August 2, 2021
What to expect in Washington (August 2)
Infrastructure bill – While the House adjourned for its summer recess on Friday, the Senate remained in session through the weekend, culminating in the long-awaited release of the legislative text of the bipartisan infrastructure bill at around 9:30 pm Sunday evening. The release of the 2,700-page bill, whose official title is now the “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” allows the Senate to begin work this week on considering amendments to the bill. The Senate is currently scheduled to depart at the end of this week, but Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has said he plans to keep the Senate in session until the chamber completes work on both the infrastructure bill and the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget resolution (see below), an ambitious schedule that could keep senators in town into next week.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill provides $550 billion in new spending – which, combined with routinely authorized transportation funding for roads, highways and bridges, comes to a total of $1 trillion over five years. The Washington Post reported that because Senate negotiators couldn’t agree on new taxes or user fees, neither is in the bill. “Instead, it recovers its costs through a pastiche of financing mechanisms, from reclaiming past coronavirus aid funds to collecting unpaid taxes on cryptocurrencies. But there nonetheless remains concern in both parties that some of the math is fuzzy, raising the potential that the package still could add to the federal deficit — and bring about significant fighting on the Senate floor.” Because the stalemate over user fees and taxes left little in the Highway Trust Fund, the bill would simply transfer $118 billion from the Treasury Department to the HTF, funded by deficit spending -- reflecting a similar provision in the House-passed highway bill. The chart below shows major spending provisions and their pay-fors:
The bill text is available here.
While the bill includes a number of investments related to climate change and clean energy – such as $73 billion to modernize the U.S. energy grid; $21 billion to respond to environmental concerns, including pollution; and $7.5 billion initiative for a national network of EV charging stations -- the bill text does not include a number of other climate priorities advanced by Democrats, such as: 1) a mandate to require utilities to produce power using only carbon-free sources; 2) President Biden’s call to include $174 billion for electric vehicle initiatives; and 3) a costly extension of tax credits for solar, wind and other forms of clean power. Senate Democrats and the White House have said those measures would instead appear in the separate, Democrats-only budget reconciliation bill.
Leader Schumer and a number of members of the bipartisan “Gang of 10” that negotiated the bill spoke on the Senate floor Sunday night. Some of their remarks:
Meanwhile, on the Sunday TV news shows, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), another of the group’s negotiators, told CNN that “it remains “my expectation and my hope” that at least 10 Republicans would support final passage. Collins said senators from both parties would realize “the very concrete benefits, no pun intended, of this legislation.” Also on CNN, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) predicted that final passage could come as soon as Thursday and called the new investments “something every state, every area of every state, needs.”
Some Republican senators opposed to the bill also spoke on the floor Sunday, including Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rick Scott (R-FL), who criticized the bill’s “lofty and unrealistic revenue estimates” and said the bill would increase inflation risks. Eighteen Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), voted to proceed to the infrastructure bill last week.
Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, are expected to manage floor debate on the measure this week.
Budget resolution – Once action on the infrastructure bill is completed, the Senate is expected to turn immediately to the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget resolution. Unlike the bipartisan comity surrounding the latter bill, the budget blueprint -– which, when passed in identical form by both chambers, unlocks the expedited 51-vote mechanism called budget reconciliation – is certain to be contentious. Action on such blueprints typically ends in a marathon voting session on amendments called a “vote-a-rama,” which in previous years has extended well into the wee hours of the morning. The actual reconciliation bill permitted by the budget resolution is not expected to be drafted and released until September or October, after several committees produce their assigned pieces. Presuming the Senate ultimately passes the infrastructure bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has committed to holding it until the House receives the larger reconciliation package. “The process on [the budget reconciliation bill] is likely to be longer and more complicated even than the bipartisan talks, meaning there is no guarantee either bill will pass,” the Washington Post reported Sunday night.
Last week Sen. Sinema said that while she would vote to pass the budget resolution, she could not support spending $3.5 trillion in the eventual budget reconciliation bill -- comments that landed like an earthquake among Democrats. And on Sunday, Sen. Manchin told CNN he could not guarantee that the reconciliation bill would have enough votes to pass the Senate. “I can't really guarantee anybody. And I have not guaranteed anybody on any of these pieces of legislation,” Manchin said. “Would we like to do more? Yes, you can do what you can pay for. This is paid for, our infrastructure bill is all paid for... As far as reconciliation goes, it should be looked at the same. That’s why I said we're going to get the budget resolution. Let’s start the process and then see where it goes.”
Appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday, Manchin also said he wants to ensure that changes to the tax code included in the Democrats-only reconciliation bill don’t damage the nation’s global competitiveness: “If we can’t [compete] … and basically we have a downturn in the economy and inflation skyrockets, we have problems. You have to be careful about all that.” Those remarks have served to inflame House progressives, and on CNN Sunday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said, “If there is not a reconciliation bill in the House and if the Senate does not pass a reconciliation bill, we will uphold our end of the bargain and not pass the bipartisan bill until we get all of these investments in… I respect that we have to get Sen. Sinema and Manchin’s vote on reconciliation. They should also respect that there’s a very tight House margin, and that we have to be able to uphold our end of the bargain as well. And House progressives are also part of that majority.”
Despite Schumer’s confidence that the Senate will wrap up both the infrastructure bill and the budget resolution before leaving, in a TV interview with Kentucky’s Spectrum News that aired Friday night, House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY) expressed skepticism that the Senate will finish work on its budget blueprint this week. “I don’t think [Chairman] Bernie Sanders and the Senate Budget Committee have legislative text for their budget resolution and reconciliation instructions either. So I think it's highly unlikely that they will be able to send us that before the August recess,” Yarmuth said, adding that he expects the House could be called back to continue working on the measures during the August recess.
Eviction moratorium – The moratorium on evictions that was imposed by pandemic relief legislation expired at midnight on Saturday, exposing millions of renters to possible eviction and leading one member of Congress (freshman Cori Bush, D-MO) to camp out overnight on the Capitol steps to dramatize the situation. A last-minute effort to pass an extension of the ban by unanimous consent failed in the House on Friday, leading to recriminations among Democrats, some of whom reportedly would not have supported an extension on a roll-call vote. In a statement released on Sunday, Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) and Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark (D-MA) called upon the Biden administration to extend the eviction moratorium on its own through October 18, 2021:
“On Thursday, the President asked Congress to pass an extension of the eviction moratorium. Sadly, it is clear that the Senate is not able to do so, and any legislation in the House, therefore, will not be sufficient to extend the moratorium. Action is needed, and it must come from the Administration. That is why House leadership is calling on the Administration to immediately extend the moratorium. As the CDC doubles down on mask-wearing and vaccination efforts, science and reason demand that they must also extend the moratorium in light of the delta variant. Doing so is a moral imperative to keep people from being put out on the street, which also contributes to the public health emergency.
“The virus is still a threat. The moratorium must be extended, and the funds Congress allocated to assist renters and landlords must be spent. An extension of the moratorium is based on public health and the delta variant. It will also give more time to allow the money that Congress allocated to finally flow. We call upon the Treasury Department to indicate how the funds that it has already transferred to states and communities can be more effectively distributed to renters and landlords.”