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January 5, 2022

What to expect in Washington (January 5)

Any potential Senate action on the Build Back Better Act (BBBA) looks to be at least weeks away as the chamber is focused in the near-term on debating potential rules changes regarding the filibuster, prompted by a desire to act on voting rights legislation. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said the Senate will debate and consider changes to Senate rules before January 17. The Senate came back into session a week earlier than the House, which returns January 10. While leaders sort out paths forward on voting rights and the BBBA, members were delayed by a snowstorm in the Washington, DC area and preparing to attend memorial services for former Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Harry Reid (D-NV). President Biden and VP Harris are set to deliver remarks January 6 regarding the events at the Capitol on that date a year ago.

Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) was among those stuck overnight in weather-related traffic on I-95, and the Senate’s first nomination vote was postponed. Not much is planned for the Senate floor this week. “Little legislative action is expected this week, given the Jan. 6 anniversary and memorial services for former Senators Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Harry Reid of Nevada, the former majority leader,” the New York Times reported. “Only the Senate is scheduled to be in session this week, and Monday’s return was delayed by a winter storm … Many senators are likely to spend Thursday attending a memorial service for Mr. Isakson in Atlanta. A service for Mr. Reid is planned for Saturday in Las Vegas before he lies in state in the Capitol” January 12.

BBBA – “The focus on voting rights came as the Senate returned for the new year to confront President Biden’s stalled agenda, and as Democrats are also struggling to advance their marquee climate, tax and spending measure,” the NYT report said. Senator Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) primary objection waged December 19 that sunk the BBBA for now was the extension of the expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the cost over the 10-year budget window if the one-year extension in the BBBA is extended further. He made an offer to the White House for 10-year policies on climate, health, and universal pre-kindergarten, but not the CTC.

Senator Manchin said during a news conference January 4 that “there [have] been no conversations after I made my statement” December 19 and “there [are] no negotiations going on at this time” on the BBBA. Manchin said he doesn’t view the expiration of the CTC expansion as dire because the pre-expansion amount remains in effect, and “I think there should be a work requirement.” He praised the BBBA climate measures for providing money for innovation and tax credits for clean technology. “I think that the climate thing is one that we probably can come to an agreement much easier than anything else,” he said.

Asked on CNN’s New Day January 4 whether the inclusion of a CTC extension is a red line in the BBBA debate or whether he would be willing to omit the provision, Senator Schumer said, “There are discussions with Senator Manchin on that – on all of these issues, including the child tax credit. I’m not going to get into a public debate. To many of us, myself included, the child tax credit is so important.” He disagreed with Manchin’s assessment that there were no ongoing BBBA negotiations.

Likewise, Politico reported Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), a member of Schumer’s leadership team, as saying Monday “that the focus on elections legislation doesn’t mean Senate Democrats are putting their major climate and social spending bill on the back burner. ‘I don’t think we’re pivoting away. In fact, we met [over recess by] phone and we’re lining up a vote on that,’ she said.”

In a report in The Hill Newspaper, Democratic aides said the BBBA “won’t be ready for floor action any time soon and predict the wide-ranging legislation that the White House has negotiated with centrist Sens. [Manchin] and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) may have to be completely overhauled.” Further, following the omission of the issue from the January 3 Schumer Dear Colleague letter on rules changes, “Democratic aides warn that means Build Back Better probably won’t be ready to come to the floor until March or later. And whatever version of the bill comes up for a vote will be markedly different from the $1.75 trillion framework that Manchin resoundingly rejected during a ‘Fox News Sunday’ interview on Dec. 19, aides say.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that “lawmakers haven’t yet started the process” of restructuring the bill to address Senator Manchin’s concerns, though “a White House official said the Biden administration was in touch with several lawmakers about a path forward on the bill.” Also, “Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said the party would turn back to the economic package after working on the elections legislation—and possible rules changes for passing it. ‘We’re focused on voting rights, as we should be, and I think the White House is joining us in that effort, and clearly we’ll return to Build Back Better as soon as that is done,’ he said.”

Senate – Regarding potential rules changes, Senator Schumer said on MSNBC January 3, “we are exploring a variety of different rules changes” to allow voting rights measures opposed by Republicans to advance given the 60-vote filibuster threshold. Changes to the Senate filibuster rules were the subject of significant discussion a year ago as President Biden prepared to take office and revived as leaders have tied the voting rights issue to the controversy following the presidential election and the events that followed on January 6, 2021. The same two moderate Senators whose concerns are significantly shaping the BBBA, Sens. Sinema and Manchin, are the most resistant to filibuster rules changes.

CNN reported, “Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said on Tuesday they are looking at two major changes to filibuster rules: Forcing senators to hold the floor when they filibuster — a so-called talking filibuster — or a carveout to allow voting rights legislation to advance with 51 votes, rather than 60.”

USICA – Punchbowl reported that the U.S. Innovation and Competitiveness Act, “aimed at combating the rise in technological and innovative prowess in China, is completely stalled at the moment after it passed the Senate with a big bipartisan margin. Senate and House leaders haven’t been able to come to agreement on how to move forward on the legislation, and the House passed a radically different package.” Senator Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced in late November that the issue would be the subject of a House-Senate conference committee that has thus far failed to materialize.


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