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7.2.2020 Washington Update

July Forecast

When the Senate returns from a two-week break in mid-July, the remaining weeks before the August recess will be very busy.  The Senate will remain focused on nominations and commence negotiations on the next COVID-19 aid package.  As to the latter, the list of issues in the mix includes unemployment and “re-hiring” benefits, state and local funding, additional individual stimulus payments, small business assistance, and liability protections.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), along with many of the GOP rank-and-file, wants to keep the price tag as low as possible.  McConnell has repeatedly said that a new COVID bill should focus on “kids, jobs and health care.”  Last night, the Senate unanimously extended the PPP application period, a move that could very well help him constrain the size of the next bill.  Many Senate Republicans are concerned about another package ballooning in size, cost, and scope.

Other issues on the table: tax policies, China-related measures, education, and child care.  The Trump Administration is monitoring the results of past relief efforts.  In this vein, it might advocate for additional, though targeted, relief for certain industries that have been especially hard-hit by the pandemic.  The White House wants the effort focused on putting people back to work.

House appropriators will be busy this month.  Subcommittee markups of State and Foreign Operations, Agriculture, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs will begin on July 6.   On July 7, Homeland Security, Interior and Environment, Legislative Branch, Energy and Water, and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education will be considered; and on July 8, Commerce, Justice, Science, Transportation and Housing and Urban Affairs, Financial Services and General Government, and Defense.  Once disposed of by the full committee, we anticipate several bills being combined into discrete minibuses for more efficient debate on the House floor.

Yesterday, the House Armed Services Committee began its markup of its NDAA.  We expect the full House to take up NDAA in the coming weeks.

 

Filibuster Reform

Looking ahead to next Congress, we expect a significant debate on changing the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster threshold on legislation if the Democrats take the chamber in November.  If there’s any doubt about where the Democrats will end up, consider this from Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), who last week emphatically stated, “I will not stand idly by for four years and watch the Biden administration’s initiatives blocked at every turn.  I am gonna try really hard to find a path forward that doesn’t require removing what’s left of the structural guardrails, but if there’s a Biden administration, it will be inheriting a mess, at home and abroad. It requires urgent and effective action.”  This is significant because Sen. Coons had previously been a defender of current filibuster rules and this demonstrates the political pressures to make changes.  Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) publicly stated that he would oppose any efforts to change filibuster rules.  Leader McConnell has warned Democrats about the boomerang effect of scrapping the filibuster.  “Any time you start fiddling around with the rules of the Senate,” he said this week, “I think you always need to put yourself in the other fellow’s shoes and just imagine what might happen when the winds shift.”

 

China

The House Republican China Task Force has been very active this week.  Republican members spent a significant amount of time at the White House Monday, with Administration officials discussing potential actions to take against China.  Members also meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this morning.  Taskforce members are expected to introduce and push for consideration of standalone China legislation this summer and fall, with the expectation of a final report being released before October.