Legislative / Policy Update
Senate. The Senate is in session through Thursday, July 2, and then will recess for two weeks, returning July 20. This week, the Senate is continuing work on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moved to the floor last week after Wednesday’s vote to proceed to the police reform bill failed to reach the 60-vote threshold, 55-45. More than 500 amendments to the NDAA measure have been filed, and committee leaders are working to decide which amendments will be included in a manager’s package. A vote on final passage could come the week of July 20.
House. It’s Infrastructure Week in the House…at least for three days. The House will spend Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday debating a $1.5-trillion, five-year package that includes not only $500 billion in surface transportation funding but also investments in broadband, affordable housing, school infrastructure, clean energy, clean water, and the postal service. More than 300 amendments have been filed, and the House Rules Committee will decide today which amendments can be considered on the floor.
Before moving to infrastructure tomorrow, the House this evening voted 234-179 to pass legislation designed to expand the Affordable Care Act. The Republican-controlled Senate has no plans to take up the bill. Among other bills the House will vote on today is a measure to help renters and homeowners during the pandemic. The provisions were originally included in the House-passed Heroes Act, which the Senate has not taken up.
For the rest of the month, the House schedule calls for “committee work days” the weeks of July 6 and 13, with floor votes the weeks of July 20 and 27. Because a public health emergency is still in effect, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today announced that voting by proxy will continue until August 18.
Next Coronavirus Package. For many Congress-watchers, the questions of the day are, “Will Senate Majority Leader McConnell unveil another package of coronavirus-related legislation when the Senate returns the week of July 20?” and “Can an agreement be reached with the House by the end of July?”
McConnell has said the $3-trillion, House-passed Heroes Act is a non-starter in the Senate, and he is waiting to see the economic ramifications of already enacted legislation before moving another bill. He has made it clear that another package would have to include some form of liability protection for businesses and schools during the pandemic. Democrats will no doubt demand something in return for agreeing to liability language, such as additional financial aid for state and local governments.
Given McConnell’s reluctance to move forward, there is speculation that a deal won’t come together until after the August recess. Others point out that political pressure to address the unemployment insurance issue could be a driving factor for action by the end of next month. The CARES Act provided an extra $600 in weekly unemployment insurance benefits, but that additional amount expires July 31. The Heroes Act would extend the extra benefit through January 2021, but the White House and Congressional Republicans oppose extending the full bonus amount. However, Senate Republicans could be receptive to a lower amount and they are also looking at a bonus in the neighborhood of $450 a week for unemployed workers returning to work.
While the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate today wrote McConnell calling for immediate “bipartisan, bicameral negotiations,” McConnell is keeping his plans close to the vest, and answers to questions about this latest round of coronavirus legislation won’t be known until the Senate returns from its Independence Day recess.
House Oversight. The Republican Steering Committee today chose Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) to be the new Ranking Member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. Comer will succeed Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who resigned from the House to be the President’s chief of staff. Meadows took over at Oversight in February from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who became the Ranking Member on the Judiciary Committee after Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) announced he was running for the Senate. In Meadows’ absence, Jordan has been serving as Ranking Member of Oversight.
Meanwhile, the chair of the Oversight Committee, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), is in a dead-heat battle with challenger Suraj Patel, following last Tuesday’s primary. The final result awaits the counting of more than 30,000 mail-in ballots.
Committee Action of Note:
Elections. Colorado, Oklahoma, and Utah will hold primary elections tomorrow. Colorado Democrats will choose who will face Senator Cory Gardner in November – former Governor John Hickenlooper or former State House Speaker Andrew Romanoff. In Oklahoma, Republicans will decide who will go against Rep. Kendra Horn, one of the GOP’s target seats to win back this cycle. And in Utah, the four-way Republican primary for Governor has been close since the beginning of the campaign between the two frontrunners, former Governor Jon Huntsman and Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox.
Convention Planning. With less than 50 days until the Democratic Convention, the DNC and the Biden campaign announced last week that all convention business will be held virtually. Vice President Biden is still planning to travel to Milwaukee to accept the nomination at the Wisconsin Center, where attendees will be capped at 1,000 people. Delegates are encouraged to stay home and participate in satellite conventions that will be held across the country. The Trump campaign is also rethinking its convention plans in Jacksonville, Fla. and managing expectations after the lower-than-expected turnout at the President’s rally in Tulsa.
Veepstakes. Of the women Vice President Biden is considering for his running mate, seven seem to be the most seriously considered, according to the New York Times – Senators Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.); Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.); Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; former U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice; and New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. Earlier this month, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) withdrew her name from consideration, saying Biden should nominate a woman of color as his running mate.