What to Know in Washington: Biden Hosts Business, Labor Chiefs

President Joe Biden will host business and labor leaders at the White House today as a bipartisan group of senators nears an agreement that will allow the chamber to begin debating infrastructure legislation.

Biden plans to point out how notable it is that groups that sit across negotiating tables from one another and are often at odds have come together to support the bipartisan infrastructure framework, a White House official said on the condition of anonymity to discuss the agenda of the meeting.

Yesterday, Senate Republicans blocked debate on the still-unfinished plan, though a group of GOP centrists say they will agree to debate on the $579 billion bill early next week after more details are hammered out.

The president expressed confidence Wednesday night that the bill will cross the finish line. “The answer is absolutely positively yes,” he told a questioner during a CNN town hall in Cincinnati.

Attendees representing business groups at today’s meeting are expected to include Josh Bolten, the chief executive officer of the Business Roundtable and a former White House chief of staff to President George W. Bush, and Suzanne Clark, CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Union presidents including Lonnie Stephenson of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Terry O’Sullivan of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, and Kenneth Rigmaiden of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, are also scheduled to be at the session.

Heather Zichal, CEO of the American Clean Power Association and a top climate adviser in the Obama administration who was considered for roles in the Biden administration; Michael Lamach, chair of the board of the National Association of Manufacturers, and Lise Aangeenbrug, executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association, are also expected to attend, as is Brent Booker, secretary-treasurer of North America’s Building Trades Unions. Read more from Jennifer Epstein.

Photographer: Samuel Corum/CNP/Bloomberg
Biden on the South Lawn of the White House after arriving on Marine One in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

Happening on the Hill

Today’s Agenda:

  • The House will vote today on whether to offer more visas to Afghan nationals who assisted U.S. forces during the two-decade war there.
  • The Senate plans to vote on the nomination of Jill Hruby to be undersecretary for nuclear security at the Department of Energy.
  • Click here for a complete list of today’s hearings and markups.

Senate GOP Blocks Infrastructure Plan Debate: Senate Republicans blocked debate on a vast and still unfinished infrastructure plan, rejecting Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) drive to forge ahead while senators from both parties struggle to complete details of the $579 billion package. The 49-51 vote fell well shy of the 60 necessary to begin debate. Schumer switched his vote to “no” so he can call up the bill again. Read more from Laura Litvan and Erik Wasson.

Biden Urged Against Capital Gains on Estates Plan: All 50 Senate Republicans are calling for the Biden administration to drop a proposed change to how stocks, real estate, and other assets are taxed at death. The proposal, part of Biden’s plans to raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy, would eliminate the tax adjustment known as the “step up in basis.” In a letter sent Wednesday, Senate Republicans called the change a “backdoor death tax on Americans.” Read more from Colin Wilhelm.

Senate Panel Backs Military Crimes Measure In Defense Bill: The Senate Armed Services Committee backed a sweeping measure that would change the way the military prosecutes sexual assault and harassment, murder and other major crimes within the ranks, according to a Senate aide. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), sponsor of the legislation, initially offered it as an amendment during the markup of the annual defense authorization bill. One aide described the changes to the military justice system as complicated. The personnel subcommittee approved it 5-1 on Tuesday and the full Senate Armed Services panel approved it as part of the annual defense authorization bill. Two-thirds of the Senate supports Gillibrand’s legislation, Roxana Tiron reports.

Surge in Drug Overdose Deaths Fuels Bipartisanship: Punitive “hook ‘em and book ‘em” policies to combat drug addiction are ineffective at stopping substance use and overdoses, lawmakers on a House panel concurred as five bills targeting the issue sped through on unanimous votes. The federal government ought to “use science and medical response instead of just adding 100,000 more cops to the streets,” Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) said at a House Energy and Commerce Committee markup.

The bipartisanship on display in the committee shows a willingness in Congress to find niche ways to help states and cities battle opioid use. The measures approved yesterday are good candidates for quick House approval under an expedited process for non-controversial legislation, according to a committee aide. At the markup, members grappled with recent figures that deaths due to drug overdoses jumped 30% in 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. Allie reed and Jacquie Lee have more.

  • The House’s fiscal 2022 appropriations bill for the Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies would give the CDC’s Infectious Diseases and Opioid Epidemic Program roughly $70 million to expand access to syringes, a harm-reduction strategy that the Biden administration and drug policy advocates argue is needed to reverse the year-after-year jumps in overdose deaths in the U.S. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

House Passes Wide-Reaching Chemicals Bill: The House approved a comprehensive bill requiring the EPA to regulate the most concerning “forever chemicals” and make decisions on others—but its Senate prospects are unclear. The legislation passed on a 241-183 vote, with 23 Republicans supporting the bill. The White House backed the bill in a Monday statement, but no companion bill has been introduced in the Senate. Read more from Pat Rizzuto and Kellie Lunney.

Industry, Unions Urge Congress to Speed Semiconductor Bills: Congress must act quickly to bolster semiconductor manufacturing in the U.S., according to a letter from several trade groups and unions delivered to House and Senate leaders today. “Strengthening the U.S. position in semiconductor research, design, and manufacturing is a national priority,” reads the letter, organized by the Semiconductor Industry Association. Read more from Daniel Flately.

Around the Administration

Today’s Agenda: Biden will deliver remarks at 2:15 p.m. from the White House on legislation cleared by the House and Senate that would deposit money collected by the federal government under deferred prosecution or nonprosecution agreements into the Crime Victims Fund (read the BGOV Bill Summary). Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will meet at 4 p.m. at the White House with union and business leaders to discuss infrastructure efforts.

Biden Dismisses Inflation Concerns: Biden dismissed concerns that the U.S. will experience persistent inflation as the economy emerges from the pandemic while cautioning that restaurants and others in the hospitality sector may take longer to recover. “There will be near-term inflation” because the economy is picking back up, Biden said last night at a CNN town hall meeting held in Cincinnati. But most economists believe that “it’s highly unlikely that it’s going to be long-term inflation that’s going to get out of hand,” he said. He later told a restaurant-group owner who cited hiring challenges that “your business” and others in the hospitality and tourism industries may be “in a bind for a while,” in part because workers in the sectors are seeking better wages and working conditions. Read more from Nancy Cook and Katia Dmitrieva.

Biden Says Pandemic Only Among Unvaccinated: Biden urged more Americans to get vaccinated, saying that the coronavirus is only raging among those who have not received their shots and that those under 12 years old will be able to get inoculated soon. “We have a pandemic for those who haven’t gotten the vaccination,” Biden said last night at the town hall. “It’s that basic, it’s that simple,” he said. “If you’re vaccinated,” the president added, “you’re not going to die.” Read more from Jordan Fabian and Jennifer Epstein.

  • The excuses range from the merely false to the absurd. The shots don’t work. They impair fertility. They’ll alter your DNA. They’ll magnetize you. They actually spread the virus. Unvaccinated Americans cite a litany of myths to explain their hesitance to get shots, confounding local health officials battling yet another surge of coronavirus cases fueled by the more transmissible delta variant. Read more from Josh Wingrove, Kristen V. Brown and Daniel Zuidijk.

Garland Sets Limits on White House-DOJ Communications: U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland shared new guidelines that clarify when the White House can turn to the the Justice Department for legal advice in a memo to agency staff yesterday. The guidelines, developed in consultation with Biden’s legal counsel, would ensure the agency’s enforcement decisions and legal work are free from “partisan or other inappropriate influences,” according to Garland’s memo. Read more from Malathi Nayak.

Taliban Is Gaining in Afghanistan, U.S. Says: The Taliban has “strategic momentum” in its fight with the Afghan government as U.S. forces complete their withdrawal, the top U.S. general said yesterday. “This is going to be a test now of the will and leadership of the Afghan people, the Afghan security forces and the government of Afghanistan,” General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at a Pentagon news conference. Read more from Travis Tritten.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com