The Senate returns to Washington today (the House returns next Monday) with much to do. The Senate will meet 171 days in 2022, a packed calendar, in hopes of meeting the White House’s ambitious legislative agenda. President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act obviously looms largest. Senator Joe Manchin’s late December declaration that he would not support the BBB was considered by most to be a death blow. Nevertheless, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer—known for his savvy deal making—still hopes to revive it in some form that could win Manchin’s, and the entire Democratic Caucus’s support.
Congress also needs to act on government funding as the most recent continuing resolution only runs through February 18th. Schumer and Pelosi are hoping to reach an agreement on all twelve Fiscal Year 2022 Appropriations Bills, something that has eluded them thus far. Stakeholders throughout the Country are also waiting on the Appropriations Bills for the first tranche of Congressionally Directed Spending or “earmarks” since 2011.
Democrats are also desperate to pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021. The legislation—which narrowly passed the House in August—is seen by Democrats as an essential step to protecting the rights of voters and increasing turnout amidst sweeping changes to state election laws by a number of State Legislatures. Just before the Holiday Recess, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) called on the Senate to return and pass the bill, and will again be pushing the Senate to take action throughout January. CBC Chairwoman Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) said that Black communities across the county will “lose the most if the Senate does not do their job and pass voting rights legislation, every citizen is entitled to an equal opportunity to participate in our democracy.” Expect a lot more talk this week about changing voting rules in the Senate, including proposals to eliminate the filibuster, to get this done.
Again, Democrats know polling is turning against them, driven by inflation, COVID surges, foreign policy issues, as well as their own intraparty squabbles and messaging failures and that bold action may be their only hope come November. They also know if things go badly for them in November, Biden’s agenda will vanish under a Republican Congress.
Back in New York…
The State Legislature returns to Albany (some members virtually) on Wednesday for the first day of Legislative Session. The Assembly Democratic Majority will hold their first Conference of 2022 tomorrow afternoon, and Governor Kathy Hochul will give her first State of the State Address Wednesday at 1 PM—watch it here. When she does, Governor Hochul will break with several dynamics of her predecessor’s addresses, including bringing the address back to the Assembly Chamber for the first time in a decade and taking a significantly different tone on the Legislature, referring to legislators as her “legislative partners.” These symbolic measures also underscore Hochul’s overall push to make Albany more collaborative. Nonetheless, it will be under strained conditions. Instead of speaking to the entire legislature, only the legislative leaders and their deputies are expected to be in the Assembly Chamber for her speech. More importantly, this is Hochul’s first opportunity to offer her own vision for New York State’s future. Thus far, the new governor has done a masterful job connecting with New Yorkers and building bridges to the legislature as well as others frozen out by Cuomo. How much of the speech will be reactionary, responding to the continuing COVID threats and hardships? How much will be more of the same, building on her predecessor’s programs compared to new initiatives? How many of the “Progressive” causes will she embrace? We will be watching!
All session long the Legislature and the Governor will have to decide how to dole out historic federal infrastructure investment, continue to shape New York State’s COVID and post COVID landscape, and deal with thornier conversations like the New York Health Act and single payer healthcare and comprehensive data privacy regulations.
O’Donnell & Associates in the News
Unlike Erie, Other New York Counties Not Paying COVID OT to Top Health Officials
After a report from the Erie County comptroller regarding Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein’s more than $250,000 in pandemic overtime, Hannah Buehler of the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team only found one other health commissioner or health director in the state who received overtime during the pandemic. The controversy sparked a heated, verbal attack from the Erie County Executive. [Read more or watch here.]
Bidens Welcome New Puppy, Commander, to the White House
The new top dog at the White House is Commander Biden, a nearly 4-month-old German shepherd. Meanwhile, rescue dog Major is moving out and a cat is scheduled to arrive soon. [Read more.]