11 families couldn’t claim the $3.5 billion. Essentially, granting them the judgment would essentially acknowledge the Taliban as the legitimate power in Afghanistan, which is something only the President has the power to do.

Now, the US government has struck a deal with partners in Switzerland to unfreeze some of the Afghan assets and return them to the DAB. The money will go towards fulfilling some of Afghanistan’s international obligations. This will allow them to pay debts, import food and purchase energy assets. The US and Swiss partners will work together to try to ensure the money doesn’t fall into Taliban control.

The money being released now is part of the $3.5 billion for “the benefit of the Afghan people”. The fate of the other $3.5 billion is still pending in the courts.

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