March 14, 2022
What to expect in Washington (March 14)
In his address to House Democrats at their retreat in Philadelphia on Friday, President Biden reupped his call for Congress to pass a reconciliation bill, saying Nobel laureates in economics said the plan will help ease inflationary pressures over time. Inflation is a top concern of many members ahead of the midterm elections. “No one making less than $400,000 a year will pay a single additional penny in tax for all these things that were in the Build Back Better plan. We have to do this,” the President said. Recalling a line from the State of the Union, he said, “raise your hand if you think the existing tax structure is remotely fair” and “in 2020, 55 of the biggest corporations in America paid zero in taxes and they made $40 billion in profit.”
Much of the recent reporting about Congress has focused on the Philadelphia retreat and Democrats’ hopes that they would emerge with a refined message for voters that highlights bills already enacted – the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA, Pub. L. No. 117-2) and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA, Pub. L. No. 117-58) – and plans to address inflation, rather than the aspirations of the Build Back Better agenda, which they agree must take on a new moniker.
The New York Times reported on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) pitching “Democrats deliver” as a political tagline to the White House in mid-February, when “some of her party’s most politically imperiled lawmakers were revolting against Mr. Biden’s preferred slogan, ‘Build back better,’ believing it had come to be a toxic phrase that only reminded voters of the party’s failure to pass its sweeping social policy bill… No new campaign message was agreed to that day — or since.” The story said some Democrats are pleading with the President to come up with a sharper message “with inflation hitting another 40-year high and gas prices spiking.” The President himself expressed exasperation over the lack of voter recognition over ARPA.
The President also said of the IIJA, in his address to House Democrats, “We need to tell the American people this law is going to create millions of jobs rebuilding roads and bridges, airports and ports, Internet, and a whole range of other things. Because that’s what it’s going to do.”
Some members are heeding the call. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) tweeted March 13, “A year after we passed the American Rescue Plan, Montana’s unemployment rate is the lowest in history, students are back in classrooms, and our economy is back up and running at full speed. That’s no coincidence, folks.”
There is also a changed political landscape given the situation in Ukraine. The Washington Post reported on Democrats crediting geopolitical unrest for rising gas prices and touting economic sanctions, though, “It is unclear whether a revamped message will be enough to help Democrats overcome this year’s stiff political head winds, particularly after months of internal party feuding over Biden’s domestic agenda, portions of which have stalled on Capitol Hill.” Further, “On multiple occasions during Biden’s presidency, Democrats have sought to recalibrate their appeals to voters — with the White House and its allies initially embracing a sweeping domestic agenda hailed by liberals but, more recently, charting a middle-of-the-road path.”
Both the House and Senate are in session this week (the House will be out the following week, beginning March 21). Senate business includes nominations. A procedural vote will be held at 5:30 p.m. related to the nomination of Shalanda D. Young to be Director of the Office of Management and Budget (she is currently acting director).
The House may consider COVID funding that was bumped from the omnibus appropriations bill given controversy over a state aid claw back offset, though there are challenges for the proposal in meeting the 60-vote Senate threshold for passage in the Senate. Punchbowl reported, “Several House Democrats have complained to leadership that they won’t vote for a Covid bill that won’t pass the Senate. And the Senate won’t get 60 votes for any Covid package that’s not completely offset.”
Hearings this week include:
On Friday, March 18 (12:00 p.m.) is the EY Webcast, “Tax in the time of COVID-19: Update on legislative, economic, regulatory and IRS developments.” Register.