Legislative / Policy Update
Senate Floor. The Senate began its session today by continuing a tradition that was begun in 1896 – the annual reading of George Washington’s “Farewell Address” to observe the first president’s Feb. 22 birthday. The honor of reading the address alternates between Democrats and Republicans, with Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) delivering the 7,641-word address this afternoon. Written by President Washington in close collaboration with Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, the address was first published in Philadelphia’s American Daily Advertiser on September 19, 1796. It began with Washington explaining why he would not seek a third term as president and went on to caution against three dangers that threatened to destroy the Union: regionalism, partisanship, and foreign entanglements.
Following today’s reading of the address, the Senate returned to consideration of nominations and on Tuesday is expected to take up two abortion-related bills that will not be considered by the House. There will be no votes Wednesday or Thursday morning as Senate Democrats will be attending a retreat in Baltimore from 8 a.m. until 9:15 p.m. on Wednesday and from 8 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. on Thursday.
House Floor. The House returns from the Presidents’ Day recess tomorrow. Among the bills on its schedule is the “Protecting American Lungs and Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2019,” which is aimed at curbing the use of vaping devices. The legislation is not expected to pass in the Senate.
Highway Bill. On July 30, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved legislation that its sponsors touted as the largest highway bill ever – a five-year, $287-billion measure to help repair the nation’s highways and bridges. On Tuesday, the Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing to examine what public transit provisions should be added to the transportation package. At some point, the Senate Finance Committee will weigh in on how to cover the bill’s cost.
While money that goes into the Highway Trust Fund from the federal gasoline tax will cover part of the cost, an additional $100 billion over five years may be needed to fully fund the measure. Republican Senators are reportedly asking for more information on three possible options: a new fee on electric vehicles and possibly natural gas vehicles, a vehicle-miles-traveled tax on large commercial trucks, and indexing for inflation the federal gasoline and diesel taxes, which haven’t been raised since 1993.
Appropriations. House appropriations subcommittees are tentatively planning to mark up their FY 2021 spending bills in late April and mid-May, clearing the way for full committee mark-up sessions from mid- to late May, with the goal of passing the various bills before the Fourth of July recess. This will be the last round of bills to be considered under the chairmanship of Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who is retiring. Although Lowey’s successor as the top Democrat on the panel won’t be decided until after the November elections, jockeying for the post has already begun.
According to articles in Politico and Roll Call, three Democrats competing for the gavel (if Democrats retain the majority) have stepped up their outreach to fellow members. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who has served on the committee for 27 years and is a close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is said to be the frontrunner, but others in the race are Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), the longest serving member of the committee, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), former chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Committee Action of Note
South Carolina. On Tuesday night, seven Democratic presidential candidates will be in Charleston, S.C. for the latest debate, and on Saturday, South Carolina Democratic voters will choose among six of them. Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg qualified for the debate but has opted to skip South Carolina and the preceding primaries to focus on Super Tuesday. According to a CBS News poll, former Vice President Joe Biden continues to lead in South Carolina, but his advantage has narrowed considerably since the fall when he led by 28 points. The new poll shows Biden at 28%; Sanders, 23%; Steyer, 18%; Warren, 12%; Buttigieg, 10%; and Klobuchar, 4%.
Campaign Spending. The New York Times reports that by the end of January, Mike Bloomberg had spent $409 million on his presidential campaign, more than what four other leading candidates — Sanders, Biden, Warren, and Buttigieg — had spent combined since they started running. Tom Steyer was second in spending, at $254 million. Among the candidates who are relying on donors to fund their campaigns, Bernie Sanders had the most money on hand entering February with $16.8 million, followed by Biden, $7.1 million; Buttigieg, $6.6 million; Klobuchar, $2.9 million; and Warren, $2.3 million.
Alabama Senate Race. In the Republican primary to determine who will face Democratic incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, former Senator and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a narrow lead. In a poll commissioned for the Alabama Daily News, Sessions is at 31%, followed closely by former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville at 29%, current Rep. Bradley Byrne at 17%, and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore at 5%. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote in the March 3 primary, a runoff will be held March 31.