Sen. Tim Scott’s (R-SC) “JUSTICE Act” failed to receive the necessary 60 votes needed for cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill. The question for many is what happens next. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) changed his vote and moved to reconsider the bill so that the legislation could be brought up again without the mandatory two-days wait. Sen. Scott stated bluntly before the vote, “if they (Senate Democrats) won’t even start it, that tells me that this is already over.” Senate Democratic members insist on negotiating legislation before it reaches the floor. Some policing reform issues could arise during consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which the Senate will move to debate next week, or on appropriations legislation.
The House will pass the “Justice in Policing Act” today. Qualified immunity continues to be a major issue for both parties. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and the Republican conference believe that without qualified immunity, good officers could face a barrage of unwarranted lawsuits that will undermine safety.
The Senate will now turn to the NDAA. Text of the bill was released Tuesday night. Leader McConnell has filed cloture on the motion to proceed. Amendments are being sent to the Senate Armed Services Committee for review and discussions on a potential manager’s package are already underway.
We expect various attempts to attach extraneous issues, given that the NDAA is one of only a handful of bills every year to become law. One such is more stringent regulation of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which has become a flashpoint in the NDAA debate. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is eyeing PFAS as part of the manager’s package, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and possibly others, could seek PFAS amendments on the floor. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is working hand-in-glove with Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) to flag, and oppose, PFAS and other similar environmental amendments.
The House Armed Service Committee has released baseline text of their version of NDAA and plans on having their full committee markup on July 1. Given the difficulty of voting on amendments on the House floor during the COVID-19 outbreak, expect more effort to address member priorities either through the committee process or larger en bloc amendments on the floor.
It’s becoming more likely that major spending fights will befall Congress this fall. Appropriations work has already been significantly impacted by COVID-19 response efforts and now Senate appropriators are locked in a partisan debate over additional COVID-19 aid and social justice and policing reforms. Senate Republicans want to keep the so-called ‘Shelby-Leahy agreement’ from last year, which aimed to prevent authorization language on appropriations bills at the committee level or “poison pill” provisions that could complicate floor consideration. Senate Democratic members now want to remove those constraints, seeking to broaden the scope of legitimate federal spending issues. Nonetheless, Democrats say Senate Republicans have the majority in committee and thus they can easily block amendments they deem contrary to last year’s agreement.
House Democratic members will soon begin an aggressive appropriations markup schedule, moving legislation that will undoubtedly draw veto threats from President Trump. Coupled with problems in the Senate, this could lead to a major spending showdown at the end of the year. This increasingly tenuous situation could induce rumblings of a continuing resolution (CR), lasting until November or December. Depending on the election outcome, we could then see a CR possibly extending well into next year. Note that even the debate over a short-term CR could lead to stalemate and mutual recriminations of blame over an impending government shutdown. In any case, this debate is starting to simmer, so stay tuned.