The House and Senate are in session this week. With both chambers returning to Washington, two things remain abundantly clear: many items still remain on the legislative agenda (the Build Back Better (BBB) Act, full FY 2022 government funding, voting rights legislation, and more) and questions still linger regarding how all these items will get accomplished.
With the BBB Act negotiations stalled, Congress has pivoted to other legislative issues. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has vowed to bring voting rights legislation to a floor vote by January 17. Senate Republicans have maintained that they will block any new election standards from advancing, at which point Senator Schumer will go forward with his plan to attempt to change the Senate filibuster rules. The specific bills up for consideration are the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021 (S. 4) and the Freedom to Vote Act of 2021 (S. 2747). Another factor at play for Leader Schumer is opposition from senators within his own party, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who are opponents of making changes to the Senate’s rules that would allow consideration and/or passage of voting rights legislation by a simple majority vote. "If Senate Republicans continue to abuse the filibuster to prevent this body from acting, then I would plead with the Senate—particularly my colleagues on this side of the aisle—to adapt. And we must adapt for the sake of our democracy," Senator Schumer said during a speech last Friday. This Tuesday, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will speak on voting rights legislation in Georgia, with the hope of building public support around the issue.
In an interview on Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that she believes there is an opportunity to add COVID-19 relief aid to legislation to fund the government for FY22. “I believe that left to their own devices, the appropriators can get the job done,” Pelosi said about adding additional funding for emergency relief. Currently, the top four Congressional leaders have not agreed on the contents of an omnibus spending bill, including a top-line number. A stopgap measure to fund the government is set to expire on Friday, February 18. This, along with a delay on the BBB Act, has opened the window for negotiations on an omnibus spending package. “Whether we do BBB or not, we have to have an omnibus. And I think we can have it before next month,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Pat Leahy (D-VT). Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) stated “February 18 is a little over a month from now. So, we’re ready to talk.” This comes as many believe the Biden Administration will attempt to release its Fiscal Year 2023 budget sometime in March. The White House has an annual deadline of the first Monday in February (i.e., February 7, 2022) to release a fiscal year budget, a deadline which is often missed.
The House will vote on the NASA Enhanced Use Leasing Extension Act of 2021 (H.R. 5746), which would extend NASA’s authority to lease its properties through March 31, 2022. Additionally, the House will vote on the Guard and Reserve GI Bill Parity Act of 2021 (H.R. 1836), which allows National Guard and Reserve members to count training toward their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits and may also vote on the Ensuring Veterans’ Smooth Transition (EVEST) Act (H.R. 4673), which requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to automatically enroll veterans into the VA health care system.
This week, the Senate will vote on the nominations of Alan Davidson to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information; Amitabha Bose to be Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration; and Gabriel Sanchez and Holly Thomas to be U.S. Circuit Court Judges for the Ninth Circuit. The Senate will also vote on the Protecting Europe's Energy Security Implementation Act (S. 3436), which imposes sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline transporting gas from Russia to Germany. This vote is part of a deal between Leader Schumer and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) which requires the Senate to vote on his bill this week in return for him dropping his opposition to using the unanimous consent process to confirm some three dozen noncontroversial ambassadors and senior State Department officials nominated by President Biden.
For the remainder of the week, several House committee hearings will be held including: an Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense hearing on “Impact of Continuing Resolutions on the Department of Defense”; a Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on “Proposals for a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2022”; and an Agriculture Committee hearing on “Implications of Electric Vehicle Investments for Agriculture and Rural America.” Senate committees will also hold several hearings including: an Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on “WRDA Oversight: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Implementation of Water Infrastructure Projects and Programs”; a Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on “Addressing New Variants: A Federal Perspective on the COVID-19 Response”; and a Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee nomination hearing for Jerome Powell to be Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.
Voters in Florida’s 20th Congressional District head to the polls on Tuesday to vote in a special election to fill the House seat of the late Representative Alcee Hastings, who died on April 6, 2021 after serving in the chamber for more than 28 years. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, who won the November 2, 2021 special Democratic FL-20 primary election by five votes over her nearest opponent, is heavily favored to win the special election, in a district President Biden won by 55 percentage points in 2020. With Cherfilus-McCormick’s expected victory, Democrats will increase their House majority later this week from 221 seats to 222 seats (with Republicans holding 212 seats and one vacancy [in California’s 22nd Congressional District]).