Legislative / Policy Update
House. The House is in recess and has no votes scheduled until Nov. 16.
Senate. The Senate is in session and has two procedural votes planned on Covid-related legislation. The first is Tuesday on a measure to provide $257.64 billion in funds for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and to make a handful of changes to the program. The second vote, which will be Wednesday, is on a package similar to a proposal the Senate failed to advance Sept. 10, providing about $500 billion for schools, unemployment benefits, and vaccine development and distribution. Neither measure will garner the 60 votes needed to advance.
Covid Package. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are talking again this afternoon. Pelosi says a deal needs to be reached by Tuesday night if it is to have any chance of being enacted before the elections. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said if an agreement is reached, he will bring it to the floor for a vote. The betting is that there will be no breakthrough before the Tuesday “deadline.”
House Leadership Races. House Democrats will hold their caucus leadership elections Nov. 18 and 19 and contested committee chairmanship elections the week of Nov. 30. The top three leadership posts now held by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn are uncontested as is the Caucus Chairmanship held by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. There are only two contested leadership races at this time: Assistant Speaker, now held by Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, who is running for the Senate, and Caucus Vice Chair, which is opening up because the current Vice Chair, Rep. Katherine Clark, is running for Assistant Speaker.
Rep. Clark (Mass.) is competing against two other candidates to be Assistant Speaker – Reps. Tony Cardenas (Calif.) and David Cicilline (R.I.). Three candidates are also vying to be Caucus Vice Chair – Reps. Pete Aguilar (Calif.), Robin Kelly (Ill.), and Deb Haaland (N.M.).
At the committee level, Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey is retiring, and Foreign Affairs Chair Eliot Engel lost his primary race. The three candidates in the race to head the Appropriations Committee are Reps. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.). There are also three candidates hoping to take the gavel at Foreign Affairs – Reps. Brad Sherman (Calif.), Greg Meeks (N.Y.), and Joaquin Castro (Tex.).
Selection of committee chairs (or ranking members if the Democrats were in the minority) is a two-step process. First, the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, whose membership is dominated by the Speaker, votes to choose new chairs. The next step is a vote by the full Democratic caucus. While the caucus usually approves the recommendations of the Steering and Policy Committee, that is not always the case. Most recently, in November 2014, the caucus voted 100-90 to choose Rep. Frank Pallone (N.J.) as ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee rather than Rep. Anna Eshoo (Calif.), who was the choice of the Steering and Policy Committee.
FY 2021 Appropriations. While the House has passed 10 of the 12 appropriations bills for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 (all except Homeland Security and Legislative Branch), the Senate Appropriations Committee has not marked up any of its bills. However, the Senate’s measures have been written and the legislative language is getting a final review. The expectation is that the committee will not schedule any markup sessions but rather will post its bills online in the next week or two. This, then, will create a public placeholder for the Senate position in conference negotiations with the House.
The outlook is dim for a final agreement between the two chambers before the current continuing resolution expires Dec. 11, and the results of the elections will, no doubt, influence congressional actions after Nov. 3. There is a school of thought that if Trump is re-elected, Congress will wrap up the FY 2021 appropriations bills this year. On the other hand, many Democrats believe that if Joe Biden wins the presidency, Congress will punt final spending decisions until next year by passing a CR until March.
Committee Action of Note:
· Wednesday, October 21
· Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing to examine VA MISSION Act, focusing on assessing progress implementing Title I.
· Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing to examine passenger and freight rail, focusing on the current status of the rail network and the track ahead.
· Thursday, October 22
· Senate Judiciary Committee Business Meeting to consider judicial nominations. The Committee will vote on Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
· 15 days until Election Day.
· 3 days until the final Presidential debate.
Debates. The final presidential debate will take place Thursday at 9 p.m. EDT in Nashville. Moderated by NBC’s Kristen Welker, the 90-minute debate will focus on six topics – fighting COVID-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security, and leadership. At the start of each segment each candidate will be given two minutes to answer an initial question, during that time the opposing candidate's microphone will be muted. The Commission on Presidential Debates announced the change in format after the chaotic first debate.
Fundraising. President Trump and the Republican National Committee had their best fundraising month yet in September, raising a combined $247.8 million. That mark still fell short of the Democratic National Committee and Joe Biden’s monthly total of a record $383 million. Biden’s campaign said last week that they are on track to raise another $234 million before Election Day. The cash influx has allowed Biden to outspend Trump on TV by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.
Early Voting. Over 29 million voters have already voted, according to the U.S. Elections Project, amounting to 21% of 2016’s total turnout. It is expected that some 50% of Americans will cast their ballot before Election Day – 32% by mail or absentee and 20% at an early voting location, according to the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. Of the early voters, 67% are Biden supporters; of the 45% who say they intend to vote in person, almost two-thirds are Trump supporters.