Legislative / Policy Update
Senate Floor. The Senate this week will focus on confirming various nominees to federal posts, many of whom will be considered under new rules limiting debate. On Wednesday, April 3, the Senate voted to change the rules governing debate for certain executive branch and judicial nominees. There were two separate votes and the tally each time was 51-48, with Republican Senators Susan Collins and Mike Lee siding with the Democrats to keep the current rules that provide for 30 hours of debate following cloture. The new rules, which reduce the 30-hour limit to two hours, were approved under the so-called “nuclear option,” allowing the rules to be changed with only a simple majority rather than 60 votes. After this week, the Senate will recess for two weeks, until April 29.
House Floor. This will be a short week in the House, with the last vote predicted to be 3 p.m. Wednesday. The House will then recess until April 29. Three bills of note will be on the agenda this week — IRS reform, net neutrality, and a measure to raise the spending caps for FY 2020 and 2021. The budget cap bill was approved by the Budget Committee April 3 on a narrow 19-17 vote, with three Democrats joining all Republicans, albeit for different reasons, in voting against the proposal by Budget Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.). Given the slim margin of support, Yarmuth is said to be looking at adding more money for nondefense spending to the bill, which he introduced in lieu of a formal FY 2020 budget resolution. The House Rules Committee is meeting this evening to decide which amendments can be offered on the floor.
For FY 2020, the bill adds $88 billion each to the current law caps for defense and nondefense spending. It sets the nondefense spending caps for FY 2020 at $631 billion, an increase of $34 billion over FY 2019. In contrast, the cap would limit spending to $542 billion. For defense, the new limit would be $733 billion for FY 2020, an increase of $17 billion over FY 2019’s funding of $716 billion. Both the FY ’19 and ’20 totals include $69 billion in spending from the Overseas Contingency Operations fund. The defense cap for FY 2020, which does not take into account any OCO spending, is $576 billion. By comparison, President Trump’s budget adheres to the cap of $576 billion but then adds $174 billion in OCO money, for a total of $750 billion.
That’s a lot of numbers to digest, so here’s what to keep in mind: Whatever spending levels are approved by the House will provide the Appropriations Committee with top-line numbers that can be divvied up among all the appropriations bills. The appropriations subcommittees can then begin to move bills, but everyone knows that FY 2020 measures won’t be enacted until Congress and the President address the budget caps. Yarmuth’s bill is just the Democrats’ opening bid in that process. Democrats would like negotiations on the caps to begin as soon as possible, but President Trump has given no signal that he is ready to engage in talks to change the caps.
House Democratic Retreat. With the House adjourning Wednesday afternoon, Democrats will get away to Leesburg, Va., just west of Washington, for their annual retreat. The April 10-12 event, whose theme is “100 Days In: Fighting for the People,” was postponed from February because of the government shutdown. In one of many sessions focused on the economy, Federal Reserve Board Chair Jay Powell will speak to the group.
Other speakers include former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick; Bernard Tyson, CEO of Kaiser Permanente; former acting CMS Administrator Andy Slavitt; and leaders of several labor unions – Mary Kay Henry, International President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU); Lonnie Stephenson, International President of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW); Lee Saunders, President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); and Sara Nelson, International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO. Also on the agenda is the husband-and-wife team of singer John Legend and model/author Chrissy Teigen. In 2016, Legend launched #FREEAMERICA to advocate for criminal justice reform.
Committee Action of Note:
Democratic Field. Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan officially announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President on Thursday. Ryan, who has served in Congress since 2003, touted his ability to talk to working-class people, “to get elected in working-class districts,” and to reach the blue-collar workers who supported President Trump in 2016. He cited the shifting energy economy towards greener energy sources and the need for the U.S. to be at the manufacturing forefront of new technologies.
Still another candidate, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, intended to announce his plans to run for president, but his recent diagnosis of prostate cancer has delayed the announcement. In an interview with the Colorado Independent, Bennet disclosed that he plans to announce his decision after receiving treatment over the April congressional recess. He would be the 18th big-name candidate and the seventh Senator to enter the race for the Democratic nomination.
Early Q1 Fundraising Numbers. Fundraising numbers are slowly trickling in as the first quarter ended last week. Senator Bernie Sanders tops the announced fundraising so far at $18 million, followed by Senator Kamala Harris at $12 million, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke with $9.4 million, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg with $7 million. Those are the only candidates who have disclosed their totals to date, but the official numbers for all candidates will be available next week, which should give us a better idea of where the money is coming from, who has raised the most per day, and how well the Democratic focus of small-dollar donations is working. Not surprisingly, the totals tend to be higher for those who announced their candidacies earlier in the quarter versus those who announced more recently.
Polling. The field of Democrats who have announced or are expected to announce sits around 25 candidates. Current polls have not been able to accurately capture the entire field, but Morning Consult is running a tracking poll of primary voters that shows interesting data points about the field of candidates each week, including voter preference, second choice preference, name recognition, and favorability.
Congressional Watch. The Alabama Senate election will be a key race in 2020. Democrat Doug Jones won the 2017 special election to fill the seat after Jeff Sessions became Attorney General in the Trump Administration. Jones’ competition for the seat in 2020 is expected to come from a deep Republican primary field. Rep. Bradley Byrne joined the race earlier in the year, while former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville announced over the weekend that he would be running for the seat. The race has also been in the news after reports circulated that Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz might run for the seat since Alabama has only a one-day residency requirement. On Friday, Gaetz was asked if he was considering the Alabama race, and he replied, “no.”