Washington Update - March 8, 2021

Billy Moore    Dc2

Congress continues to hurdle toward final passage of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that is the first priority of President Joe Biden’s nascent Administration. A number of Senate amendments have changed the House-passed package, reducing an increase in unemployment benefits and deleting an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Following partisan passage of the bill in the Senate, House leaders plan to muscle the Senate compromise to the President’s desk for his signature this week.

The Senate debate spotlighted the outsized power of moderate Senate Democrats Joe Manchin and Kristen Sinema, and moderate Senate Republicans Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins.

The legislation is popular with the public, despite unified Republican opposition. Its passage comes amid reduced infections and hospitalizations. 54 million Americans have received at least one dose and half of seniors are now vaccinated. A new Johnson & Johnson vaccine expands supply. Job growth accelerated last month, heartening Democrats and bolstering Republican doubts about the need for relief. 

Soon after enactment, President Biden plans a State of the Union style address to a joint session of Congress noting the nation’s progress and demanding action on his next priority: an infrastructure package. Democrats will blitz the country echoing the President’s message. Republicans will counter the bill is too big and partisan while supporting a bipartisan approach on the infrastructure plan.

Using the budget reconciliation process to enact an infrastructure bill would probably delay action. Congress would need to pass a fiscal 2022 budget to authorize another reconciliation round – and the Biden Office of Management and Budget is not nearly ready to submit a budget. In fact, the President’s nominee to head the office withdrew last week, probably adding further delays to the budget submission and, as a result, congressional action.

The Senate will continue confirmations this week as the House debates background checks for firearm purchases.