A sweeping infrastructure and climate-change package. Lowering prescription drug prices. A long-awaited immigration overhaul.
With a nearly $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package set to become law, Democrats on Capitol Hill have begun wrestling with this question: Which policy issues should they fast-track next?
The arcane budget reconciliation process would allow Democrats who control razor-thin majorities in the House and Senate to sidestep a GOP filibuster in the Senate and push through another massive legislation package with zero Republican votes, just as they did this month with President BidenJoe BidenManchin cements key-vote status in 50-50 SenateThe Memo: How the COVID year upended politicsPost-pandemic plans for lawmakers: Chuck E. Cheese, visiting friends, hugging grandkidsMOREs American Rescue Plan.
At the moment, Democrats are all over the map about what should be in that next package. Moderate Rep. Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinOvernight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden’s Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotelsTop Republican: ‘Outrageous’ to extend National Guard deployment at CapitolCapitol Police asks National Guard to extend deploymentMORE (D-Mich.) told The Hill she wants to take up a truly transformative bill on prescription drug pricing, something she says would affect every single American in their pocketbooks.
Budget Chairman John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthHouse approves .9T COVID-19 relief in partisan voteBiden on precipice of first big winProgressives won’t oppose bill over limits on stimulus checksMORE (D-Ky.) said some of his Democratic colleagues are clamoring to pass comprehensive immigration reform using reconciliation.
But fresh off his first major legislative victory, Biden himself says his nascent administration will turn next to a trillion-dollar infrastructure and clean-energy jobs package. And a growing number of Democrats are now urging the White House and Democratic leadership to use the special budget process to push it through the Congress to deliver critical roads, bridges and broadband projects to their districts and a potent campaign issue they can run on in the tough 2022 midterms.
We need an FDR-like investment in our infrastructure, Rep. Rick LarsenRichard (Rick) Ray LarsenLIVE COVERAGE: House votes to name SpeakerCOVID-19 is wild card as Pelosi faces tricky Speaker vote SundayWisconsin Rep. Gwen Moore tests positive for COVID-19MORE (D-Wash.), chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) aviation subcommittee, told The Hill.
Its gotta be infrastructure, and its gotta be as much as we can squeeze into a Byrd-able infrastructure package, added another T&I member, Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanLawmakers unveil measure to give Postal Service B for electric vehiclesDemocrats don’t trust GOP on 1/6 commission: ‘These people are dangerous’OVERNIGHT ENERGY: White House rescinds Trump proposal to restrict greenhouse gas consideration | Texas governor limits shipping natural gas out-of-state amid power shortages | Lawmakers clash over gun prohibition in Natural Resources committee roomMORE (D-Calif.), referring to the rule named for the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) that determines which provisions cant be included in the special budget process.
And freshman Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), whos quickly learned all politics is local, said his northern Bronx district desperately needs funding to repair and replace the aging sewage systems. He also wants to build a research and development hub focused on clean energy and environmental justice as well as community innovation centers that can help young students develop skills and passions as they consider their careers.
We have a ton of infrastructure needs in the district, Bowman told The Hill outside the Capitol. We have a sewage system in Mount Vernon thats failing, sewage being backed up into peoples homes, sewage leaking into the Long Island Sound. Weve also had rising sea levels and flooding in Mamaroneck; we need tens of millions of dollars there to help combat this rising sea level situation. And then we have sewage leaking into Yonkers.
Biden, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGOP senator applauds restaurant stimulus money after voting against relief billMcCarthy calls on Pelosi to return Capitol to pre-pandemic operationsJayapal asks for ethics investigation into Boebert, Gosar, BrooksMORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerSchumer, Collins spar over 2009 stimulus voteOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Republicans put procedural delay on Haaland’s nomination | Interior Department announces next steps in review of oil and gas lease moratorium | Judge approves .5B Daimler settlement in diesel emissions probeFrustrated progressives on relief package: ‘We’ll take the win’MORE (D-N.Y.) have yet to decide what the strategy will be with the second reconciliation package. But Yarmuth, who will have some say in the matter, posed this question: Why choose just one policy matter?
The Budget chairman is predicting the next reconciliation bill will be a “grab bag package combining several different pieces of legislation, including infrastructure, climate change, health care and more.
I hope we can do something remotely as impactful as we just did, Yarmuth said about the just-passed COVID package that included $1,400 stimulus checks, an extension of boosted unemployment benefits and billions for more testing and vaccines. I suspect there will be some climate legislation, some health care legislation, I know some people are talking about putting immigration reforms in there.
I think its going to be a kitchen sink. Everyones going to try to get stuff in there, he added. You can put anything in there, as long as it clears the Byrd Rule.
Yarmuth called infrastructure the No. 1 priority for using reconciliation if we have to, for both the Biden administration and congressional Democrats.
If talks with Republicans fall apart over the next two months, Yarmuth said, Democrats could begin the reconciliation process passing another budget bill directing committees to draft individual pieces of the package as early as May, shortly after Biden sends his fiscal 2022 budget request to Congress.
Final passage might not happen until the fall, Yarmuth said.
Still, there is reluctance in the party to a go-it-alone approach on infrastructure, a rare issue that polls well on both sides of the aisle. Centrist Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinManchin cements key-vote status in 50-50 SenateSchumer moves to bring up Becerra’s nomination after committee tieNo Republicans back .9T COVID-19 relief billMORE (D-W.Va.) has threatened to derail Bidens infrastructure package unless a serious effort is made to bring Republicans on board.
“I am not going to get on a bill that cuts them out completely before we start trying, Manchin told Axios recently.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioLawmakers unveil measure to give Postal Service B for electric vehiclesBiden turns focus to next priority with infrastructure talksBiden to meet with bipartisan lawmakers on infrastructureMORE (D-Ore.) also signaled he wants to work with Republicans on a new package, though his $1.5 trillion package tackling crumbling infrastructure and climate change passed last summer with only three GOP votes.
Moderates like Blue Dog Democrats Co-Chair Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyBipartisan lawmakers call for Blinken to appoint special envoy for VenezuelaThe Hill’s 12:30 Report – Presented by Facebook – Divided House on full displayRep. Stephanie Murphy says she’s ‘seriously considering’ 2022 challenge to RubioMORE (D-Fla.) and Slotkin, a Michigan Democrat in her second term, also want to see if theres a deal to be made with Republicans.
Can we make a good-faith effort to see if the Republicans could come along with us? Because they have been talking about infrastructure themselves for years. Get to the negotiating table. And, like, let’s get to work, said Slotkin, who had just wrapped up a meeting with the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.
What concerns me is that there’s some who believe we should just use budget reconciliation to go as big and as wide as we can, run on that, and call it a day, she continued. And I consider that, at best, a lazy approach, and, at worst, malpractice.
However, there are risks to delaying the infrastructure package while the two parties negotiate and squabble over its size and scope and pay-fors.
Bidens approval ratings are above 60 percent, buoyed by his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the passage of the massive health and economic stimulus, but those numbers wont stay high forever. Passing a bipartisan package worth trillions of dollars also gets trickier the closer lawmakers get to 2022, with Republicans believing they are on the cusp of winning back the House and Senate. In the 50-50 Senate, the GOP needs to win just one net seat to flip control of the upper chamber.
Loading up the second reconciliation package with lots of complicated provisions also could ruin its chances for success. Rep. Veronica EscobarVeronica EscobarBill introduced to create RBG monument on Capitol HillEl Paso shooting survivor deported to Mexico after traffic stopHouse Judiciary Democrats ask Pence to invoke 25th Amendment to remove TrumpMORE (D-Texas), who represents a border district that includes El Paso, said reconciliation might not be the best path for comprehensive immigration reform after watching the Senate parliamentarian rule that the $15 federal minimum wage violated the Byrd Rule.
I dont want to take any chances, said Escobar, pointing to Bidens immigration proposal that was introduced by Rep. Linda SanchezLinda Teresa SánchezBiden’s immigration bill has problems lots of themPrivacy, immigrant rights groups slam Biden’s ‘smart wall’ proposalThe Memo: Biden bets big on immigrationMORE (D-Calif.). We have a bill, a good vehicle that was brought forward by the White House. It will finally resolve the issue of an immigration system that has been broken for a long time and reforms that have been punted from administration to administration.
I dont think we should entertain any illusion that reconciliation will be easy.
Rep. Andre CarsonAndré CarsonDemocrats spar over COVID-19 vaccine strategyCongressional Black Caucus unveils ‘100 Day Plan’An attack on America that’s divided Congress and a nationMORE (D-Ind.) made clear that Democrats need to act with urgency in passing the infrastructure bill, any way they can, because its unclear who will hold control of the Congress after next year given the tight majorities and redistricting. Infrastructure is also a great campaign issue for Democrats in the 2022 cycle.
Oftentimes, we’re in love with the abstract on the Hill. But as you’ve seen, people are calling our offices saying, Where’s our [$1,400] checks? Wheres my check? Carson said. And so the question becomes how do we stop focusing on subsection A and B, and bring the message back to our constituents that says we’re going to repair roads, bridges and bring money back for hospitals.
No one can dispute roads, bridges, railways and skyways, he said.