01.19.2021 Washington Update

White House – Last week, President-elect Biden unveiled a $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan, which includes several Republican priorities, such as funding for vaccines, testing, stimulus payments, and small business assistance. But Republicans are expected to oppose the measure due to the price tag as well as many other provisions that they staunchly oppose, such as aid for states and raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

This is the opening salvo in a negotiation. The Biden Administration is signaling it would like this to be a bipartisan deal, hoping to avoid the more partisan and time-consuming route of budget reconciliation, which only requires 51 votes to pass. But it won’t be easy. It took Congress the better part of eight months to agree on December’s COVID relief bill. Negotiations could span much of February, with Democrats hoping to pass a final package before mid-March, when enhanced unemployment benefits expire.

Republicans could agree to a smaller bipartisan package more narrowly focused on COVID-19-specific measures and direct payments. And they could very well insist, once again, that tailored liability protections for businesses should be part of the mix. Should negotiations with Republicans fail, Senate Democrats have two options: 1) proceed with the cumbersome and timely budget reconciliation process, or 2) wrestle with the knotty question of eliminating, or at a minimum revising, the legislative filibuster, which Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVA), at least for now, opposes.

Before these negotiations commence in earnest, President-elect Biden, once sworn into office at noon on Wednesday, will sign a flurry of executive orders. Among other things, they will instruct agencies to roll back President Trump’s priorities, as well as address issues such as climate change, racial equality, health care, and immigration.

Senate – Top of mind this week is the Senate’s impeachment trial of President Trump. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) could send the article of impeachment to the Senate in the next few days and a trial could begin after President-elect Biden is sworn in. The impeachment trial could delay consideration of President-elect Biden’s cabinet nominees, as well as “resolutions of disapproval” under the Congressional Review Act to nullify certain Trump regulations. Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Democrats would like to establish a process whereby the Senate can work concurrently on items on the executive and legislative calendars, as well as on the impeachment trial. This would require the consent of all 100 senators, which will be difficult to obtain.

Georgia officials are expected to certify the results of the Jan. 5 runoff elections later this week. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are expected to be sworn in shortly thereafter. Alex Padilla of California, who will replace Kamala Harris, is also expected to be sworn into the Senate around the same time. Once all of this occurs, and Harris becomes vice president, Schumer will become the majority leader in the Senate.

In the meantime, Leader Schumer and Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) must negotiate a Senate organizational resolution, which will have to be voted on or accepted by unanimous consent. This is critical for the functioning of a 50-50 Senate, including the makeup and funding of its committees. After the resolution is finalized, Senate committee assignments will soon be divvied up by each party.

Most of the Senate’s work this week will be at the committee level with hearings for several of Biden’s cabinet nominations, including the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. Treasury Department, and U.S. Department of State. Given the uncertainty around the organizing resolution, it’s not clear when committee votes, and hearings, on these and other nominees will occur.

House – This week, the GOP Steering Committee will convene on the 21st and 22nd to finalize committee assignments.

 H.R. 1, the For the People Act, which addresses voting rights and election reforms, is expected to be the first major legislation that House Democrats will pass in the 117th Congress. Consideration of H.R. 1 is expected next week.