02.15.2022 Washington Update

Culture wars, continued—We will lay this out in a more detailed memo, but safe to say that, notwithstanding omnipresent focus on inflation, energy prices, and Russia-Ukraine, the media may be missing a smoldering political undercurrent with huge ramifications in November.

The ongoing debate over masking in schools has generated more light than heat, meaning politicians on the left and right should take heed.  Blue-state governors, and just today, the mayor of DC, are feeling the pressure, as they end general mask mandates and vaccination requirements to enter bars, restaurants, and arenas.  But for many parents across the political spectrum, those actions only emphasize a basic point: as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) tweeted, celebrities at the Super Bowl were blithely unmasked while their kids in schools are still wearing masks.

This is not our place to choose sides on the issue.  We raise it only because of its potential political significance in the upcoming midterm elections—at all levels.  The nation saw it in microcosm last November, when now-Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) pulled off a stunning upset over former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) in blue Virginia, in good part on this issue.  Despite that victory, the state’s masking wars continue apace, with many school districts choosing to defy Youngkin’s executive order empowering parents to make the final call on masks.

Virginia incumbents—and indeed any incumbent, anywhere—ignore this fight at their peril.  The last thing any officeholder at any level needs when the political environment is scorched by inflation, higher gasoline prices (Bank of America predicts oil prices could hit $117 a barrel in July), and geopolitical unrest is contesting a fiercely brewing fight in a broader culture war.  But that’s what’s happening right before our eyes.

Though one might pause in drawing comparisons with what’s happening up north, the trucker protests in Ottawa are another manifestation of genuine exhaustion over COVID-inspired restrictions.  Whatever one’s take on the appropriateness of the truckers’ actions, they do signal general discontent among the masses over such policies, one that politicians here in the U.S.—that is, current and prospective office holders, from dog catcher to senator—should take seriously.

Even if resolved in the next few months, this aspect of the broader culture war, which has been raging beneath and above the surface for years, may reverberate past November.  Politicians will need answers on where they stood and why.  Sure, having a plan to reduce gasoline prices will be top of mind for voters, but masking for kids, and COVID restrictions more generally, could ultimately be the make-or-break issue, no matter what happens between now and November.


Appropriations – While leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees announced a “deal to get to a deal” on the budget, the real work of negotiating commences this week.  Subcommittees have their allocations in hand, but there remain significant disagreements over spending levels and policy riders.

While it’s no surprise that appropriators continue to be optimistic that a final omnibus is within reach, rank-and-file Republicans, along with House Republican leadership, are far more skeptical that a deal can happen—and, if it does, whether they can, or will, support it.

As is always the case, this entire process can still go sideways.  Expect Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to become more involved as the process inches along.  But note this: To date, neither Pelosi nor the White House has made any proactive outreach to House Republicans—on this or any other matter.  If there is any glitch process, by which we mean any angst from House progressives, or moderate House Democrats for that matter, on voting for a final deal, don’t expect more than just a few House Republicans to bail them out.  That could create difficult math on the floor for Speaker Pelosi.

Despite threats to block passage, the short-term continuing resolution is expected to clear the Senate this week. Given concerns from some Republican senators on several issues, Leader Schumer may have to seek a tailored-vote agreement on a few amendments or begin running the procedural clock to process the funding bill.


Bipartisan Agreements – While partisan fights dominate the headlines, there is plenty of bipartisan legislative activity happening on Capitol Hill. In addition to the current efforts on election certification reform, agreements have been reached on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, ending forced arbitration in sexual assault cases, and postal service reform.

Over the last serval weeks, several Senate committees have also been producing bipartisan legislation that may get floor time or be incorporated into larger packages.  The Senate Judiciary Committee has successfully reported out the “American Innovation and Choice Online Act” and the “Open App Markets Act and EARN IT Act,” along with several criminal justice reform bills it passed at the end of 2021.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-MI) and Ranking Member Rob Portman (R-OH) have created a cybersecurity omnibus bill that includes the “Cyber Incident Reporting Act,” the “Federal Information Security Modernization Act,” and the “Federal Secure Cloud Improvement and Jobs Act.”

Also of note: leaders of the Senate HELP Committee reached an agreement on a bipartisan bill that would strengthen federal and state preparedness for future pandemics, while The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has also begun the biannual process of reauthorizing the Water Resources Development Act.

The Senate Finance Committee has commenced hearings on mental health care, which could lead to a potential bipartisan bill in the future.  Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-ID) are also expected to work on a new bill this year that would further promote retirement savings.

With the shadow of the mid-term elections growing closer, many members know they have to cut deals now to allow enough time for their bills to get to the Senate floor, either on their own or more likely added to larger moving packages, before the legislative process shuts down.  Otherwise, all hopes will have to ride on lame-duck, end-of-year agreements which are not always guaranteed to occur.