JULY 23, 2021
The Infrastructure Debate Nears the Finish Line, For Now
Plus, a look at the impacts of the COVID-19 Delta variant on Washington and beyond
With next week being the last Congress is scheduled to be in session before the August recess, much remains unfinished, including infrastructure and police reform, with other issues on the horizon, including combatting the newest round of COVID-19 outbreaks. As Congressional leadership threatens to cut the recess short, elected officials seem to be ratcheting up their pace in an effort to leave town on time.
Here’s What You Might Have Missed
Infrastructure Negotiations Hit the Home Stretch; Democrats Have a “Go At It Alone” Backup Plan. On Wednesday, Senate Republicans unanimously voted to block debate from starting on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package. This outcome was expected – even Republicans elbow-deep in negotiations opposed voting to open debate on a bill that still isn’t completely drafted with “pay-fors” that have not yet been “scored” by the Congressional Budget Office. It is noteworthy, however, that Schumer kept the entire Democratic Caucus together on the the procedural vote, including two of the key votes for a future reconciliation package – Sens. Manchin (D-WV) and Sinema (D-AZ).
Before Wednesday’s vote, 11 Republican Senators sent a letter to Sen. Schumer to request he delay the vote until Monday, when they think they’ll have enough GOP votes to proceed on the package. After the failed vote, a bipartisan group of 22 Senators who are working on the bill released a statement that “significant” progress is being made. However, a new wrinkle has been added to the fray – funding for public transit, which Democrats claim Republicans want to cut. Ultimately, in the event the bipartisan negotiators can’t strike a deal, Democrats have a backup plan. Axios reported that Democrats involved in drafting the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill would plan to add $600 billion in “hard” infrastructure to the bigger measure – bringing the total package up to $4.1 trillion.
House leadership has also begun making noise, despite Speaker Pelosi’s public deference to Majority Leader Schumer. Yesterday, Speaker Pelosi noted that the House will not consider a bipartisan infrastructure bill until a Democrats-only bill passes the Senate. The “hot infrastructure summer” continues, and the path forward remains murky.
Senate Armed Services Committee Votes to Increase Defense Budget Authorization. Yesterday, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) voted to bump up the topline figure of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by $25 billion over the President’s request of $715 billion. While there is still a long way to go before the final amount is settled, this vote is an interesting development in the tug-o-war over domestic vs. military spending.
COVID-19 Cases Spike Nationwide. COVID-19 cases are up 55% over the past week, and new cases have increased in 46 states. While this has clearly caused alarm, it has demonstrated the success of the vaccines: 97% of those hospitalized and 99% of those who die from the virus, respectively, were not vaccinated. Meanwhile, the Delta variant seems to be driving increased vaccination numbers, with Americans in Florida, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Missouri – the five states with the highest infection rates – now getting vaccinated on a daily basis a rate that is higher than the national average. This morning, Philadelphia became the most recent city to advise everyone, even those already vaccinated, to wear masks indoors.
Pelosi Rejects McCarthy’s Picks for January 6th Commission. In what Republicans are calling an “unprecedented” move, Speaker Pelosi rejected two of Minority Leader McCarthy’s five picks for the commission to examine the events of January 6. In response, McCarthy pulled all the Republicans off the commission. Pelosi has already appointed one Republican, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), to the commission, and is considering appointing another: Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL).
Here’s What You Should Be Watching
The Impacts of the COVID-19 Delta Variant on Congress. As we discuss above, the Delta variant outbreaks are impacting broader American life. However, there are direct impacts in Washington, too. Politico has reported that Congress’ Attending Physician, Brian Monahan, has not yet called for re-imposing the masking rule in Congress – however, he has circulated a memo underscoring the severity of the Delta variant. “Proxy voting” privileges have also been extended until mid-August, and it seems as if some version of remote hearings will continue for the foreseeable future, possibly indefinitely. We are keeping an eye on how the variant could impact regular business in Washington.
The Impact of Police Reform on the 2022 Midterms. As we have reported recently, police reform negotiations seem to have stalled, though both Senators leading the negotiations – Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Tim Scott (R-SC) – insist otherwise. While the question on police reform as a policy matter is important, there are significant political implications as a result of increased crime nationwide as well. A Morning Consult poll from last week found that an eye-popping 94% of registered voters consider violent crime a major or minor issue. As the 2022 cycle starts to heat up, with more and more challengers popping up every day, expect to hear a lot about crime & public safety right up until next November.