Senate defeat of Build Back Better, voting rights legislation and filibuster reform begs the question of what Congress will be doing the rest of this midterm election year. Here are a few possibilities:
FY 2022 Appropriations
Negotiations are underway between the House and Senate on bills, with a deadline of February 18. Pressure is building to approve appropriations for the fiscal year that began last September. The federal government has plodded along with continuing resolutions, which has delayed a large assortment of grant programs for everything from medical research and advocates for child victims of crime.
So far, congressional Republicans haven’t offered an alternative or amendments to appropriation measures crafted by Democrats. A broad coalition of groups, ranging from aerospace companies to veteran’s service organizations, is encouraging both political parties to negotiate in earnest.
Build Back Better in Chunks
Democrats may try their luck breaking up the $2 trillion human infrastructure proposal into smaller chunks that potentially could win bipartisan support. West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who crash-landed the Build Back Better initiative last year, has signaled a willingness to pursue a smaller, less expensive package. Progressive Democrats are wary after slashing their original funding measure to assuage Manchin.
Voting rights legislation is dead in its tracks with unanimous Senate Republican opposition and two Senate Democrats unwilling to modify the filibuster. However, there are rumblings bipartisan support may be possible for legislation that addresses what happens after votes are counted.
Officials on both side of the political aisle share a concern that current federal law, which dates back more than a century, may not be clear or strong enough to prevent a post-election attempt in Congress to nullify a presidential election. This legislative concept could get a boost from the House January 6 Committee that is zeroing in on what may have been an abortive attempt to block certification of the 2020 general election.
The White House released details of 25 grant opportunities flowing from the bipartisan infrastructure package Congress approved last year. The first round of competitive grants should open soon, which states and local governments will begin pursuing and seeking support from their respective congressional delegations. There’s nothing like a ribbon-cutting ceremony during an election year.
One of the most prominent bills held up in Congress would authorize $52 billion to boost domestic computer chip production and another $52 billion to create the National Science Foundation Directorate of Technology and Innovation.
Unsticking Stalled Chip Legislation
One of the most prominent bills held up in Congress would authorize $52 billion to boost domestic computer chip production and another $52 billion to create the National Science Foundation Directorate of Technology and Innovation. Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, who chairs the Senate Science, Commerce and Transportation Committee, has made final passage of the legislation a top 2022 priority. Different versions passed by the House and Senate are hung up in a conference committee. President Biden encouraged congressional action as he applauded Intel’s decision to move ahead with a $20 billion chip-manufacturing campus near Columbus, Ohio. Portland-area chip makers could pursue incentive funding if the legislation is enacted.
House January 6 Committee
The committee looking into the January 6 Capitol insurrection and its enablers has continued to seek documents and issue subpoenas and invitations, most recently to Ivanka Trump to discuss what she witnessed her father was doing while the attack was occurring. Former President Trump’s communications in and around January 6 have now been cleared by the Supreme Court to hand over to the committee. Former Attorney General William Barr and former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham have been in contact with committee investigators.
Despite GOP stonewalling, political observers expect the committee to issue a report by summer before campaigns for the mid-term elections begin to heat up. That could be awkward for some House Republicans who have been implicated in assisting the rioters.
Facing Down Big Tech
Angry at Big Tech for varying reasons, Congress has dozens of pending proposals dealing with anti-competition, privacy rights and protecting children from internet dangers. Many of them have bipartisan support, but no agreement on how to write actual legislative language. Republicans think social media platforms have become biased censors while Democrats believe they have become conveyor belts for misinformation. Somewhere in between are concerns over First Amendment rights, liability for publishing falsehoods and profiteering off political division.
Big Tech also is feeling the heat from regulatory agencies at the federal and state levels, as well as internationally. The core issue is whether Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon are simply too big and exert too much market power with virtual or acquired monopolies. The bill with the most traction is the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, sponsored by Congressman David Cicilline, D-Rhode Island, and Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
Biden hasn’t changed much policy toward China from the Trump administration. Sanctions remain in place for unfair trade practices and scoldings continue for Chinese inhuman treatment of Uyghurs. The latter was the reason for Biden skipping a US diplomatic presence at the Beijing Winter Olympics that begin February 4, despite urging a more civil relationship with a major global competitor. Biden has been vocal in touting domestic chip manufacturing investments as a way to wean from dependence on Chinese manufacturers.
More pressing issues are emerging. Supply disruptions that have hobbled US businesses and contributed to inflation can be traced in part to Chinese lockdowns to control the coronavirus. China has become more aggressive toward Taiwan. Chinese leaders may sense this is a time to test Biden’s will when his foreign policy focus is trained on the potential Russian invasion of Ukraine. North Korea may be testing the same waters as it has conducted five missile launches and threatened to resume nuclear tests.
Confirming a New Supreme Court Justice
The Senate will take up Biden’s nominee for retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer who announced his retirement this week. Breyer, 83, is one of the court’s three liberal members who has been under less-than-subtle pressure to retire so Biden could nominate a liberal replacement with a Democratically controlled Senate. Even though Breyer won’t officially retire until the end of this term in summer, Senate aides said the nomination and confirmation process could get underway sooner.
During his campaign, Biden promised to diversify the high court’s makeup. The most often mentioned potential nominee to replace Breyer is Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who Biden chose to replace Merrick Garland on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Jackson, 51, earned her law degree from Harvard and served as a clerk for Justice Breyer.