06.16.2022 Washington Update

Guns – To us, concerning the “agreement in principle” on guns, the most interesting political question is not whether the Senate can, or will, pass the eventual bill that reflects that agreement, but how many Republicans vote will for it.   

Also of note: among the ten Senate Republicans who helped craft the agreement, four are retiring (Blunt, Toomey, Burr, and Portman); five have been known to break from the party base on key issues (Romney, Collins, Tillis, Graham, and Cassidy); and one is positioning to succeed Sen. Mitch McConnell (KY) as Senate party leader (Cornyn). 

In other words, while it appears, as of now, that the Senate will have 60 votes to clear a potential filibuster to the gun bill, it is reasonable to assume that the bill may not reflect where the conservative base stands.  Violating base orthodoxy on a fundamental issue such as the Second Amendment usually has, to varying degrees, electoral implications, but it’s doubtful, given the state of the country and the economy, that base voters, because of this vote, will cut and run in November.

At the moment, this is speculation, given we don’t even have a bill.  As Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) put it, “the devil’s in the details.”  From a political perspective, that is, from the party base perspective, the most problematic aspect of the agreement is support for state “red flag” laws.  We take no position on this issue, but only note that base voters see insidious designs behind such measures—fearing that such laws, no matter how carefully written, could encompass those who simply hold conservative views.  Many might quibble with, or even mock, this concern—but it’s a concern we hear expressed by the Republican members and staff we talk with, who are hearing it from their constituents. 

Again, without a bill, it’s difficult to say how Republicans will ultimately vote.  But it’s probably a safe bet that the vast majority of House Republicans will oppose whatever measure emerges.  As to when such a measure emerges—that’s a big question.  Pressure in the Senate, from the group of 20 in any case, to write and then agree to text, is considerable.  As is the pressure to vote on the eventual bill before the Senate breaks for the July 4 recess, later next week. 

All of this is a tall order, to be sure.  One can easily imagine legislative text leaking and causing a stir among interest groups, on both the left and the right; and then the process getting bogged down by party infighting and the bill getting lost in a vortex of mutual recrimination.  But the bipartisan group that hashed out the agreement is at least publicly confident that any such partisan and political obstacles can be overcome. 

 Outlook – To be sure, the gun debate complicates the already crowded Senate schedule for the remainder of the summer.  The outlook for a reconciliation deal­­­­­­­­­ probably doesn’t get any brighter with a week spent on guns and at least another spent dealing with a Supreme Court decision looming on Roe v. Wade

As far as reconciliation goes, the best we can piece together, from an admittedly limited GOP perspective, is the buzz that discussions between Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) may be centering around healthcare, to the exclusion of climate provisions.  In any event, with Manchin demanding some significant portion of the deal be devoted to deficit reduction, there could be little room left after health care for a robust climate title—at least not the $500 billion for climate-focused tax credits that the bill’s authors originally envisioned.  Whatever remains of the latter will likely be stripped of direct pay, union giveaways, and only those tax credits that Manchin can boast have bipartisan support (e.g., 45Q, hydrogen, possibly wind and solar). 

So what else is on tap in July?  The lobbying world is aflutter with speculation about the massive China bill conference.  To date, meetings among staff have yielded little beyond talk, with the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees probably having the most advanced discussions around trade and whether to include tax provisions in a final package.  Even so, that’s not saying much.

We continue to hear that an eventual bill, should one materialize, will likely land on the Senate’s bipartisan “CHIPS for America Act,” which authorizes $52 billion for domestic semiconductor chip manufacturing, along with a few additional bells and whistles. 

Just when that will happen remains up in the air.  But the idea that the conference, with over 100 members, wraps in agreement, followed by a vote in each chamber, with a final bill going to President Biden’s desk, all before the August recess, appears, at this juncture, exceedingly optimistic, to put it mildly.