Good Morning from the Nation’s Capital…
Will Rogers once said, “I am not the member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” Washington last week was further evidence that Rogers’ maxim remains true. Democrats, under the leadership of President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have been negotiating the most transformative (and expensive) legislation in over 50 years. Thus far, especially with the bifurcation and linkage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (the “BIF”) as well as the Reconciliation package, they moved closer to adopting that legislation by balancing the needs of moderate Democrats (who Pelosi likes to call “Majority Makers”) and the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party led by Senator Bernie Sanders and the Squad.
Last week those differences, combined with every Member of Congress (ok, it only seems like every member) threatening to withhold support unless his or her personal priorities were included muddied timelines for both packages and dashed optimism across the Beltway. But there was a ray of hope on Thursday when Schumer and Pelosi announced a deal on revenue raisers (i.e. taxes) with the White House, an agreement that allowed for a “mark up” of the Reconciliation package over the weekend but there is a still a long way to go. According to Schumer, the agreement would pay for most, if not all, of the reconciliation package—a move meant to mitigate concerns from moderate and centrist Democrats opposed to the hefty price tag.
The Budget Committee was hard at work over the weekend marking up the reconciliation bill and voted to send the $3.5 trillion package to the House Floor on Saturday. Also on Saturday afternoon in a letter to her Democratic colleagues, Pelosi said the House would charge ahead with a plan to pass both the BIF (which is necessary in advance of the expiration of the Surface Transportation Program this Thursday) and the Reconciliation package this week, even as these deep disagreements remain. Pelosi wrote in that letter that Democrats would hold Caucus today at 5:30 PM and urged “the fullest participation of members possible.” In short, prepare for one of the most intense weeks in Congress in recent memory.
Regardless of how the House acts on the Reconciliation Package, it is far from a done deal. Last Thursday, moderate/centrist and key Senate vote, West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, said President Joe Biden urged a group of moderate Senators—that also included Montana Democratic Senator Jon Tester—to come up with a number that they would be okay with for the reconciliation package—something that progressives would be loath to acquiesce to. “He just basically said find a number you’re comfortable with,” Manchin said, adding that Biden’s message was to “please just work on it. Give me a number.” Manchin said he didn’t give Biden a number as of yet, and Biden also didn’t set a deadline for when moderates needed to turnover that number—underscoring truly just how up in the air negotiations are at the moment.
Oh, and they also need to raise the debt limit and fund the government for the foreseeable future. House Democrats narrowly passed a bill on party lines (220-211) on Tuesday to fund the federal government through December 3 and suspend the nation’s borrowing limit until the end of 2022 (which also includes $28.6 billion for states recovering from a series of hurricanes and wildfires as well as $6.3 billion to resettle refugees from the war in Afghanistan). The bill will now go to the Senate where a vote is likely later this week and Republicans have vowed to block it—primarily as a means of reiterating opposition to Democratic spending in the proposed reconciliation bill. However, blocking the bill shouldn’t be confused with encouraging America to default. Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on the gravity of failing to act, but Republicans want Democrats to suspend the debt ceiling themselves, through reconciliation. “America must never default. We never have and we never will. The debt ceiling will be raised, as it always should be. But it will be raised by the Democrats,” said Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
Governor Hochul has been all over Climate Week—announcing progress in the modernization of New York’s largest clean hydropower project—and, for some reason, also all over the visit of Megxiters Prince Harry and Meghan Markel. Significantly, Hochul has also stayed very strong on mask mandates and vaccine mandates for health care workers, despite some strong pushback and potential consequences. Today is that deadline so we are watching for how hospitals react. Hochul also announced the inevitable with Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker leaving as soon as a replacement is named (former New York City Health Commissioner Mary Bassett is the likely replacement). Over the weekend, nine more Commissioners and key Chamber advisors—including Cuomo’s longtime Director of Cannabis Programs Norman Birenbaum—announced they would be leaving. Expect a couple more announcements like this from Hochul as we get closer to her early October deadline.
Hochul’s predecessor and his inner circle heavily trumpeted a Newsday op-ed denouncing his removal from office as a “coup” that went against the will of New York’s voters, while his brother and advisor joined him in being accused of sexual harassment.
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