Congress is in recess until January 2022, with the Senate returning to Washington on January 3 and the House returning on January 10. In the last few weeks, Congress has averted a federal government shutdown, raised the debt limit, and passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Congress will have several major action items waiting upon their return, most notably consideration of the Build Back Better (BBB) Act and voting rights legislation. The Senate will continue to work behind closed doors on the social spending and climate legislation following Senator Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) vow to vote no on the current version of the BBB Act.
On Sunday, Senator Manchin, who will likely serve as the deciding vote on the fate of the BBB Act, shared his decision on “Fox News Sunday” saying, “I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation, I can’t get there.” Manchin’s unwillingness to support the spending bill follows months of negotiations and House passage of their version of the bill (H.R. 5376) by a vote of 220-213 on November 19. Given the 50-50 Senate, Senator Manchin has been a prominent voice in the negotiations over the bill and has continually citied hesitancies throughout the process on the $1.75 trillion package, no bigger than his concerns over inflation that could potentially result from the legislation. After the announcement, lawmakers sounded off about the hiccup in the BBB Act negotiations. In a statement from White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, she called Manchin’s comments “at odds with his discussions this week with the President.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who originally set a goal of Christmas for passage of the bill, wrote in his Dear Colleague letter that no delay “will deter us from continuing to try to find a way forward. […] we are going to vote on a revised version of the House-passed Build Back Better Act – and we will keep voting on it until we get something done.” Schumer will move forward on a vote on the bill “very early in the new year” and if Sen. Manchin holds to his word of a no vote, lawmakers will be forced to work through changes. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in a letter of her own, “Build Back Better is a strong cost-cutting, inflation-fighting package: slashing the burdensome costs of health care, child care, family care, energy and so much more.” Moving forward, the Child Tax Credit will expire on December 31, 2021, and is at risk of being eliminated if not included in BBB legislation. Other key provisions lawmakers will argue include paid family leave, the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction, climate change, and Medicare/Medicaid expansion.
Regarding voting rights legislation, the landscape is much different than the reconciliation bill, but seemingly just as challenging. Senate Democrats have not acted to remove the filibuster for voting rights legislation; the current 60-vote threshold for advancing this legislation could be lowered to a simple 51-vote majority. Currently, all 50 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus support the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021 (H.R. 4), which passed the House in late August, and the Freedom to Vote Act (S. 2747), however, Senate Democrats would currently need at least 10 Republican Senators to vote in favor of advancing the bill for it to pass. The Freedom to Vote Act would require states to have mail-in voting and automatic and same-day voter registration and would ban partisan gerrymandering and undisclosed donations in elections. H.R. 4 would reauthorize sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Majority Leader Schumer continued in his Dear Colleague letter saying the Senate would consider the voting rights legislation in January, with a potential change to voting procedure “if Senate Republicans continue to abuse the filibuster.” This would only occur, however, at the convincing of moderate Senators Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who have thus far been opposed to any modification of the filibuster. President Joe Biden said on Friday, “we’re going to keep up the fight until we get it done,” in reference to passing meaningful federal voting rights legislation.
Congress will face these legislative challenges and more including funding the federal government into February when returning in 2022. The Ferguson Group wishes you and your family a safe and happy holidays and New Year. We will return to publish the next “Legislative Update” on Monday, January 3rd.
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