Sep 27, 2021 - Podcasts

How negotiations in Congress could affect your life

President Biden’s economic agenda will be put to the test this week as the Senate votes on their bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and tries to stitch together Biden’s larger $3.5 trillion spending package. It’s been weeks of back and forth negotiations, but behind all the political drama is legislation that will have an impact on our day-to-day lives.

  • Plus, Germany — and Europe — without Angela Merkel.
  • And, cautious optimism for the coming COVID winter.

Guests: Axios' Margaret Talev, Zach Basu and Sam Baker.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Alex Sugiura, and Michael Hanf. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Monday September 27th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re following: Germany -- and Europe -- without Angela Merkel. Plus, cautious optimism for the coming COVID winter.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: why the infrastructure and spending bills could transform our day-to-day lives.

You're going to hear a lot this week about reconciliation and infrastructure and I think it's really easy to tune out when you hear headlines about this or numbers like this $1.2 trillion, but it's a really crucial week for these negotiations on Capitol Hill. And even if just half of these proposals are successful, they could be completely transformative to our daily lives, whether that's through how we pay for childcare, college, or even how we access the internet.

Axios’ Margaret Talev has been talking to reporters in our newsroom about how this could change our day to day lives. Good morning, Margaret.

MARGARET TALEV: Good morning, Niala.

NIALA: First are these deals really that big of a deal, something along the lines of like a new deal?

MARGARET: They really are. What we're talking about is between that Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure agreement that the House hasn't acted on yet and President Biden's big spending bill that the House Democrats are driving. We talk about the reconciliation bill - That's what we're talking about. That's three and a half trillion dollars on the high end. We are talking about truly transformative stuff. And the benchmark that I've been using for the last several weeks is that the two decades worth of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 trillion and think about everything that that entailed and now think about something that's twice as big as that.

NIALA: So how could it change transportation, for example?

MARGARET: So it's a great example. The first thing right off the bat is that we already know that there's going to be a shift that's already begun from conventional cars towards electric cars, but it would greatly, greatly accelerate that and it would greatly accelerate an expansion of high-speed trains and of subsidized light rail in cities. But I think it's that electric cars, we're talking about the potential for big tax credits somewhere between 12 and $13,000 a car means everybody would want to get an electric vehicle. You're talking about a much greater ease of range. The kind of spending that would happen would be major investments so that on major roadways there would be a zillion places to charge your car. So that's kind of one quick, easy way to think about how it could change your life to an almost instantaneous acceleration of the shift to electric vehicles.

NIALA: What about when it comes to something like childcare?

MARGARET: So there's a lot of areas here that would be impacted, but here's one that every parent of a younger kid can get their heads around: free daycare for lower income families and even for middle-class households. Subsidies, that would cap what families, middle-class families pay at 7% of your income. It could save an average middle-class family, about $15,000.

NIALA: And what about education?And I'm thinking in particular college, how could this transform how we approach paying for college?

MARGARET: Yeah, it's education on both ends of the spectrum, because President Biden's been talking about trying to provide two years of free preschool before kindergarten, and then of course, two years of free community college. And this disproportionately impacts women or people for whom college is still really out of reach. This could get the first couple of years of your post high school education, would make it completely affordable.

NIALA: So this could be transformative Margaret, but what if negotiations fall through this week? What happens?

MARGARET: Well, first of all, it could be transformative, but it's also hugely expensive. So all these things sound very appealing, but there's a reason why a lot of centrists and fiscal conservatives are nervous, uncomfortable about it or concerned. Could it have impacts on inflation? Could it have impacts on restraining growth in the future? Politically, if this doesn't happen this week, or with some kind of enough of a down payment this week, that it would happen in the next year, many Democrats think it could be pretty disastrous for them. The question is who's going to blink first. Someone has to meet somewhere between the two ends of that spectrum in order to get a deal,

NIALA: Axios’ managing editor for politics, Margaret Talev. Thanks Margaret.

MARGARET: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with a dispatch from Berlin on election day.

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NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

After serving as Chancellor of Germany for 16 years, Angela Merkel is retiring. So Germans went to the polls yesterday to choose a new government,--

So far, results show the Social Democratic Party taking a narrow lead - a sign that voters have moved away from Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union.

Axios' Zach Basu has been covering the elections and sent this dispatch from Berlin last night.

ZACH BASU: So tonight I'm at the headquarters of the Social Democratic Party. The SPD who four years ago were essentially pronounced dead. They finished in 2017 with their worst year since World War II and nobody thought they would be a contender this year. In fact, several campaigners told me tonight that if you said to them four months ago or even two months ago that their candidate Olaf Scholz would be in a position to become chancellor, they wouldn't believe you.

It's a very close race between Merkel's party, the CDU and the central left SPD, which is obviously led by Olaf Scholz. But the fact that it's so close is a huge disappointment for the CDU and a testament to just how popular Merkel was.

But it doesn't end tonight. German elections are a very slow moving process because no single party has a majority. So they have to form a coalition with the smaller parties. The most likely outcome is the SPD forms a government with The Greens which are a climate focused center, left party, and the pro-business Free Democrats, but it'll be months before we know for sure.

NIALA: Zach Basu covers national security and global affairs for Axios. For the latest on these election results, visit

NIALA: It's fall and as depressing as this is, let's just acknowledge that many of us are thinking about what it means to head into another Covid winter. And so we wanted to check in with Axios senior editor, Sam Baker, for a big picture view of the state of the pandemic right now. Hey Sam.

SAM BAKER: Good morning, Niala.

NIALA: How are cases trending nationwide at this point?

SAM: Cases are trending down, which is good news. You know, if you feel like “I've heard good news before, I'm a little skeptical of it.” You're not alone in that. But they've been going down for a couple of weeks now which is, knock on wood, hopefully a good sign of things to come.

NIALA: And hopefully, are deaths also going down?

SAM: Deaths are currently going up, which is tragic, obviously. That is not necessarily a sign that we are doing something wrong right now. You know, if you think about just the progression, it's always cases first, then hospitalizations, then deaths go up or down. So the deaths that we're seeing now are sort of the result of this wave that we've experienced. So they are still up, but hopefully it will start to come down if cases continue to come down.

NIALA: There's been this mysterious and kind of inexplicable two month peak with the Delta variant, at least that happened in the U.K., in India, has that happened here in the U.S.?

SAM: Hopefully. Exactly as you said, we've seen in other countries, after about two months, Delta seems to have peaked and then to kind of recede. We're about at that marker here in the U.S. so hopefully that is part of the reason that we're seeing cases start to decline.

NIALA: Axios’ senior editor Sam Baker. Thanks Sam.

SAM: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: One more thing before we go today: I feel like we've talked a lot about numbers and how hard they are to grasp, on the show today. And I think that's also true of COVID deaths. And this really was made clear to me this weekend.

When I have friends in town, we often go to the National Mall and there's an exhibit on the Mall, in front of the Monument and the White House, right now, that's called “In America: Remember” by DC artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg. And when you stand in the middle of a sea of tiny white flags, there's more than 600,000. It really helped me see the enormity of what we have lost. 681,510. That was the number when I was there on Friday, the number of people in this country that have died from COVID-19. Over the last few days, that number has already jumped to 687,876 people. And I think combine that with walking around the other memorials and know that we have lost more people to this pandemic than we did during the Civil War, or World War II, or any armed conflict that we have been engaged in.

The exhibit’s actually going to be up for another week and people can also participate virtually. I will put the link in our show notes, so if you want to add a remembrance for someone you've lost, you can join the project too.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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