Good Morning from Washington, D.C.

With just five days until the White House’s self-imposed Memorial Day Weekend deadline, bipartisan talks on a broad infrastructure package are heading in the wrong direction—making the possibility of budget reconciliation more likely. After a promising round of discussions two weeks ago, the Biden Administration and key Senate Republicans remain at loggerheads. Last week, the White House unveiled a $1.7 trillion counterproposal—trimmed $500 billion from its initial $2.25 trillion package, which White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said “exhibits a willingness to come down in size, giving on some areas that are important to the president.” However, Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and the group of Republican Senators negotiating with the White House said in a joint statement that the proposal was “well above the range of what can pass Congress with bipartisan support. [We are] further apart after two meetings with White House staff than [we] were after one meeting with President Biden.”

Earlier in the week, Moore Capito and her colleagues submitted a counterproposal of their own to the White House’s initial $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan that Administration officials said in a memo would only increase “new” infrastructure spending by roughly $50 billion—from $175 billion to $225 billion. This leaves significant distance between the size of a package that the White House and the GOP can agree on, and vast differences on what they will fund. As of last Friday, GOP Senators and the White House still disagreed on what constitutes “infrastructure”—the GOP sticking to the more traditional roads, bridges, pipes, broadband, and ports, while the White House has taken a hardline stance on including safety net spending. Furthermore, even in the areas they do agree, the GOP has indicated the White House numbers are still far too high. 

While the Biden Administration fights for a bipartisan deal, they are also facing increased pressure from the Left not to give in on key elements of the package, including child care provisions or corporate tax increases. Progressives in Congress like Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts—who said last week that “a smaller infrastructure package means fewer jobs, less justice, less climate action, and less investment in America’s future”—and key progressive groups (who will be integral in the 2022 midterms) are leaning on the Administration to get a transformational infrastructure package done with or without Republicans. “We need to put aside these false notions of bipartisanship with the Republican Party that is just trying to delay this,” said Rahna Epting, the executive director of MoveOn. Democratic leadership in Congress is responding to these pressures, quietly expressing fears that Republicans will do little more than eat up valuable time on the Legislative calendar. Last Thursday, aides to Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Bernie Sanders, Chair of the Budget Committee, met on with the Senate parliamentarian to discuss options of proceeding without Republicans under the rules of budget reconciliation.

In the State Capital…

The state Legislature will reconvene today, with just 10 session days left until their June 10th scheduled adjournment. Adding to the long list of priorities previously discussed in this memo, Attorney General Tish James is pushing the Legislature to consider her “Police Accountability Act” before they adjourn in three weeks. The “Police Accountability Act” would amend New York’s law that justifies police use of force and create a standard for prosecuting police officers who have improperly used deadly or excessive force. Under this bill, force should be used “as seldom as possible” and only when “a threat is truly imminent.” Announcing the bill on Friday, James said, “For far too long, police officers in this country have been able to evade accountability for the unjustified use of excessive and lethal force. In New York, our laws have essentially given police blanket defense to use force in interactions with the public, making it exceedingly difficult for prosecutors to go after officers who have abused this power. Not only is that gravely unjust, but it has also proven to be incredibly dangerous.” Discussions on this, and other police accountability measures, were already underway but this new proposal, from the highly regarded AG, raises the likelihood something gets done. It also puts further space between her and Governor Cuomo, who only a little over a month ago included proposals of his own in the State Fiscal Year 2022 Budget.

The end of Session comes as all of Albany continues to wait for Attorney General James’ report on Andrew Cuomo’s conduct as governor. That tension was on display, again, last week when Cuomo exploded at a reporter who asked questions about investigations into violations of the State Public Officers’ law regarding his book deal saying, “I thought your question was stupid and offensive. I wrote a book saying this is what we should learn from what has happened so far with COVID, because we’re not done and it’s going to continue. And if we don’t learn the lessons, we’re going to continue to make the same mistakes. That’s why I wrote the book.” The book deal is part of several ongoing investigations and just another reason to stay tuned.

-Jack O’Donnell

    For a complete guide on what to expect before the Legislature adjourns in June, check out O’Donnell and Associates End of Session “Policy Season” Preview. 

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NYS Legislature: new member spotlight

Congressman Mondaire Jones

In November 2020, Rep. Mondaire Jones was elected to his first term representing New York’s 17th Congressional District, which includes most of central and northwestern Westchester and all of Rockland County, following the retirement of Nita Lowey who had represented the district for 16 terms.

Prior to his election to Congress, Rep. Jones was a litigator in the Westchester County Law Department. He also worked at the Department of Justice during the Obama Administration and is a co-founder of the nonprofit, Rising Leaders, Inc. He also served on the board of the New York Civil Liberties Union and on the NAACP’s National Board of Directors.

Rep. Jones was raised in Spring Valley, NY in Rockland County by a single mother who worked multiple jobs to support the family. He went on to earn his bachelor’s degree at Stanford University and graduate from Harvard Law School.

Rep. Jones along with Ritchie Torres (from New York’s 15th Congressional District) became the first openly gay Black Members of Congress when they were sworn in on January 3, 2021. Rep. Jones was elected unanimously by his colleagues as Freshman Representative to House Democratic Leadership and he was appointed Co-chair of the LGBTQ Equality Caucus and Deputy Whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He currently serves on the House Judiciary, Education and Labor, and Ethics Committees.