Good Morning from New York…
Hochul has been hinting at some of her priorities for the upcoming year; towards the top of the list is housing. In an interview with Politico, the Governor acknowledged the detrimental effect a lack of housing is having on the state, offering “People want to live here; they just can’t afford it anymore. The cost of housing is up 57 percent in the last seven years. Rent is up, depending on the part of the state, anywhere from 27 percent to 57 percent across New York. And so what that does is it creates a barrier for young people who are raised here, educated here, and want to live in the same neighborhood they grew up in — Long Island, Westchester, the City — and they can’t afford it. That’s a tragedy.”
In Georgia, Senator Raphael Warnock defeated Herschel Walker in a runoff election, earning a full term in the Senate. More than 3.5 million voters cast a ballot in the runoff, with Warnock winning by just shy of 100,000 votes. In his victory speech, Warnock spoke to the promise of America, saying “I want to say thank you to my mother, who is here tonight, you’ll see her in a little while. But she grew up in the 1950s in Waycross, Ga., picking somebody else’s cotton and somebody else’s tobacco. But tonight she helped pick her youngest son to be a United States senator.” Raphael Warnock was first elected in 2021 and also serves as a pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s former church and site of John Lewis’s memorial service.
Warnock’s victory does not give Democrats the clean 51-49 majority they would have hoped following Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s announcement that she was leaving the Democratic Party and declaring as an independent. Sinema, seemingly always eager to be the center of attention, said “nothing will change about my values or my behavior” and indicated that she will not be caucusing with Republicans. When asked how her decision will impact the structure or committee makeup of the Senate, she said that was Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s problem. “That’s a question for Chuck Schumer … I intend to show up to work, do the same work that I always do. I just intend to show up to work as an independent.”
The practical breakdown will still be 51-49, with Sinema joining Independent Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, both of whom vote with Democrats the majority of the time. The win in Georgia will still tilt the balance of power in the Senate where even a one seat majority can make a big difference. The Biden Administration and Majority Leader Schumer will have more breathing room when it comes to nominations and passing legislation. More importantly, Democrats will now have a majority of members on committees (for the example, the Senate Judiciary Committee now has 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans. In January, that will be 12 Democrats and 10 Republicans) which will allow the Senate to conduct investigations of their own with subpoena power.
One item that lawmakers are closer to checking off their list is the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed the House this past week. The $858 billion spending measure authorizes a 4.6% pay increase for members of the military, the purchasing of a variety of ships, aircraft, and other weapons, supports Taiwan against China, and provides support to Ukraine in their fight against Russia’s invasion. The bill also repeals the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for military members, which promised to be a main sticking point in the Senate negotiations. A few items that were dropped from the bill include a repeal of the 2002 Iraq War authorization, a marijuana banking bill, and Senator Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va) energy permitting proposal. A less notable but equally important provision that did make its way into the final bill was Senator Chuck Schumer’s proposal to ban federal agencies and federal contractors from using semiconductors from three Chinese chip companies.
Aside from the larger ticket items like the NDAA and a government spending bill, Congress still has a few smaller items on their wishlists for lame duck. The House still needs to send the same-sex marriage bill that passed both chambers to President Biden’s desk. Democrats and some Republicans are hoping to pass a bill reforming the Electoral Count Act which, in response to January 6th, clarifies the process for registering presidential electoral votes. An immigration reform proposal has emerged at the eleventh hour with Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D*-AZ) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) leading the way. The agreement would provide a pathway to citizenship for 2 million undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children, also known as “Dreamers.” In exchange, Republicans would get a $25 billion increase in Customs and Border Patrol funding and a one-year extension of Title 42, which allows immigration authorities to quickly expel many migrants without allowing them to apply for asylum while in the U.S. With little time left and a number of other items that will likely take priority, the lawmakers face long odds of getting their agreement passed during the lame-duck session.
A group of Democratic lawmakers is holding out hope that they can get the Child Tax Credit across the finish line before time runs out. The “CTC Six”, made up of Senators Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Cory Booker (N.J.), and Reps. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), Ritchie Torres (N.Y.), and Suzan DelBene (Wash.) have offered Republicans a deal in which they would agree to the Child Tax Credit in exchange for Democratic support for a business R&D tax credit. Given that the status of the larger government spending deal is still in flux, this too faces an uphill battle to getting passed.
The Bidens and the White House hospitality staff can’t seem to catch a break these days. First, it was the Maine lobster fiasco (see last week’s memo) and now, guests who attended the Congressional Ball on Monday levied complaints about the portion sizes. D.C. reporter Jake Sherman tweeted that he “heard complaints about the food at the White House congressional ball last night. Yes. Members and staff complain about this. Apparently, there wasn’t enough and it wasn’t as good as the Obama years. Lots of people complaining.” Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) told Politico the food was “very tasty— but I wouldn’t call it a dinner.” The President and First Lady will have plenty of opportunities to turn it around. The Holidays bring no shortage of White House events and perhaps the upcoming gatherings will see the return of the coveted buffet spread.
Finally, we say Goodbye to Bob McGrath, the beloved original cast member from Sesame Street who passed away last week at the age of 90. We leave you with the “Best of Bob McGrath.”
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