What will Congress do ahead of the midterms?
Congress went into its August recess on a hot streak of legislative wins, the majority of them in a bipartisan manner.
This summer, lawmakers passed the first gun safety reform bill in decades, a $280 bill boosting domestic chip manufacturing and competitiveness with China, a high-profile bill expanding health care for veterans, ratification of Finland and Sweden to NATO and the Inflation Reduction Act, the climate change, health care and tax measure and the crown jewel of his domestic agenda.
“None of these accomplishments were easy,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor Tuesday as the chamber was called back into order. “They demanded immense patience and persistence above all, but for anyone who thought Washington was broken, and couldn’t do big things, this democratic majority has shown that real change is possible.”
“Of course, the work isn’t done,” Schumer continued. “As we begin this short work period, we have several high priority items that demand our immediate attention.”
“We have a lot of work to do in the Senate to keep improving the lives of the American people,” the New York Democrat said. “In the coming weeks, let us continue with the same vigor, the same determination, the same persistence that has made this this one of the most productive Senate sessions the Senate has seen in a long, long time.”
With a little more than 60 days until the 2022 midterms — with a third of the Senate and control of the House up for grabs — lawmakers have plenty of work standing between them and the campaign trail.
Unless members of Congress take quick action to avert a government shutdown — four weeks, to be precise — funding will run out by Sept. 30.
In lieu of a bipartisan agreement on a larger omnibus spending bill, lawmakers are expected to pass a stopgap funding bill — better known as a continuing resolution — that will punt decisions about full-year funding until December, ahead of the end of the legislative session.
“This process, of course, needs to be bipartisan. Democrats are going to work in good faith to avoid even a hint of a shutdown,” Schumer said Tuesday. “And it is my expectation that our Republican colleagues will do the same.
That doesn’t mean coming to an agreement will be easy for lawmakers.
The White House last week called on Congress to approve $47 billion in emergency funding to provide further support to Ukraine in its war against Russia, fight the COVID-19 and monkeypox outbreaks, and respond to previous and future natural disasters.
The administration is requesting an additional $13.7 billion in Ukraine aid. That includes $7.2 billion for military support and to replenish Defense Department stocks and $4.5 billion to support Ukraine government operations.
“We’ve rallied the world to support the people of Ukraine as they defend their democracy, and we simply cannot allow that support for Ukraine to run dry,” an administration official told reporters last week.
The Biden administration also is renewing its request for $22.4 billion in emergency COVID-19 funding. It says the money is needed to accelerate research and development of next-generation vaccines and therapeutics to keep up with the ever-evolving virus and to support the global response.
The White House made a similar request earlier this year, warning that if Congress failed to approve the funding, it would hurt the federal government’s efforts to support vaccine development, threaten free vaccines, treatments and tests for Americans, and hinder global vaccination efforts. Driven by Republican opposition, Congress failed to approve the funding.
The White House also asked for $4.5 billion to mitigate the monkeypox outbreak, including for vaccines, medication, testing, and research and development of vaccines and rapid tests.
Separately, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin pushed for permitting reform — which will accelerate approvals for certain energy infrastructure products — as part of a stopgap funding bill, a condition of his support for the Inflation Reduction Act.
Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., brokered the accord about permitting reform, but some progressive Democrats and Republicans have expressed opposition to the effort.
The House of Representatives in July passed a bill to codify same-sex marriage, with 47 Republicans voting with all present House Democrats to enshrine marriage equality protections into law.
The bill — seemingly a rebuke to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion after Roe v. Wade was overturned in June — passed with wide bipartisan support in the House, giving advocates hope that it might enjoy similar support in the Senate.
So far, three Republican senators publicly backed the bill: Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who is retiring at the end of this term. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, a supporter of same-sex marriage, appears likely to favor the bill, and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., said he saw “no reason” to oppose the measure. Both lawmakers are up for re-election in November.
Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the first openly LGBT woman elected to the Senate, has been working with Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the first openly bisexual woman elected to the chamber, to rally additional Republican support for the bill.
The measure needs to win the backing of 10 Republican senators, along with that of all 50 Senate Democrats, in order to pass.
The Inflation Reduction Act, which aims to lower costs for Americans, in part, by reducing prescription drug costs, caps the price of insulin – a lifesaving drug for millions of people living with diabetes – at $35 per month for Medicare recipients.
A similar provision that would do the same for millions of Americans with private insurance was stripped from the bill after Republicans voted to strip the proposal out of the measure, despite seven Republicans joining Democrats in trying to keep it intact. Sixty votes were required to keep the provision in the bill.
Earlier this summer, Sens. Collins and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., introduced a proposal to cap the monthly, out-of-pocket cost of insulin at $35 – or 25% of the listed price – for individuals covered commercial insurance plans. It also attempts to incentivize drug makers to lower their prices by taking aim at the discounts and rebates given to pharmacy benefit managers and other middlemen, a move the senators hope will drive down the overall cost of insulin across the country.
Majority Leader Schumer pledged a vote to address the cost of insulin, but Collins has said that passing the Inflation Reduction Act makes their efforts more difficult.
Shaheen, who is up for re-election in November, told POLITICO that the insulin cap passed in the bill is “only the beginning” and said she believes that lawmakers “can build on that progress in the weeks ahead.”
“I’ll do everything in my power to get legislation on the Senate floor to finally bring relief to the millions of Americans relying on access to lifesaving insulin,” she told the outlet.
Jan. 6 committee and Electoral Count Act reform
As investigations into former President Donald Trump have heated up in recent weeks, the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol – which held high-profile hearings throughout the early part of the summer – has been relatively quiet.
That is all expected to change in the coming weeks, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a member of the panel, told Spectrum News.
“We want to finish the work this session,” Schiff said, adding that a final report of the committee’s findings could be expected “sometime before the end of the year.”
The committee’s license runs out at the end of this congressional term.
Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, another member of the panel, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that people can expect a report “certainly by the end of the year, because we’re like Cinderella at midnight.”
“Our license runs out at the end of the year, but under House Resolution 503, that’s a significant part of our responsibility, to report to the American people about how to prevent coups, insurrections, political violence and attacks on our democratic process going forward,” he added.
Even without such parameters, there was concern earlier this year that if Republicans took the House in the midterm elections, they would disband the committee anyway. One of the panel’s key members, vice chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., lost her Republican primary and will be out of Congress come January.
“We’re not really looking to have this governed by a political timetable,” Schiff explained. “We want to get our report done as soon as we can and have a sense of urgency about it.”
In recent weeks, the panel has asked for information from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, a conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Thomas.
Schiff did not say when we would see the committee again this fall, but did say they are working on the schedule now, and that more than one hearing could be on the way.
“I think we will certainly have a hearing or hearings on our recommendations. That is: what do we need to do to protect the country from this ever happening again,” he told Spectrum News.
“We may also have a hearing of the factual nature, like you’ve seen before, where we present new witnesses and new videotaped testimony, we will certainly be releasing new materials online from people.”
Separately, a group of Senate Democrats and Republicans earlier this summer announced an agreement on reform to the Electoral Count Act of 1887, which Trump and his allies sought to explot in an effort to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election.
The group of nine Republicans and seven Democrats unveiled their proposal for the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act, which contains two bills — the Electoral Count Reform Act, which would clarify ambiguous language in the Electoral Count Act of 1887, and the Presidential Transition Improvement Act, which seeks to promote the orderly transfer of power — after months of negotiations in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The Electoral Count Reform Act would, importantly, clarify that the role of the vice president in the electoral count is “solely ministerial” and clarifies that they don’t “have any power to solely determine, accept, reject, or otherwise adjudicate disputes over electors.”
The bill would also dramatically raise the threshold for the number of members of Congress needed to object to a state’s election results — to at least one-fifth of members of both the House and Senate — in order to “reduce the likelihood of frivolous objections by ensuring that objections are broadly supported.” Currently, it just takes one member of each chamber to object to a state’s slate of electors.
The measure would also specify that a state can only appoint one slate of electors that must be submitted by the state’s governor, or another official specified in the state’s laws or constitution. It would also provide for expedited judicial review process for raising questions for a state’s elections and protects each state’s popular vote by striking down a provision of an 1845 law that could allow state legislatures to declare a “failed election” and override the vote.
The Presidential Transition Improvement Act would clarify when presidential candidates can obtain transition resources when an election is contested.
In a hearing last month, Sen. Collins called the 1887 law “archaic and ambiguous” and stated that the Electoral Count Act had been “abused, with frivolous objections being raised by members of both parties,” but Collins explained that “it took the violent breach of the capitol on January 6, to really shine a spotlight on how urgent the need for reform was.”
“The bill that we’ve introduced, the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act, will help ensure that electoral votes totaled by Congress accurately reflect each state’s popular vote for president and vice president,” said Collins in her testimony.
“We have before us a historic opportunity to modernize and strengthen our certifying and counting the electoral votes for president and vice president,” Collins said. “There is nothing more essential to the orderly transfer of power than clear rules for protecting it. I urge my colleagues in the Senate and the House to seize this opportunity.”
In his testimony, Manchin said that “the time to reform the ECA is way past due … the time for Congress to act is now.”
Spectrum News’ Cassie Semyon, Rachel Tillman, Anna Betts and Ryan Chatelain contributed to this report.