Biden’s Build Back Better Plan Contains One Potentially Helpful Housing Program

“Homelessness is a major issue in the U.S., and is inherently intertwined with the cost of housing. In fact, in a recent poll, respondents from the 20 metro areas that experienced the largest population growth between 2010–2019 listed both the cost of housing and homelessness as their top two concerns, and by almost identical margins (86 and 87 percent, respectively). The average cost of rent has increased nearly 20 percent within the last year alone, and since 2001, in nearly every state, rents have risen at a faster rate than incomes.

But simply offering rental assistance without a simultaneous increase in the supply of housing would only serve to exacerbate the cost problem, as a larger amount of money would chase after the exact same amount of inventory. In fact, the U.S. is currently as many as 5 million houses short of meeting estimated demand.

Of the roughly $150 billion which the Build Back Better Act appropriates toward housing, more than half is put toward dubious use, via rental assistance programs. About a third of that portion, though, is specifically tailored toward the construction or rehabilitation of more affordable housing units to increase the overall supply, which could help drive down costs.”

“The Build Back Better Act does fund the establishment of a “competitive grant program,” the Unlocking Possibilities Program, to incentivize “streamlining regulatory requirements and shorten[ing] processes, [and] reform[ing] zoning codes.” As with any grant program, its efficacy will be dictated by its implementation, but with more than $4.26 billion appropriated, there is plenty of breathing room to potentially make a difference.

In an ideal scenario, of course, there would be as few zoning restrictions as possible, allowing developers to simply respond to the needs of the community without requiring the government’s stamp of approval. While public funding to incentivize a reduction or simplification of red tape is better than the status quo, it is still not a perfect solution.”

Congress isn’t going to save the housing market

“More than 580,000 Americans are homeless. The median sale price for a home has just surpassed $400,000. Homeownership is on the decline.

This, by all accounts, is a national emergency — and one House Democrats had proposed $330 billion to tackle as part of their Build Back Better plan. This package was both a once-in-a-generation investment and also barely enough to scratch the surface. Now, even those proposed investments are being cut down as part of negotiations over the final package.”

“some in Congress were willing to make substantial investments, very few were willing to tackle the fundamental problem that was making homes so expensive in the first place: lack of supply.

Yes, it’s easier to try to help people afford something expensive than to try and make it less expensive to begin with. But many of the policies that try to subsidize housing can actually make it more expensive. “What you really need if you want to lower those new home prices, is you need to build more homes — and there’s not that much of that in this bill,” says Paul Williams, a fellow at the Jain Family Institute.”

The new Alzheimer’s drug that could break Medicare

“Medicare’s inability to determine the price it pays for aducanumab is a uniquely American problem compared to health systems in the rest of the developed world. Countries like Australia and the United Kingdom have independent boards that evaluate a new drug’s effectiveness and set a price based on that estimated value. The US pharma industry says the US system is important for encouraging innovation, and companies have made amazing breakthroughs, such as the hepatitis-C drugs that effectively cure that disease.

But, as the standards for approving have sometimes seemed to slip in recent years, the chances of the FDA approving very expensive drugs with only marginal benefits have risen.

“We don’t require prices to reflect the value of treatment, period,” Dusetzina said. “Companies can price their drugs as high as they want. Companies can also get drugs approved with little evidence.”

So Biogen is planning to charge $56,000 annually for aducanumab. ICER, which evaluates the estimated value of new drugs, estimates, based on the clinical evidence, that it’s worth more like $8,000; perhaps as little as $2,500 or as much as $23,100. Regardless, the price announced after Biogen secured FDA approval “far exceeds even this optimistic scenario,” ICER concluded.”

The Saudi Arabia-Russia oil war, explained

“three years ago Russia made a deal to coordinate its production levels with the group, in a pact known as OPEC+.”

“Saudi Arabia, the cartel’s leader, suggested the participants collectively cut their oil production by about 1 million barrels per day, with Russia making the most dramatic cut of around 500,000 barrels a day. Doing so would keep oil prices higher, which would bring in more revenue for nations in the bloc whose economies are heavily dependent on crude exports.”

“Riyadh considered the move necessary as Asia, which is roiling from thousands of cases of coronavirus mainly in China and South Korea, no longer consumes as much energy as it did only a few months ago. China’s refineries, for example, cut their imports of foreign oil by about 20 percent last month. Lower demand leads to a drop in the commodity’s price, which thus hurts countries’ bottom lines.

The Russians, wary of such a move for weeks, opted against the plan. It’s still unclear exactly why that’s the case. Some say Russia wants prices to stay low to hurt the American shale oil industry or is gearing up to seize a bigger sliver of Asian and global oil demand for itself.

“The Russians are more worried about market share and think they’d do better competing with the Saudis rather than cooperating at this point,” says Emma Ashford, an expert on petrostates at the CATO Institute in Washington.

Saudi Arabia didn’t take too kindly to the Kremlin’s decision and responded by slashing its export prices over the weekend to start a price war with Russia. That brought the price per barrel down by about $11 to $35 a barrel — the biggest one-day drop since 1991.”

Trump called on Congress to pass a drug prices bill. Democrats reminded him they already did.

“The House bill — H.R.3 — has a few mechanisms for reducing prescription drug prices, but most notably, it would allow the US health department to directly negotiate the prices it will pay for up to 250 drugs every year. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated the bill would save Medicare up to $450 billion over 10 years because of those new negotiating powers. CBO has also projected about eight fewer drugs (out of an expected 300 over 10 years) would come to the market in the next decade because of the decrease in revenues for drug makers.

Despite Trump’s promises on the 2016 campaign trail that he would support proposals allowing Medicare drug negotiations, the White House threatened to veto the House plan. They called it a plan to institute government “price controls,” and said it would limit access to medicine, a favored talking point of the pharmaceutical lobby.

Even without this veto threat, H.R.3 is expected to be dead-on-arrival in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has shown no interest in taking up the bill.”

“Instead, Trump has aligned himself more with Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who has advanced a narrower set of reforms from his perch as the Senate Finance Committee chair. (Grassley has also accused McConnell of sabotaging his bill, which moved out of Grassley’s committee with bipartisan support.)

His committee sent a bill to the full Senate in the fall, though it has languished there in the months since. It’s unclear if Trump’s quasi-endorsement — he did not call out Grassley’s bill directly Tuesday night, instead praising the senator generally for his individual work on the issue — will provide any new momentum for the plan. Grassley’s bill, as the Brookings Institution documented, achieves pricing reform through a mix of technical changes to the rebates that drug makers pay under Medicare and Medicaid as well as provisions to cap out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors.

Right now, neither of the bills seems on a fast track to anywhere. Part of this is because Trump’s interest in drug pricing has been scattershot at best, and many Republicans are reluctant to place too many new regulations on an innovation industry.”

Sorry, Bernie Sanders: Taiwan’s Single Payer System Isn’t an Argument for Medicare for All

“Sanders’ Medicare for All bill calls for no copays and no premiums and effectively outlaws private insurance as we know it. It is substantially more generous than Taiwan’s system, which means it would be substantially more expensive.”