Nov 15, 2021 - Podcasts

Progressives worry about getting their spending agenda passed

House Democrats continue to push for a vote of that nearly $2 trillion Build Back Better spending bill. After months of wrangling, no date has been set and passage of President Biden’s massive agenda remains in question. So one question we’re asking this morning is: Is all the momentum lost?

  • Plus, IBM’s quantum computing ambitions.
  • And, Conclusions after the global climate summit.

Guests: Axios' Hans Nichols, Ina Fried and Ben Geman.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, and Jayk Cherry. 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.


NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Monday, November 15th. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what you need to know today: Conclusions after the global climate summit. Plus, IBM’s quantum computing ambitions.But first, today’s One Big Thing: Progressives worry about getting their spending agenda passed.

House Democrats continue to push for a vote of that nearly $2 trillion Build Back Better spending bill. After months of wrangling, no date has been set and passage of President Biden's massive agenda remains in question. So one question we're asking this morning: Is all the momentum lost? Axios’ Hans Nichols covers the Biden White House and is here now with how progressives are reacting to all of this. Hey Hans.

HANS NICHOLS: Good morning.

NIALA: So infrastructure has passed and it's scheduled to be signed today, we'll talk about that in a minute. But what about President Biden's Build Back Better plan?

HANS: Well, how good are you at reading Congressional budget office tables? Cause that could be what this comes down to, right? Because for this to pass, for the big 1.75 trillion social spending and climate plan to pass, you actually need to have the centrists onboard in the House. And they've said they want fiscal information from the Congressional Budget Office. And until that happens, they still reserve the right to sink this whole thing. And that's always been the progressive's biggest fear.

NIALA: And so how are progressives trying to sell this in the absence of that?

HANS: They're pretending that a promise is a promise. And they're saying, see, you signed this document, there's a promise. You said you're going to do it. Now you have to do it. We passed your infrastructure bill. The president is going to sign it. You're going to get $1.2 trillion in new roads, bridges, broadband. So you have to uphold your end of the bargain and vote for this big social spending plan. The problem is the House doesn't want to take a vote or House centrists, I should say, don't want to take a vote that the Senate might not agree to. Because they're going to be then out on a limb for a lot of things that have no chance of becoming law.

NIALA: What's going on in the Senate side of all of this?

HANS: Everyone's waiting for Joe Manchin to kind of say what everyone expects him to say. And by everyone, I mean, reporters at Axios, [chuckle] namely that inflation has really changed the debate. And what, what Manchin has always said from the beginning is that we need to slow down, consider doing this until 2022 because of inflation. And what happened on Thursday with those CPI numbers? Joe Manchin’s argument was validated. So it's really hard to see how Manchin’s going to agree with, uh, let's accelerate things. Let's speed it up, do this as quickly as possible when everything that he has talked about, has-has come to pass.

NIALA: We've been talking a lot about President Biden's domestic agenda, but he does have an important video meeting tonight with Chinese President Xi Jinping. What are the expectations for that conversation?

HANS: There's so many expectations. I mean, let's be clear. This is a phone call, a virtual summit. What’s a virtual summit, right? I mean, you know, we've all had virtual summits every day, since COVID started. We'll see to what extent they're actual deliverables on both sides. We know President Xi wants President Biden to come to the Winter Olympics. We know President Biden wants a lot more on climate. So both sides will have their asks. There’s some clear tension in the relationship from Taiwan to human rights, to what have you. And then you have to start parsing the statements after the summit, the call, the virtual meeting, and see what actually happened. And if anything was agreed to.

NIALA: Hans, what else are you keeping an eye on this Monday morning?

HANS: The Fed. And who the president appoints are specifically, does the president reappoint Jay Powell, who's a Republican, uh, or does he appoint a Democrat? Someone like Lael Brainard, or there could be another candidate. President has hinted that he's going to do this fairly quickly. The expectation is that this appointment will come in November, and for the White House, it's a calculus on two things. It's a calculus on inflation because this is the one big decision the president has left on how he can influence inflation. And because The Fed has such broad powers there. And two, are they willing to make a political risk, and take a political risk, on appointing a Democrat and potentially having some market turmoil. So you get someone that's more ideologically aligned with you, but you risk a revolt in the stock market. And that's the calculus going on.

NIALA: Axios’ political reporter Hans Nichols, who also is one of the authors of Sneak Peak newsletter. Thank you, Hans.

HANS: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with the latest in supercomputing.


NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. IBM is one of those household names for technology, even if many people don't know actually what they're creating these days. But the company's hoping to change that with a new quantum processor it's building.

ARVIND KRISHNA: We are announcing a quantum computer with over a hundred qubits. This is a first. Something that you cannot simulate on any classical computer. So that's really, really important. So you got something that, computationally, is massive.

NIALA: That's IBM CEO, Arvind Krishna who spoke with Axios’ chief technology correspondent, Ina Fried for Axios on HBO, who is with us now. Hey Ina.

INA FRIED: Hey Niala.

NIALA: I learned a new word from your interview, qubits. Can you explain what that is and how fast is this new processor?

INA: Sure. Well, we tend to think of ones and zeros when we're talking about computers, because that's how computers work. Quantum computing works differently. So qubits is a way of thinking about how fast quantum computers are and this milestone that they've reached of more than 100 qubits…Why they say that matters is because now we have quantum computers that are more powerful than any traditional supercomputer on Earth.

NIALA: And so we use supercomputers now for things like calculating the impact of climate change at sort of like a micro-level...What kind of applications would this quantum processor be used for?

INA: Quantum computing offers us another approach, a different way to do computing, which allows us to solve different types of problems. So it's not about doing the same thing we're doing better or slightly faster. It's about being able to tackle a new range of problems, which is great at a time when we have new diseases, new climate threats, a need for renewable energy. So there’s some things that traditional computing is going to remain great for. Really doing a ton of calculations, figuring out every answer to a possible problem. That's something that traditional computers are really good at. Solving an unknown problem where you're really trying to hone in on where the fertile ground might be. That's what's great for a quantum computer because it's using probabilistic determinations. So it's saying the right answer is more likely in this direction.

NIALA: There is a downside to this though, to not using ones and zeros. What security challenges are created by this new technology?

INA: So one of the ways that we've encrypted data in modern cryptography is we've just made it really hard for a computer to guess the right answer. There's not enough time for a computer to try all of the different options. That's how our encryption works. With quantum computers though, because they're able to try different things at once, rather than have to do one after the other, it may actually break a lot of modern encryption. So you even have thieves today, stealing encrypted data, with the idea that a few years down the road, they'll be able to break that encryption using quantum computing.

NIALA: Axios’ chief technology correspondent, Ina Fried. Thanks, Ina.

INA: Thanks Niala.

NIALA: For the past two weeks we’ve been talking about the negotiations at the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow. Participating countries approved a climate agreement over the weekend that calls for reductions in coal and fossil fuel use - a first in the history of UN Climate talks. But - it fell short of meeting demands from developing countries that wanted funding for climate-related losses. Now that it’s all wrapped up - I asked Axios’ energy reporter Ben Geman to share his final takeaways from COP26.

BEN GEMAN: The outcome of the UN climate summit was pretty mixed, but what unfolded in Glasgow and ahead of the talks, I think offers reasons for hope too. One takeaway is that global emissions cutting ambition is definitely on the rise, but it's still not enough. An analysis that arrived during the summit from the group climate action tracker finds that countries stepped up emissions pledges really do move the needle, but not enough to keep some really terrible impacts of global warming at bay. They project that 2030 emissions cutting pledges, if implemented, big if, would put the world on track for 2.4 degrees celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels by 2100. That's nowhere near the Paris agreement’s most ambitious goal of 1.5 degrees or even its fallback target of well below two degrees. Throw in nation’s long-term net zero emissions targets and you do get under two degrees. But again, we're talking about voluntary pledges. and that brings me to another big takeaway, which is this kind of jarring dissonance between ambition and what's currently happening on the ground. I mean, look, global fossil fuel use is again marching upward after the pandemic. So right now the on the ground reality is way out of sync with the ambition that was evident in Glasgow. And that's really the whole ballgame. Whether these targets make that uncertain journey into real action and how much the Glasgow outcome creates what amounts to, I guess, stronger global peer pressure in that direction. I think another noteworthy thing is that the deal calls for a phase down of using coal and getting rid of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. That was the first time one of these final summit texts has taken explicit aim at fossil fuels. You know, a final thought is that this is all very mixed for developing countries that are most vulnerable to the harms of global warming that we're already seeing. Climate finance from wealthy nations has still not arrived at long promise levels. Nor does the agreement in Glasgow ensure long sought funding to compensate vulnerable nations for climate-related losses. That will be a huge topic at the UN climate summit in Egypt next year.

NIALA: Ben Geman covers energy for Axios.

That’s it for us today! We love to hear from you all. You can always email us feedback or story suggestions by emailing the team at podcasts at axios dot com. If you want to reach me, you can message me directly on Twitter or you can always text me at (202) 918-4893. I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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