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Capitol Correspondence - 01.26.21

News Round-up: The New Congress and its Pandemic Response

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We summarize some key developments that have occurred in the past week to help our members keep track of how the new Congress is settling in, as well as its approach to the federal pandemic response.

On the Senate side…

  • Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is now officially the Senate Majority Leader, while Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is now Senate Minority Leader.
  • Because the Senate is split 50-50, further negotiations are required to determine how the Democratic and Republican parties will share power. Leaders from both parties are in the process of negotiating an Organizing Resolution, which will determine, among other things, key committee assignments; until the Resolution is passed, Republicans maintain all of their committee and leadership appointments. The stalled negotiations are already impacting the confirmation of President Biden’s HHS Secretary pick, Xavier Becerra; learn more from Politico Pulse.
  • While the House is officially sending articles of impeachment to the Senate this week, the parties have come to an agreement that Senate’s impeachment proceedings will begin the week of February 8. Party leaders hope to use the time before then to come to an agreement on a COVID-19 relief proposal.
  • Citing partisan gridlock, Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) surprised many political observers by announcing he would not seek re-election in 2022. Observers considered his re-election prospects to have been good.

On the House side…

  • The Republican party witnessed a high-profile committee shake-up with Representative Mike Burgess (R-TX) losing his position as Ranking Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. He will still serve as a member of the Committee, but not in a leadership function. The Committee oversees the Medicaid program. Representative Brett Guthrie (R-KY), a strong disability ally, will be Ranking Member instead. Note that while this was not cited as the reason for the demotion, Representative Burgess voted to overturn the election results on January 6.

Regarding pandemic relief…

  • Between power-sharing struggles and impeachment, Congress is still thinking through how to advance COVID-19 relief legislation. According to Politico Pulse, there is bipartisan consensus on the need to fund vaccination initiatives, but not on the need for stimulus checks for individuals.
  • There are three paths emerging for COVID-19 legislation:
    • Passing a large bill responding to President Joe Biden’s plan, which would require 60 votes in the Senate (meaning 10 Republican senators would need to support the legislation). These prospects are limited given open Republican opposition to President Biden’s proposal this week.
    • Using the more rapid mechanism of budget reconciliation, which only requires 51 votes but which would reduce the scope of the legislation given the rules of the process. According to Politico Pro, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) stated Senate Democrats would move on this route as soon as possible. Senator Sanders chairs the Senate Budget Committee, which creates the framework for federal budget legislation. Note, however, that it is the Senate Parliamentarian who decides what qualifies for reconciliation under the rules for that process.
    • Splitting President Biden’s proposal into two packages, an immediate one focusing on vaccinations and immediate fiscal relief to families, and a later package focusing on school re-openings and other Biden priorities.

Potential bargaining chip… or complication: Some of the tax reform provisions passed by Congress at the end of 2017 are expiring this year. This could become a bargaining point between the parties in COVID-19 funding negotiations, or lead to further acrimony between the parties.

Stay tuned! ANCOR is continuing to actively engage with congressional offices on the need for immediate funding for disability supports during the pandemic as these conversations evolve. We will keep members informed of opportunity for action.

Related: ANCOR COVID-19 vaccine prioritization advocacy makes front page of the Washington Post.