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Federal Legislative Update: Week of November 15, 2021

Congressional Outlook

The House and Senate are in session this week.

Today at 3pm ET, President Joe Biden signed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA; H.R. 3684) into law, where both he and Vice President Kamala Harris gave remarks. Regarding the implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure plan, President Biden named former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu as senior advisor responsible for coordinating the implementation of the IIJA. Landrieu will also serve alongside National Economic Council Director Brian Deese as co-chair of the new Infrastructure Implementation Task Force, which “will be committed to break down barriers and drive implementation of infrastructure investments across all levels of government to realize the President’s vision of rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure and positioning the U.S. to compete and win in the 21st century.”

The House will pivot from the enactment of the IIJA and continue negotiations on the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better (BBB) Act (H.R. 5376). Moderate Democrats want to see a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score on the reconciliation bill before agreeing to vote for it. This group of 5 members has committed to voting for the bill if the CBO’s scoring remains “consistent with the toplines for revenues and investments” originally outlined by the White House. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said she “expects 3 additional reports by Monday,” adding to the 6 committees already scored by the CBO, making good on the request for the scores on all 13 committee sections of the bill. Those estimates included $2 trillion in net spending with offsets of $2.15 trillion in tax revenue and savings. The CBO announced on Monday that it will publish the complete cost estimate for the BBB Act by the end of the day on Friday, November 19. On the other side of the House Democratic Caucus negotiations, progressives have stuck to their demands for a vote on the bill this week, regardless of the status of the CBO score Democrats may be forced to pass a new rule on the BBB Act, due to the “Byrd rule” and possible privilege concerns for the reconciliation package. These procedures can only happen after the CBO is finished scoring the bill, which could lead to a weekend vote before Congress breaks for the Thanksgiving holiday.

The House will also consider 18 bills under suspension of the rules, including the Senate-passed Hire Veteran Health Heroes Act of 2021 (S. 894), which requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to identify members of the Armed Forces with health care backgrounds and refer them for occupations of employment once separated from service. The BBB Act is also listed for possible consideration. Regarding House committee hearings this week, the House Agriculture Committee will meet on “Renewable Economy in Rural America”; the House Small Business Committee will hold a hearing on “the opportunities challenges that exist for small businesses following the pandemic threats, consumer data, and the financial system”; and the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on “Supply Chain Solutions for a Clean Energy Economy.”

On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sent a Dear Colleague letter, where he identified the legislative agenda for the remainder of the calendar year. The items highlighted were the BBB Act, the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 National Defense Authorization (NDAA) Act, a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the federal government past December 3, 2021, and the possibility of FY 2022 Appropriations. On the BBB Act, Leader Schumer said, “we must deliver on our commitments by passing the BBB Act,” this comment comes as the Senate is still working to resolve disputes over Medicare spending, taxes, paid family leave, immigration, and the bills’ top-line. Missing from the remarks was a timetable for a vote on the social spending bill. The Senate will also aim to pass the defense authorization bill (S. 2792) this week, which would result in service member pay increases, require women to register for Selective Service, and increase parental leave to 12 weeks for all servicemembers, among other provisions. The NDAA process has seen significant bipartisan support for more than 60 years and many do not see an end to that practice. Regarding government funding, Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) has mentioned a CR lasting as late as “February or March 2022” as a negotiation ploy to add more defense spending into the appropriations process. With government funding set to run out in 18 days, Congress will have just four legislative days to pass a CR when both chambers return to Washington from the holiday recess on Tuesday, November 30.

Senate committees will hold various hearings including: the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s hearing on the nomination of Martha Williams to be Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee’s hearing on the Disaster Assistance for Rural Communities Act’s (S. 1617) mitigation program of the Small Business Administration; and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee’s hearing on “the road ahead for the COVID-19 response and next steps.” The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will also vote on Christopher Coes to be an Assistant Secretary of Transportation Policy.

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