08.03.2021 Wasington Update

Infrastructure – With text now in hand, senators are deciding whether and how to amend the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and whether, in the end, they will support it.  Playing oddsmaker is a perilous business in Washington, but if we had our druthers, we’d say the bill is likely to pass the Senate this week.

In terms of timing, we expect a cloture vote as early as Wednesday.  Recall that under the Senate power-sharing agreement, Schumer must debate a new measure for 12 hours before filing cloture.  Post-cloture, amendments must be germane to the underlying bill.  Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) and Ranking Member Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV) will serve as the bill’s floor managers. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wants a final vote later this week, when he will then pivot to the fiscal year 2022 budget resolution.

While 17 Republicans voted to begin consideration of the infrastructure bill, support among the rest of the conference, at least at this point, varies considerably. Some appear inclined to back the bill, but only if their amendments pass.  Others are simply feeling the pressure to join the bipartisan confab.  And still others are closely analyzing the bill’s pay-fors, that is, to assess whether they provide real money to offset the bill’s price tag (many say they don’t). The funeral for Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) on Friday could also push final consideration of the bill until the weekend as several members would like to attend his memorial service.

The 60-vote threshold for amendments should hold firm during the debate, and many of the “gang” will unite to block amendments that would fundamentally change the agreement, especially any changes to their proposed pay-fors.

The Portman-Sinema deal has endured weeks of ridicule from progressive House members. One of the main objectors is House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who wants a House-Senate conference so he can salvage some of the House-passed INVEST Act.  Instead, sympathetic senators could include some House priorities during the Senate’s debate on amendments.

Another challenge for the House Democratic leadership: with the swearing-in of Rep. Jake Ellzey (R-TX) last Friday, they now have just a 3-vote majority. Before leaving town last week, the House failed to pass an extension to the nationwide eviction moratorium, a priority for the Democratic leadership and the Biden administration.

As we have mentioned before, House Democrats can’t count on any support for the package from House Republicans. Despite being a bipartisan agreement, the partisan dynamics in the House are very different than in the Senate, where many Republican supporters of the package are retiring after this Congress. House Republicans are not happy with Speaker Pelosi’s plan to combine the bill with the Democrats’ human infrastructure in reconciliation. With their eye on retaking the majority next Congress, House Republicans are unlikely to provide any help to Democrats in getting this passed.

Finally, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) plan to combine the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure bill with the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package means that it could be weeks or months until the House finally votes, providing ample time for the Democrats’ legislative agenda to slip off the rails.


Budget Resolution – Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) expects the fiscal year 2022 budget resolution to be on the Senate floor next week. Leader Schumer has said that all 50 Democrats are prepared to vote to advance the resolution, which, at this point, includes reconciliation instructions amounting to $3.5 trillion.

As with the previous budget resolution earlier this year, expect Senate Republicans, during the time-honored “vote-a-rama,” to file hundreds of amendments, with many of them aimed at Democrats facing tough reelections next year. Leader Schumer will try to use the pending August recess to expedite debate and voting as much as possible.

Much of the actual reconciliation bill will be developed over August recess but jockeying by members to include their priorities has already begun.  The White House, Speaker Pelosi, and several progressives are already saying that provisions that may violate the Senate Byrd rule, such as immigration reform and a clean electricity standard (CES), should be included.  Proponents of immigration reform argue that it has an impact on the budget, thus making it eligible for reconciliation.  Not so, said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who summarized his thoughts in a simple tweet, “Designed to fail.”  We expect the House to include these and other policy measures in reconciliation in a naked attempt to gain votes.

In the Senate, all eyes will be on Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who will focus on the energy and climate change provisions in the bill, and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). Last week, Sinema stated that, “I have also made clear that while I will support beginning this process, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion – and in the coming months, I will work in good faith to develop this legislation with my colleagues and the administration to strengthen Arizona’s economy and help Arizona’s everyday families get ahead.”

Signaling the difficult road ahead for Schumer’s two-part legislative strategy, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) responded to Sinema this way: “Good luck tanking your own party’s investment on childcare, climate action, and infrastructure while presuming you’ll survive a 3 vote House margin – especially after choosing to exclude members of color from negotiations and calling that a ‘bipartisan accomplishment.’”


Appropriations – The Senate Appropriations Committee will markup its first three fiscal year 2022 spending bills this week when it considers the Military Construction-VA, Agriculture, and Energy and Water bills.