May 12, 2023

Thought of the Week:

The other day, I had a meeting with the CEO of an association for association executives. Yeah, an association of associations. She was pitching me on joining a coalition to lobby in favor of immigration reform. Although an admirable pursuit given the polarization in Washington, the end of Title 42, and the televised chaos at the U.S.’s southern border, I couldn’t get past it…an association for associations. Only in Washington, I thought, which immediately reminded me about a Someecard I once received that said, “Let’s have a meeting to schedule more meetings.” Working a hybrid schedule, from home and the office, I’ve been able to witness some of the challenges my wife faces as the Creative Director for one of the nation’s largest full service eye care providers. On average, she has 3-4 meetings a day, which generally range in time from 45 minutes to an hour to sometimes longer. She’s not alone. According to Microsoft, office workers spend the equivalent of two workdays a week on email and in meetings—I can relate, given that I receive more than a hundred emails a day to my work account. In fact, Microsoft found that the most active users of its business software for most of their online work activity spend an average of 8.8 hours a week reading and writing emails and 7.5 hours logging meetings. What’s more, they found that the average employee spends 57% of their work time using communications software for meetings, email, or chat. The findings are important because there’s a general consensus among both business executives and management consultants that too much digital time can hurt worker productivity and innovation. Other research has confirmed the trend of workers being swamped in meetings and email. A Microsoft survey found that almost two out of three respondents said they struggled to find the time to do their actual jobs, and several National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) follow-up polls estimated that business teams lost an average 7.47 hours a week—nearly an entire day—to communications usage, at an annual cost of more than $12,000 per worker. While workplace consultants say that too often meetings are scheduled without clarity on what they are supposed to achieve, a growing number of cutting-edge companies have begun adding generative AI features as core workplace tools in an effort to offload the most tedious of employee tasks. At the other end of the technological spectrum, employees are opting for older-fashioned methods to combat the information overload: making to-do lists and blocking off time on their calendars to get work done.

Thought Leadership from our Consultants, Think Tanks, and Trade Associations

Eurasia Group Says President Biden’s Low Approval Ratings Will be Tested by Multiple Policy Challenges Over the Summer. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released this weekend shows President Biden with a low 36% approval rating, an outlier from his overall average of 42% but reflective of a lack of enthusiasm for the president as he starts his re-election campaign. Beginning this week, the president faced a number of politically challenging headlines, from a potential Department of Justice decision on indicting his son, Hunter, for tax and gun charges to a politically charged investigation from the House Oversight Committee over a document that committee chair Comer (R-KY) claims contains evidence that President Biden exchanged money for foreign policy decisions while vice president. The investigations, along with an effort by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair McCaul (R-TX) to force the State Department to turn over a dissent cable written by American diplomats in Kabul in 2021, raise political pressures on the White House and represent angles of attack that Republicans are likely to take against the president in the 2024 election. Most impactful for the White House may be the expiration of Title 42, the Trump-era immigration policy that has allowed for the quick expulsion of migrants at the border, which is likely to result in a huge increase in southern border encounters that has led to a humanitarian crisis around an intractable issue in American politics.

InsideEPA Reports that the EPA’s Latest Power Plant Rules Seek Major GHG Cuts Via CCS, Hydrogen Co-Firing. The EPA’s just-released greenhouse gas standards for power plants are expected to lead to significant emissions cuts from new and existing facilities, even as officials continue to stress the rules’ significant lead time for operators to install the novel carbon capture and storage (CCS) and hydrogen co-firing technologies on which the requirements are based. Standards in the May 11 proposed rules vary based on multiple factors, including whether power plants are considered new or existing under the Clean Air Act, whether they are fueled by coal or natural gas, how frequently they operate, and whether they are scheduled to retire in coming years. Although the rules would regulate new gas-fired combustion turbines, existing coal plants, and certain large and frequently used existing gas plants, they essentially exempt “peaker” gas plants that only run during periods of high demand; and coal plants that have committed to retiring before 2040 would avoid any CCS requirements, possibly just needing to co-fire with gas or to conduct routine operations. The EPA has also proposed formally repealing the Trump-era Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule. The latest regulatory package is the EPA’s third attempt at setting existing power plant GHG standards, and it would significantly strengthen Obama-era GHG limits for new plants. The proposal will be subject to 60 days of public comment once published in the Federal Register.

National Journal’s take on the Washington Post/ABC News Poll that Sent Shockwaves through the Beltway’s Chattering Class. The poll is totally worthless, at least in terms of predicting the outcome of the 2024 presidential election. Given that former President Trump lost the popular vote by 2 points in 2016 and 4.5 points in 2020, it’s implausible to think that he could defeat President Biden by 6 or 7 points as the poll suggests. It’s also not yet certain the 2024 contest will be a Biden-Trump rematch—the former president could be convicted of a crime before that and the incumbent’s health may not hold up. Finally, elections are decided through the Electoral College, not the popular vote, and the poll doesn’t assess voters in swing states.

National Journal Thinks Former President Trump’s Upcoming Campaign will be Closer to the Challenger of 2016 than the Incumbent of 2020. As much as issues from the past dominated the former president’s appearance on CNN this week, the session provided important signs of how an upcoming campaign against President Biden may unfold. It also dramatized how the dangers of off-the-cuff, crowd-pleasing comments by a candidate facing an array of legal charges could come back to hurt him in the less-forgiving confines of a courtroom. President Trump made a number of remarks that, although pleasing to his base, could backfire and put him in even more legal peril in three separate venues—Georgia, where he may face criminal proceedings for election interference; Washington, where he faces a federal investigation of his handling of official documents; and New York, where he has already lost a civil defamation and assault case. Even as Trump supporters publicly celebrated his performance, they should brace for a flood of Democratic ads using inflammatory clips from the town hall, as well as increased scrutiny by prosecutors of what came close to several outright admissions of the charges they may bring against him.

“Off the Record”

Among the key challenges, as outlined by the Eurasia Group’s Ian Bremmer, to the Biden’s administration’s explicit pivot toward an industrial policy are:

1) Big Business: the Biden administration is one of the least CEO-friendly in recent decades—at least as far as most American CEOs are concerned—which makes it hard to promote industrial policy.

2) The Global South: most developing countries are trending further away from the U.S. in terms of overall policy alignment. America needs to deploy serious capital, especially for energy transition and development—and that’s very far from where things stand at present.

3) Europe: while there’s plenty of alignment on Russia, there’s considerably less on China, where the U.S. national security driver and the European economic driver make uneasy bedfellows.

4) 2024: if you want a new Washington consensus, you first need a new consensus in Washington, and that looks extremely uncertain given the 2024 election’s state of play. When former President Trump gets the GOP nomination, President Biden’s foreign policy position will look as weak as Trump’s did in 2020.

In Other Words

“You do not have to like the former president’s answers, but you can’t say that we didn’t get them,” CNN CEO Licht on his network’s town hall with former President Trump.

“I have been considering the 14th Amendment [to raise the debt ceiling]. I think that it would be legitimate, but the problem is it would have to be litigated,” President Biden after the meeting with House Speaker McCarthy (R-CA).

“I do think that we have enough support within Congress to sustain this for a good deal longer. All the leadership in the House and Senate in my party is very much in favor of defeating the Russians,” Senate Minority Leader McConnell (R-KY) highlighting bipartisan support for continuing aid to Ukraine. 

“Who do you think you’re kidding? The only thing people want to see of me and Marjorie is if we’re wrestling in Jell-O,” Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) on her feud with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).

Did You Know

Just five states (ME, MT, OH, WV, and WI) are represented in both the Democratic and Republican Senate caucuses—an all-time low since the beginning of the direct election of senators more than a century ago.  

Graph of the Week

Conference Board Says Most Recent Data Not Enough For Fed to Pause Rate Hikes in June. The April Consumer Price Index (CPI) showed that headline inflation rose 0.4% month-over-month and core inflation, which excludes food and energy, also rose 0.4% month-over-month. Year-over-year inflation rates for both the headline and core indices fell a tenth of a percent due to base effects. While the CPI components were mixed for the month (see graph below), with some increasing and some decreasing, shelter prices cooled somewhat but remained a major factor in the inflation reading.


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