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Legislative Update

White House. President Biden will deliver a prime-time speech on Thursday, the one-year anniversary of the coronavirus emergency declaration.

Senate. The Senate this week is looking to hold confirmation votes on Marcia Fudge as HUD Secretary, Merrick Garland as Attorney General, and Michael Regan to head EPA. If there’s time on the floor schedule, the Senate could also begin consideration of the nomination of Xavier Becerra as HHS Secretary. Because the March 3 vote in the Finance Committee on Becerra’s nomination was 14-14, there must be a floor vote to discharge the nomination from the committee. Under the power-sharing agreement, debate on the discharge motion is limited to four hours, evenly divided between the parties. A simple majority will be needed to approve both the discharge motion and the nomination itself.

House. The House plans to vote Tuesday on the $1.9 trillion reconciliation bill approved by the Senate, although there is speculation that the final vote could slip to Wednesday.

Reconciliation. On Saturday, March 6, the Senate voted 50-49 to approve H.R. 1319, the American Rescue Plan. Vice President Harris was not needed to break a tie on passage due to the absence of Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), who had flown home for the funeral of his father-in-law. Because the Senate made changes to the House-passed bill, the measure now goes back to the House for final passage.

The most notable difference between the two bills is that the Senate measure does not include an increase in the minimum wage. It also reduces the House’s $400 in additional weekly unemployment benefits to $300, extends those benefits through Sept. 6 instead of Aug. 29, and makes the first $10,200 in 2020 unemployment benefits tax free for certain taxpayers.

Senate consideration of the measure had a little bit of everything, starting with Vice President Harris breaking a 50-50 tie on Thursday so that the Senate could take up the bill. Before debate could begin, though, Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) requested that the clerks read every word of the 628-page proposal, an exercise that lasted almost 11 hours, from 3:21 p.m. on March 4 until 2:05 a.m. on March 5.

As soon as the reading was completed, Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) offered a unanimous consent request that, among other things, provided for a total of three hours of debate on the bill, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. Since no Republicans were in the chamber to object, the request was approved, thereby dramatically cutting back on the 20 hours of debate allowed under the budget rules.

After the Senate reconvened at 9 a.m. on Friday, Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) offered an amendment to phase in an increase in the minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour to $15 in 2025. The amendment, which needed 60 votes to waive the Budget Act and overcome a point of order, failed 42-58, with eight Democrats joining all 50 Republicans in opposition. The vote, which began at 11:03 a.m., was not gaveled to a close until 10:53 p.m., 11 hours and 50 minutes after it began, the longest vote in modern Senate history.

During that extended period, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats engaged in behind-the-scenes negotiations with Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) over the provisions dealing with unemployment benefits. Once an agreement was reached, the Senate moved to the vote-a-rama, defeating about 30 Republican amendments on party-line votes of 50-49 since Senator Sullivan was not present.

One Republican amendment that was approved was a proposal by Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) that saw Senator Manchin joining with the 49 Republicans to approve language extending the $300 in weekly extra unemployment benefits through July 18. However, the Portman proposal was subsequently superseded by a Democratic amendment reflecting the Sept. 6 date that was in the deal worked out with Senator Manchin. Finally, at 12:24 p.m. on Saturday, the Senate concluded its final 50-49 vote and sent the package back to the House.

Committee Action of Note:

  • Tuesday, March 9:
    • House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Hearing: FDA’s Foreign Drug Inspections Program.
    • House Appropriations House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Hearing: The Rural Economy.
    • Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine the COVID-19 response, focusing on an update from the frontlines.
    • Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing to examine GameStop, Robinhood, and the state of retail investing.
    • House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Hearing: “Modernizing Energy Development Laws for the Benefit of Taxpayers, Communities, and the Environment.”
  • Wednesday, March 10:
    • Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs business meeting to consider the nomination of Shalanda D. Young to be Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget.
    • House Small Business Committee Hearing: The Next Steps for the Paycheck Protection Program.
    • House Financial Services Committee Hearing: Justice for All: Achieving Racial Equity Through Fair Access to Housing and Financial Services.
    • Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing to examine climate change in the electricity sector and fostering economic growth.
    • Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing to examine the nomination of Donet Graves, Jr. to be Deputy Secretary of Commerce.
    • House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Hearing: “Full Steam Ahead for Rail: Why Rail is More Relevant Than Ever for Economic and Environmental Progress.”
    • House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing: Secretary of State Blinken: The Biden Administration's Priorities for U.S. Foreign Policy.
    • House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies Hearing: Innovation and Investment in Water Resources Infrastructure.
    • Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee business meeting to consider the subcommittees for the 117th Congress, and the nominations of Gary Gensler to be a Member of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Rohit Chopra to be Director, Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection.
  • Thursday, March 11:
    • House Financial Services Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions Hearing: Slipping Through the Cracks: Policy Options to Help America’s Consumer During the Pandemic.
    • Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing to examine the reliability, resiliency, and affordability of electric service in the United States amid the changing energy mix and extreme weather events.
    • Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights hearing to examine competition policy for the 21st Century, focusing on the case for antitrust reform.
    • Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee hearing to examine farmers and foresters, focusing on opportunities to lead in tackling climate change.
    • House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protections Hearing: Clearing the Air: Science-Based Strategies to Protect Workers from COVID-19 Infections.
    • House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures Hearing: Tax Tools to Help Local Governments.
    • House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Hearing: Building Back Better: Building Resilience for the Economy, Climate, and Ecosystems.
  • Friday, March 12:
    • House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Hearing: The Science Behind Impacts of the Climate Crisis.

Political Update

Senate Retirements. Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said today that he won’t seek reelection next year, becoming the fifth GOP senator to announce retirement plans.

Texas Special Election. The May 1 special election to fill the seat of the late Rep. Ron Wright (R-Tex.) will see 23 candidates on the ballot – 11 Republicans (including Wright’s widow), 10 Democrats, one Libertarian, and one Independent. If no one receives over 50% of the vote, there will be a runoff between the top two vote-getters.

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