Good morning! It’s Tuesday, April 6, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 581 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,309 days away.
Democrats inch towards reconciliation redux
Congressional Democrats face a looming choice as they craft legislation to go along with President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure proposal: should they seek Republican support for the measure, or push it through along partisan lines like they did with the $1.9 trillion stimulus package?
It looks increasingly like they will opt for the latter, once again deploying the budget reconciliation process to allow passage of the bill with just 51 votes instead of the normal 60. Why? There are two people making the choice easy for them:
1. The Senate parliamentarian. Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate’s low-profile parliamentarian and in-house referee, plays an outsized role in the reconciliation process, interpreting the chamber’s rules and deciding when the process can move forward and when it can’t. (The reconciliation process, which allows the majority to skirt the 60-vote filibuster requirement, can typically only be used for budgetary measures.) In February, MacDonough ruled against Democrats when they sought to add a minimum wage increase to the stimulus package.
But on Monday night, MacDonough sided with Democrats in their attempt to use reconciliation multiple times in one fiscal year — an unprecedented expansion of their reconciliation powers. In the past, the Senate rules have been thought to restrict the majority party to using reconciliation once a year; under the new interpretation OK’d by MacDonough, the process can be used again by revising the budget resolution used the first time.
In a statement celebrating the ruling, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office noted that “no decisions have been made on a legislative path forward” for the infrastructure package — but the parliamentary decision is a major sign that Democrats will use reconciliation to pass yet another of their legislative priorities, now that they have the flexibility to use the process repeatedly throughout the year for even more pieces of legislation.
2. Mitch McConnell. Even MacDonough’s ruling, however, does not guarantee that the “American Jobs Plan,” as Biden’s proposal is known, will be passed using reconciliation. Infrastructure has long been a bipartisan issue, after all, and Biden has expressed hope that he can work with Republicans on the package.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it pretty clear Biden will have a tough time attracting GOP support for his plan, making it even likelier that the Democrats will end using reconciliation and ditching bipartisan negotiations once again.
Specifically, McConnell said Monday that his caucus objects to Biden’s proposal to raise the corporate tax rate to 28%, partially undoing former President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cuts. “If that’s the package... I can’t imagine that will be very appealing to many Republicans,” the GOP leader said.
“Infrastructure is, however, appealing and if we can figure a way to do a paid-for, arguably more modest approach, I’d be open to it,” McConnell added. But with MacDonough’s ruling in hand, and objections from Republicans to a range of the provisions in Biden’s package, Democrats are left with little incentive to work with McConnell and craft anything bipartisan — despite Biden’s campaign trail promises to do so.
But there’s another important factor to keep in mind: If Democratic leaders do go solo on infrastructure, they will need buy-in from their entire party. Just one defection in the Senate would sink the package, as would four defections in the House.
And so far, Democrats are decidedly not united behind the package. For one thing, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has expressed hesitance about using reconciliation for infrastructure. And if he comes around on the process, Manchin made clear on Monday that he has doubts about the proposal itself: “As the bill exists today, it needs to be changed,” he told a West Virginia radio host.
The centrist senator said that he opposed the 28% corporate tax rate outlined by Biden as well, instead calling for a 25% rate. (The corporate tax rate is currently 21%, after being slashed from 35% in 2017.) “If I don’t vote to get on it, it’s not going anywhere,” Manchin said, noting his immense leverage and adding that other Democrats felt the same way.
Biden also has more than just a Manchin problem: House progressives are calling for the package to be even larger, while a group of moderates are threatening to vote against the package unless it restores the state and local tax (SALT) deduction that was limited by the Trump tax bill.
So buckle in and get ready not for Infrastructure Week, but Infrastructure Summer. Democrats may have notched a parliamentary win in their infrastructure push last night, but plenty of roadblocks (get it?) remain in their path forward.
IN THE STATES: “Arkansas governor vetoes ban on gender-affirming care for trans minors” (NBC News)
— “New York State Is Set to Raise Taxes on Those Earning Over $1 Million” (New York Times)
CORONAVIRUS: “US hits 4 million Covid-19 vaccine doses in a day for a new record” (CNN)
GAETZGATE: “Gaetz says he won’t resign over ‘false’ sex allegations” (Associated Press)
GOP VS. CORPORATIONS: “McConnell warns of ‘serious consequences’ for businesses that help ‘far-left mobs’” (Fox News)
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Q: My congressman said in his press release opposing H.R. 1 said that it would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote. Can you explain what he might be talking about? — Jolie from New Hampshire
A: The For the People Act, the sweeping Democratic election reform package also known as H.R. 1, does not lower the voting age. However, your congressman might have been referring to a provision in the bill that would require states to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to “pre-register” to vote. That does not mean that they can vote in federal elections before turning 18, just that they can prepare to do so by registering up to two years ahead of time. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 14 states and the District of Columbia currently allow residents to begin pre-registering to vote at age 16.
One other detail worth noting: Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) did introduce an amendment to H.R. 1 that would have lowered the voting age to 16. But the amendment was rejected in a 125-302 vote and not included in the final bill.
This next question is about the courts, so I’m turning it over to Wake Up To Politics legal contributor Anna Salvatore to offer an answer:
Q: Can you explain how the U.S. Courts of Appeals work? – Gail from Tucson, Arizona
A: Circuit courts are the second-most powerful branch of the federal courts system, slotting below the all-powerful Supreme Court and above the district courts. Their main job is to determine whether cases were correctly decided at the district level. Because there are only 13 circuit courts in the United States (divided geographically), as opposed to 94 district courts, circuit judges hear a small but very important collection of cases each year. They hear these cases in randomly assigned panels of three and then issue a formal opinion.
In the most controversial disputes, all active judges on the circuit can choose to review a panel decision by their colleagues. The New York Times recently referred to such en banc reviews by an entire appeals court as “the most bare-knuckled power play in the federal judicial system.” According to the U.S. courts system, circuit courts handle more than 50,000 cases a year; about 10 percent of them are then appealed to the Supreme Court, which only hears about 100 of those cases annually. This means that most appellate court decisions are final. — Anna Salvatore, legal contributor
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All times Eastern.
President Joe Biden will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10:30 a.m. Later, at 1:45 p.m., he will visit a COVID-19 vaccination site at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia. Biden will then return to the White House and deliver remarks on the state of vaccinations at 3:45 p.m. According to CNN, the president will announce he is moving his goal for states to make all Americans eligible for a vaccine to April 19, up almost two weeks from May 1.
Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Chicago, Illinois. At 2:10 p.m., she will tour a COVID-19 vaccination site being co-run by the city of Chicago and the Chicago Federation of Labor. According to the White House, it is “the first site in the nation to be stood up by union members for union members.” Harris will depart Chicago for Washington, D.C., at 4 p.m.
Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will travel to Yakima, Washington. At 1:10 p.m., he will meet with the Yakama Nation Tribal Council to discuss COVID-19, the American Rescue Plan, and the American Jobs Plan. He will also visit a Yakima Nation cultural center. At 3 p.m., Emhoff will tour a FEMA community vaccination center in Yakima and meet with state and county health leadership to discuss the American Rescue Plan and efforts to distribute vaccines to the agricultural community.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press briefing at 12 p.m.
The House and Senate are not in session.
The Supreme Court is not in session.
The Hennepin County District Court in Minnesota will hold the seventh day of the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin at 10:15 a.m. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder in the May 2020 killing of George Floyd.
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