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New York Times photo by Stefani Reynolds / President Joe Biden, and Vice President Kamala Harris, meet with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), right, and the chairs of House committees working on the American Rescue Plan, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Friday.

Help is on its way

The groundwork for President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion package is making progress through Congress.

The Senate voted Friday morning — along party lines, of course, and with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote — to adopt a budget resolution that will allow the stimulus/relief package to pass with a simple majority.

That means it can pass without any Republican support if the GOP chooses to continue ignoring Americans' needs.

Now the measure moves back to the House for agreement on the amendments added in a 15-hour Senate session on Thursday and into Friday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said Friday she aims to pass the stimulus/relief plan within two weeks.

Democrats are rushing the package because tens of millions of Americans will otherwise begin to lose federal unemployment benefits in March.

The fast action came as Biden made his strongest criticism to date of Republicans' approach, which has been to propose lowering that broad-based help and its price tag by about two-thirds.

Biden accused Republicans of "rediscovering" the danger of the deficit, which rose during the Trump administration with massive Republican-passed tax cuts for the rich and corporations.

"Are we going to say to millions of Americans who are out of work — many out of work for six months or longer, who have been scared by this economic and public health crisis — 'Don't worry, hang on, things are going to get better?'" Biden said Friday. "That's the Republican answer right now. I can't in good conscience do that. Too many people in the nation have already suffered for too long."

The package would include checks up to $1,400 for low- and moderate-income families, extended jobless benefits, and $160 billion to strengthen the public health response to the pandemic, improving vaccine distribution and increased testing, among other measures.

The economy gained 49,000 jobs in January. That's not many jobs. For context, the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics in December listed 85,828 jobs in Chattanooga and 182,067 in Hamilton County.

All told, the U.S. has recovered only about half of the 22 million jobs lost between last February and April.

Austan Goolsbee, who served as a senior economist in the Obama administration, told CNBC Friday: "We now have three disappointing months [of economic data] in a row. We have to admit we've stalled out. There's a danger of double- dip recession."

Democrats and Biden officials insist that they hope Republicans will join them in bipartisan support of the stimulus/relief.

We think they're dreaming.

 

Another vaccine emerges

In other promising news, Johnson & Johnson last week asked U.S. drug regulators to clear its experimental COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use.

If given approval at a scheduled Feb. 26 meeting of outside advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the single- shot vaccine would be "a strong addition to the country's fight against the pandemic," according to Bloomberg News.

There's no time to waste. As of Friday, the virus had killed 457,000 Americans — nearly 100,000 of them just in January. Hamilton County also saw a record number of COVID-19 deaths in January, and the U.S. still has the highest case count in the world.

Did we mention that a recent report from the International Chamber of Commerce states the cost of failing to inoculate the world could be $9.2 trillion?

 

Fox News sued for 'fake news'

In deliciously fitting news, a voting technology company swept up in the baseless conspiracy theories about the 2020 election has filed a $2.7 billion lawsuit against Fox News, some of its prominent hosts and Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell for their — well, let's call it what it is — fake news.

In one of the largest libel suits ever undertaken, the lawsuit claims the parties involved — including show hosts Lou Dobbs, Jeanine Pirro and Maria Bartiromo — worked together to wage a "disinformation campaign" that has threatened the survival of Florida-based Smartmatic USA.

After Trump's election loss, he and his allies pushed false theories that voting systems were rigged against him.

Smartmatic, in the 285-page suit, says those lies cost the company hundreds of millions in projected profits and damaged business relations around the world.

On Jan. 25, a rival election-technology company — Dominion Voting Systems, which also was caught up in Trump's baseless effort to overturn the election — sued Guiliani and Powell for $1.3 billion.

 

New Georgia voter fraud alleged

Speaking of fake news making news, ask Georgia election officials about Lin Wood.

You remember Wood. He's the conservative attorney and sidekick of Sidney Powell who for months loudly spread Trump's false claims that widespread voter fraud flipped the election — especially in the Peach State where Biden bested Trump by nearly 11,800 votes.

Now, Georgia has launched its own voter fraud probe with Wood in the crosshairs.

The Georgia Secretary of State's Office confirmed to The Washington Post last week that it is investigating whether Wood was a legal resident of the state when he cast his ballot there in the Nov. 3 presidential election.

It seems Wood told an Atlanta television reporter in an email that he had been living in South Carolina for "several months" after buying a home there in April.

Wood denied that he had moved out of the state before the election, and he called the probe a "sham" and "retaliatory act."

Such irony.

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