This week: Congress starts summer sprint
Lawmakers are starting to return to Washington, D.C., for a weeks-long summer sprint with some of their biggest priorities hanging in the balance.
The Senate will return on Monday from a two-week July 4 recess. The House will return next week after a three-week break.
Democrats have two big priorities heading into the crucial summer session: Infrastructure and trying to find a path forward on voting rights, after a bill stalled last month in the Senate.
Democrats still need to work out major questions on the strategy for getting President Biden’s sweeping spending plan through Congress with razor-thin majorities and competing factions.
A bipartisan group of more than 20 senators are still working to turn their bipartisan framework, which would spend $1.2 trillion over eight years, into legislation amid skepticism that they’ll be able to find a way to convincingly pay for the bill. Meanwhile, Democrats are still haggling over a top-line figure for a separate, larger bill that they want to pass under reconciliation, which allows them to bypass the 60-vote filibuster in the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has vowed to take up both the bipartisan bill and a budget resolution that paves the way for the Democratic-only bill, likely later in the year, before the Senate leaves for a summer recess.
“As Senate Democrats prepare for the upcoming work period, we must approach our work with the same unity and urgency that we have embraced all year. … My intention for this work period is for the Senate to consider both the bipartisan infrastructure legislation and a budget resolution with reconciliation instructions, which is the first step for passing legislation through the reconciliation process,” Schumer wrote in a letter late last week to his caucus.
To get the bipartisan bill through the Senate, Biden and the group are going to have to win over nearly a dozen Republicans and balance demands from progressives who are wary of allowing the smaller bill to move without an “ironclad” guarantee from their moderate colleagues on the details of the larger Democratic bill.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hasn’t said if he will support the bipartisan plan, saying in Kentucky last week that he believes it needs to be “credibly” paid for.
“I think there’s a decent chance that may come together. All I’ve said is, I would like for it to be paid for,” he said.
Democrats are expected to get no GOP help to pass their second bill under reconciliation, meaning they will need total unity from their 50-member Senate caucus and near unity in the House.
Meanwhile, the party is under growing pressure from outside groups, as well as some members of the House, to figure out a way to break the stalemate on voting rights.
Democrats were able to put up 50 votes last month to advance a sweeping bill known as the For the People Act, after Schumer cut a deal with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to allow him to get an amendment vote on his narrower version of the bill.
A Senate Judiciary subcommittee is expected to hold a hearing this week on the Voting Rights Act and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee, will hold a hearing next week in Georgia on voting and election access.
Schumer also reiterated in his letter to the caucus that he reserves the right as majority leader to bring the For the People Act back up for a vote. But any election or voting legislation faces a buzzsaw in the Senate because of the legislative filibuster, which requires 60 votes for most legislation to pass.
Biden is under growing pressure to try to sway the holdouts on changing the legislative filibuster to at least support a carveout, warning if they don’t state-level laws will restrict access to the ballot for key voting groups.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told Politico that Biden should “endorse” the idea of creating a carveout to the filibuster specifically for legislation that applies to the Constitution.
Biden could “pick up the phone and tell [Sen.] Joe Manchin, ‘Hey, we should do a carveout,’ ” Clyburn said. “I don’t care whether he does it in a microphone or on the telephone — just do it.”
Capitol Police funding
Senators are at a stalemate over funding for the Capitol Police as it faces a cash squeeze.
The House passed a $1.9 billion emergency supplemental package in May that included roughly $44 million for Capitol Police, would also reimburse the National Guard and D.C. police for their work at the Capitol after the Jan. 6 attack and also includes funding to help “harden” the Capitol and start a Quick Reaction Force to help bolster the Capitol Police.
That bill stalled in the Senate amid Republican skepticism, but the funding crunch sparked new warning bells late last week amid reports that, without an influx of new money, the Capitol Police could be forced to enact furloughs. Sources told The Hill that the Capitol Police could shift around funding from other areas to prevent the furloughs.
Senate Republicans suggested they are open to a more narrow bill that focuses on funding for the National Guard and Capitol Police. The roughly $632 million proposal includes nearly $521 million to the National Guard, roughly $97 million for the Capitol Police and $15 million for the Architect of the Capitol.
“We should pass now what we all agree on: The Capitol Police and National Guard are running out of money, the clock is ticking, and we need to take care of them,” Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said in a statement.
Republicans would then return to the broader question of funding to help strengthen security measures around the Capitol once an assessment and plan about what steps need to be taken is complete around the Capitol complex, where the last layer of fencing that went up after the attack was taken down over the weekend.
But Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, indicated that he wants to go further and will release his proposal, previously made to Republicans, this week.
Leahy argued that the GOP plan didn’t adequately cover the resources needed to secure the Capitol, the cost of investigating and prosecuting the attack or reimburse agencies that assisted. He also signaled that he wants to tie an unrelated issue, special immigrant visas for Afghans who aided the U.S. military, into the bill.
“A violent insurrection happened. A pandemic happened. And the President announced the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. These events created urgent needs that must be met,” he said.
The Senate is poised to wade into the debate over repealing a 2002 war authorization passed for the Iraq War, as Congress ramps up its efforts to rein in the executive branch’s war authority.
The closed-door briefing, which is expected to focus on recent strikes in Iraq and Syria, comes after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee postponed an expected vote on a measure from Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) that would repeal the 1991 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force, which are both related to Iraq.
Republicans requested more information from the administration before the committee vote and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) agreed to schedule the briefing. The panel is still expected to vote later this month on the Kaine-Young resolution, which is expected to have enough support to pass out of committee.
The Senate will return this week with two nominations teed up for floor votes.
The Senate will take an initial vote on Monday evening on Uzra Zeya’s nomination to be an under secretary of State for civilian security, democracy and human rights.
Schumer has also teed up Julie Su’s nomination to be deputy secretary of Labor.
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