04.14.2021 Washington Update

Senate Floor — The Senate returned from recess this week and Democratic leaders are looking to move forward on several fronts in the next three weeks. There is a strong desire to put the Senate on record regarding H.R. 1, the For the People Act, gun control, and immigration reform—and as a means of testing the political limits of the Senate filibuster.

On the floor, the Senate will consider the following nominations in this order:

  • Polly Ellen Trottenberg to be Deputy Secretary of Transportation
  • Wendy Ruth Sherman to be Deputy Secretary of State
  • Gary Gensler to be a Member and Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission
  • Brenda Mallory to be a Member and Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality

In addition, we expect a potential procedural test vote on Sen. Mazie Hirono’s (D-HI) legislation, the “COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act,” which aims to give the U.S. Department of Justice and local law enforcement more resources to combat hate crimes.

House Floor – The House returned yesterday.  This week, the House will take up the “Paycheck Fairness Act,” which passed last Congress, as well as the “Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act.” In the weeks ahead, Democratic leaders have said the House will focus on multiple pieces of legislation pertaining to their justice and civil rights agenda.

For their part, Republican House leaders are returning to Washington bolstered by the news that House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) raised $27.1 million in the first quarter of the year. The amount is the largest ever raised in a quarter by a Republican representative. That number is further evidence that while some traditional GOP allies may be leery of House Republicans, Republican voters remain very supportive of the Conference.

Infrastructure/Reconciliation – Congress has commenced efforts to advance President Biden’s American Jobs Plan in the weeks ahead. With the President’s fiscal year 2022 budget outline request released last week, Democratic leaders have what they need to craft a new comprehensive stimulus package as well as the annual appropriations bills.

President Biden met yesterday with transportation-focused Republican and Democratic members of Congress to discuss his $2.25 trillion plan.  While there is agreement that traditional infrastructure (e.g., road, bridges, highways, ports) needs to be addressed, tax policy will continue to be a major focus.  Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) recently said he does not support raising the corporate tax rate to 28%, and that a 25% rate is more appropriate.

On the House side, tight voting margins could give Republicans more influence than usual on the direction of a final package. Several House members have already started to lay down their own policy markers and we expect more will do so in the weeks ahead.

Senate Republicans remain adamant that the President’s infrastructure proposal must be smaller, more focused, and devoid of tax increases.  For them, the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act remains inviolable, and therefore other “pay-fors” must be incorporated as a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for their support.

While international tax policies have drawn the most attention so far, expect an expanded focus on energy and individual tax policies this month.  Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) is expected to renew his legislative efforts to promote alternative energy production. In addition, President Biden is expected to provide details about his “American Families Plan,” which is expected to include consequential changes to individual tax policies.

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees will start their annual review hearings of the President’s budget request this month, but the real work will be reaching an agreement on top-line spending and sub-committee allocations.  Also, expect an even greater fight this year on potential policy riders during the appropriations process.  Senators who have been unable to include their priorities in reconciliation due to the Byrd Rule may turn their attention to must-pass legislation to achieve their goals.

China – Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is seeking to advance comprehensive legislation that would address U.S. competitiveness with China.  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will markup the Strategic Competition Act of 2021, a bill sponsored by Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-ID), that would promote human rights, confront China’s economic aggression, and support U.S. science, cyber, and technology development.

Leader Schumer and Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) continue to work on the “Endless Frontier Act” in the Senate Commerce Committee, which will hold a hearing on the proposal this Wednesday.  While talks continue, Sen. Young is adamant that any China legislation must pass through regular order, and not as part of an infrastructure or tax reconciliation measure that Republicans will surely oppose.

Leaders of the Senate Finance Committee continue to work on their portion of the China package, including their oversight of forced labor issues in China and supply chain policies.  At the same time, efforts are underway on how to best pay for this package.

In the House, Leader McCarthy intends to keep a group working on China policy, similar to what House Republicans had last Congress with the China Task Force. Republicans are likely to continue pushing for specific legislative priorities that were included in the Task Force’s report. Many of these policies enjoy bipartisan support and could be candidates for inclusion in future legislation.

Surface Transportation Bill Reauthorization – The Senate Environment and Public Works, Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, and Senate Commerce Committees will be working to develop their portions of the surface transportation authorization bill.  EPW will hold a hearing this Wednesday on funding for the Highway Trust Fund, while SBC  will follow with a hearing on Thursday covering public transit issues.

At the committee level, Democratic chairs and Republican ranking members continue to have discussions on potential policy outlines. Before any bipartisan agreement can be reached, two issues will have to be addressed: how expansive the package will be beyond traditional highway bill priorities, and how will a package be paid for.  As a reminder, most surface transportation reauthorization priorities cannot be done through reconciliation, including general fund transfers into the Highway Trust Fund.

Congressional Review Act – The use of the Congressional Review Act (CRA) will likely be used during this work period.  So far Democratic leaders have announced their intention to target Trump-era rules on settlement claims and methane emissions from oil and gas operations.  Other CRAs are also possible.

Energy/Climate – It’s been reported that the White House will host a virtual Climate Leaders’ Summit on April 22nd and 23rd.  Leader McCarthy and House Republicans will push their own energy and climate agenda prior to the White House summit, and it will focus on innovation, infrastructure, American jobs, supply chain protection and environmental policies consistent with conservative principles.