Legislative / Policy Update
House Floor. The House plans to approve two measures of note -- the “No Ban Act” that would overturn President Trump’s travel ban on persons from several mostly Muslim countries, and a Senate-passed resolution that limits the President’s military authority to strike Iran. Assuming both measures clear the House, the Senate won’t take up the travel ban bill, and the President will veto the war powers resolution (and the veto will be upheld).
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is hoping the House will also consider an extension of portions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that expire March 15. Talks between Hoyer, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and others are ongoing, but there is speculation that if a deal cannot be reached soon, a short-term extension will be necessary.
Next week both the House and Senate will be in recess. There have been rumors that because of the coronavirus, Congress would extend the recess by several weeks; however, Hoyer said today, “At this point, we don’t have any advice that we ought to shut down….To the extent that we can be here, we think that’s good policy.”
Senate Floor. The Senate this week is looking to pass the American Energy Innovation Act (AEIA), a package of some 50 bills addressing various energy technologies and energy efficiency measures. Senators have filed almost 200 amendments, leading to prolonged negotiations among Republican and Democratic players as to which amendments can be offered for floor votes.
Among the amendments drawing attention is a package of clean energy tax incentives offered by Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). If there were to be a floor vote on the Wyden proposal, the amendment would not clear a 60-vote parliamentary threshold. However, the effort to add tax provisions to a Senate energy bill has led to discussions of the bill being “blue-slipped.”
What is a Blue Slip? The Constitution provides that all revenue bills must begin in the House. If the Senate originates a revenue bill and sends it to the House, any member of the House can call up what is known as a “blue-slip resolution.” If the House adopts the resolution, which is printed on blue paper, the revenue bill is “respectfully returned” to the Senate.
You rarely hear of a bill being blue-slipped these days because the Senate, aware that the House will protect its prerogatives, has found ways to initiate tax legislation. For example, the Senate can simply take up a House-passed revenue bill, amend it by stripping the House’s original language and substituting its revenue bill, and then passing the amended House bill.
In the case of the energy bill, the Republican leadership does not support Democratic efforts to add tax provisions to the measure so Majority Leader McConnell has deliberately chosen to use a Senate-originated bill. While this would create a blue-slip problem if the Senate voted to approve the Wyden amendment, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has already made clear that the House doesn’t plan to take up the Senate measure and will instead pass its own version.
Coronavirus Package. Last week, the House and Senate passed an $8.3-billion coronavirus spending bill that the President signed on Friday, March 6. This week, Congressional leaders and Administration officials are looking at legislative options to address economic repercussions caused by the outbreak.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will meet this evening with key committee chairs to discuss a menu of options, while White House advisers will offer various options to the President this afternoon. The options in both cases are said to include instituting paid sick leave for certain workers. The Administration has invited Wall Street executives to a White House meeting on Wednesday to discuss the effect of the coronavirus on the economy.
Highway Bill Financing. Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said last week that there would be one less option on the table to help pay for a five-year $287-billion highway bill. Grassley said a vehicle-miles-traveled fee for large trucks is no longer under consideration. He and Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) will meet soon with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to discuss other options.
Super Tuesday II. Tomorrow’s Democratic presidential primaries in six states will account for 352 delegates, including 125 in Michigan. Other races will be in Washington (89 delegates), Missouri (68), Mississippi (36), Idaho (20), and North Dakota (14).
To Sit or Not to Sit. When Democratic presidential contenders Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders face off in a March 15 debate in Phoenix, the format will be different from the 10 previous debates. The Democratic National Committee is proposing a town-hall style event, with questions not only from the moderators but also from the audience. Sanders, however, is objecting to having the candidates seated behind desks, arguing that the candidates should stand.
According to Politico, Sanders and Hillary Clinton stood for each of their two-candidate debates in 2016, but Clinton and Barack Obama were seated for three of the four debates they had following the elimination of their other competitors in 2008.
Super Tuesday Congressional Races. In two tough primary races in Texas last Tuesday, incumbent House members prevailed, with Rep. Kay Granger (R) beating back a challenge from the right and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D) defeating an opponent from his left. Former Rep. Pete Sessions (R) faces a runoff on May 26 with Waco businesswoman Renee Swann.
In California, where the top two vote getters advance to the general election in November, a Democrat took the most votes in District 50, but former Rep. Darrell Issa (R) came in second and is favored to win the seat. In the 16th District, Rep. Jim Costa (D) is expected to win re-election against a Republican opponent after fending off a challenge from other Democrats.
In the Alabama Senate race, former Sen. Jeff Sessions will face former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville in a Republican runoff March 31 for the right to face Democratic Sen. Doug Jones.
Montana Senate Race. Gov. Steve Bullock announced today he will run in the June 2 Democratic primary race for Senate. Bullock, who is in his second term as governor and cannot run again because of term limits, is heavily favored to win the Democratic nomination, leading to a general election contest with Republican Sen. Steve Daines.
Committee Action of Note