Photo depicting youth carrying protest signs and boxes with text that reads, "Amazon: Deliver Change" or "Amazon: Zero Emission deliveries by 2030."

NEWS GLEAMS | Debt Ceiling Raise Anticipated to Pass; Amazon Workers Stage Global Walkouts

A roundup of news and announcements we don’t want to get lost in the fast-churning news cycle!

curated by Vee Hua 華婷婷

✨Gleaming This Week✨

Debt Ceiling Vote Takes Place

On the evening of Saturday, May 27, Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy announced that they had finally reached a deal regarding the country’s debt limit, or borrowing limit. Passage of the debt limit increase on the evening of May 31 would ensure that the U.S. Treasury can continue to pay the government’s existing bills through at least Jan. 1, 2025.

The U.S. Treasury describes the debt limit as “the total amount of money that the United States government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing legal obligations, including Social Security and Medicare benefits, military salaries, interest on the national debt, tax refunds, and other payments.” 

Concessions were made on both sides in order to strike a deal. The bill will include modest spending caps, in line with Republicans’ initial desires, especially around non-defense spending, which will remain roughly the same in 2024 and increase only slightly in 2025. According to The New York Times podcast, The Daily, these caps may have an impact given projected increases in the cost of running services into the next few years, but the White House says that the spending difference is negligible — about $1 billion — when veterans funding is not included in the calculations.

At the dismay of many Democrats, the White House also made concessions around new work requirements for individuals applying for food aid programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Axios reports that the age cap will increase from 50 to 54 after 2025, although new exemptions include those under 50 who are veterans, experiencing homelessness, or living temporarily in someone else’s home, as well as adults under 24 who were in foster care when they turned 18. As a result, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the number of SNAP-eligible individuals will actually increase and provide support for those who are homeless and housing-insecure.

President Joe Biden meets with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) to discuss the debt ceiling, Tuesday, May 9, 2023, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz, licensed under a Creative Commons, CC BY 3.0 license. )

The negotiated bill also reengages $28 billion dollars of unspent money from the COVID-19 relief fund. Furthermore, a pause on student loan payments — which was originally enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic and has been extended numerous times — will also resume. According to FiveThirtyEight, however, the Department of Education had already been anticipating that student loan payments would resume by the end of summer, whether by Supreme Court mandate or another route.

The negotiated bill maintains certain aspects important to the Democrats’ platform as well, such as climate and clean energy provisions which were passed as a part of the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022. However, NBC reports that “the bill would overhaul the National Environmental Policy Act to streamline permitting for projects; House Republicans tout it as ‘the first significant reforms to NEPA since 1982.’”

Both parties also agreed at the start of negotiations that services which were off the table included Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. Those remain untouched.

Nonetheless, criticism has come from far-right conservatives from the House Freedom Caucus, whose members warned McCarthy of “forfeiting” Republican unity and promising a “reckoning” for negotiations which they feel are not conservative enough. Far-left progressives, including head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Washington Democrat Rep. Pramila Jayapal, have also criticized Biden for not invoking the 14th Amendment, which dictates that the federal government must pay its debts, though some analysts have admitted the tactic would have been risky. Biden has suggested he would consider it as a route for future conversations of debt limit increases.

Passage of the debt limit increase, as negotiations stand, would likely depend on a bipartisan coalition of legislators in the middle. If the debt limit is not raised, the U.S. Treasury estimates that they would otherwise run out of funds by June 5, 2023. Raising the debt limit does not authorize new spending commitments, but allows the U.S. to make good on those they have already committed to.

Youth climate activists march to Amazon HQ demanding faster action on changing deliveries to zero emissions. (Photo: Alex Garland)

Amazon Workers Stage Global Walkout in Protest of Job Cuts, Return-to-Office Mandate, and Environmental Impacts

In protest of recent job cuts, a company mandate that requires workers to return to the office three days a week, and concerns about Amazon’s lack of action around their environmental impacts, Amazon employees around the world staged a walkout at noon on May 31.

The Associated Press (AP) reports that the climate change advocacy group, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, estimates that a majority of workers — nearly 870 of 1,800 estimated participants globally — are from the Seattle area. Locally, they will participate in a mixture of remote walkouts and in-person demonstrations at the Amazon Spheres downtown.

Additionally, in another effort, AP reports that more than 20,000 employees have signed onto a petition which urges Amazon to reconsider their return-to-office mandate.

In a statement, Amazon wrote, “We respect our employees’ rights to express their opinions.”

Amazon has cut an estimated 27,000 jobs since November 2022, across many departments, as well as ended a number of philanthropic efforts.

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📸 Featured Image: Youth climate activists march to Amazon HQ demanding faster action on changing deliveries to zero emissions. (Photo: Alex Garland)

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