What to Know in Washington: Infrastructure Bill Close to Passage

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The Senate moved closer to passing a $550 billion infrastructure package after a drawn-out debate pushed action into this week and left the status of several proposed changes unsettled.

Yesterday, 18 Republicans joined with all 50 senators who caucus with Democrats to limit debate on the bill, an indication of bipartisan support for passage, which could come late today or early tomorrow.

Once the infrastructure bill gets a vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) plans to turn quickly to passing a budget resolution that will set the stage for Democrats to pass the remainder of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda.

“It’s taken a while, but it’s going to be worth it, as hopefully we pass both bills very, very soon,” Schumer said before adjourning the chamber.

Several proposed amendments to the infrastructure legislation — including one sought by industry to alter language in the bill imposing new tax rules on cryptocurrency transactions — were left in limbo with no immediate path to a vote unless all 100 senators agree. Schumer said that amendments “are no longer in order,” but the senators backing a change in how cryptocurrency is dealt with in the legislation were pushing for a chance for a vote. Read more from Laura Davison, Steven T. Dennis and MacKenzie Hawkins.

Schumer at the Capitol
Photographer: Ting Shen/Bloomberg
Schumer at the Capitol on Sunday.

Deal Close On Cryptocurrency Oversight: The two groups of senators who were battling over how to word a section of the infrastructure bill that would impose new tax rules for cryptocurrencies say they are nearing a compromise, but the deal may come too late to be added to the Senate’s infrastructure bill. An agreement would resolve a days-long dispute that pitted the White House against Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) over the best way to require cryptocurrency entities to report transactions to the IRS. “We are still talking,” Wyden said, declining to discuss what issues still are unsettled. Read more from MacKenzie Hawkins, Laura Davison and Steven T. Dennis.

Senate Deal Snarls Drug Rebate Battle: A lawsuit against a rule to upend the payments drugmakers make to pharmacy liaisons could come to an end as lawmakers weigh delaying the rule and using the savings to pay for billions in infrastructure and health-care improvements. A group of pharmacy benefit managers—which help decide how a drug will be covered by health insurance—says the rule would significantly disrupt negotiations with drugmakers. Read more from Shira Stein.

Pension Smoothing Risks Future Funding: The package would modify how much employers must contribute to future pension obligations, temporarily boosting federal tax revenue at the risk of future retirement plan funding shortfalls. A provision in the bill would extend an interest rate stabilization period as well as maximum and minimum funding percentages for single-employer pension plans—a bonus for employers determining how much money they will pay into their plans in the future. Read more from Austin R. Ramsey.

Equity Groups Say Bill Doesn’t ‘Meet the Moment’: The bill would replace lead pipes and boost clean transit for poor communities—but isn’t the transformational effort needed to overcome decades of inequity in federal spending on big projects, environmental justice advocates say. The bipartisan bill falls “far short of what is necessary to fully mitigate the impacts of environmental racism and environmental inequity on our communities,” Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) wrote in a letter last week to House and Senate leaders, joined by six House Democrats, including Natural Resources Chair Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

The bill needs billions more to tackle inequities ranging from decades of pollution to climate change impacts which disproportionately affect low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, advocates say. Read more from Dean Scott.

Happening on the Hill

Ex-Rep. Riggleman to Join Jan. 6 Panel Staff: House Democrats have hired former Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Va.) and a longtime Homeland Security Department official as staff members for the committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Riggleman, who was a U.S. Air Force intelligence officer before running for Congress, will be a researcher and adviser to the committee, which is expected to focus in part on Donald Trump’s incitement of the riot and actions while it was under way. The panel’s staff will also include the Department of Homeland Security’s principal deputy general counsel, Joseph Maher, Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said in a statement. Read more from Jennifer Jacobs and Billy House.

Congress Weighs District Judge Bills: Competing congressional proposals to add federal judgeships give the judiciary a chance for its first comprehensive slate of trial court seats since then-Sen. Joe Biden spearheaded the last change decades ago. The measures introduced in the Democratic-led House and Senate offer very different assessments of the need to add positions in the district court system, which is where much of federal court business is done. Read more from Madison Alder.

Questions Abound as Parties Vie for Senate Majority —BGOV Podcast: Jessica Taylor, the Senate and governors editor of the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, joined Bloomberg Government’s Kyle Trygstad and Greg Giroux on the latest episode of Downballot Counts to discuss the fight for the Senate majority. Taylor went through the questions that still remain on the map, including candidates and incumbents who still haven’t announced their intentions. And she explained her race ratings, which highlight the nine competitive Senate contests and illustrate how tight the battle for control of the 50-50 chamber could be in November 2022. Listen to the latest episode of Downballot Counts.

Around the Administration

Jobs Market Eases Sting of Expiring Pandemic Relief: The strengthening U.S. economy is relieving pressure on Biden and congressional Democrats to extend a series of assistance programs that kept Americans afloat during the pandemic, including enhanced unemployment benefits due to expire in just four weeks. By the end of September, extra food benefits are also set to conclude. And on Oct. 3, a ban on evictions will end, if it isn’t struck down sooner by courts. Read more from Jennifer Epstein and MacKenzie Hawkins.

  • The administration will relieve Americans from paying their federal student loans through the end of January, extending the pause for what it says is the last time as the government seeks to keep the economic recovery rolling. Read more from Jennifer Epstein and Janet Lorin.

Covid Cases Reach Six-Month High: New Covid-19 cases in the U.S. have rebounded to more than 100,000 a day on average, returning to the levels of the winter surge six months ago. Weekly cases on Friday passed 750,000, the most since early February, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. Almost 135,000 weekly cases were seen in Florida on Friday, a record for a state that makes up about one in five U.S. cases. Read more from Ian Fisher.

  • The Biden administration awarded a $150 million contract extension to a market research firm that encourages vaccinations, as the White House struggles to convince more Americans to get the shot. Read more from Alex Ruoff.
  • Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease doctor, said Covid-19 vaccine booster shots should be given “reasonably soon” to people with weakened immune systems. “We would certainly be boosting those people before we boost the general population that’s been vaccinated,” he said on CNN yesterday. “We should be doing that reasonably soon.” Read more from Yueqi Yang.
  • Businesses and colleges should consider requiring people to get vaccinated against Covid-19 in light of the surge of U.S. cases driven by the delta variant, Fauci said Friday. He said he opposed a federal vaccine mandate but that the velocity of Covid’s spread should spur private organizations to think about requiring shots. Read more from John Tozzi and Madison Mills.

Carmakers’ EV Pledge Gives Burned Environmentalists Deja Vu: The chief executives of the world’s biggest automakers joined President Barack Obama in 2011 to announce they had agreed to double the average fuel economy of their vehicles to 54.5 miles per gallon — the largest increase in history. Five years later, after Donald Trump was elected, the companies asked the president-elect to roll back the standards and he did. That history was fresh in the mind of climate activists and others as Biden last week signed an executive order that set an ambitious though voluntary national goal of having half of all vehicles sold in the U.S. be emissions-free by the end of the decade. Read more from Ari Natter and Keith Laing.

  • The Biden administration’s carefully unveiled plans for tighter vehicle emission rules appear more resistant to major litigation but aren’t immune to lawsuits, lawyers and policy experts say. Jennifer Hijazi has more.

Biden Taps Disability Rights Attorney for HHS Counsel: Biden has chosen Samuel Bagenstos to be his general counsel for the Department of Health and Human Services. If confirmed, he’ll help the agency put out airtight policies and defend it against legal challenges. Bagenstos has been serving as general counsel at the Office of Management and Budget since early 2021. He previously was a law professor at the University of Michigan and principal deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Department of Justice. Read more from Shira Stein.

HHS Proposes Nixing Foreign Drug Rate Rule: The HHS on Friday proposed to withdraw a Trump-era drug payment model tying U.S. costs to foreign prices. The agency didn’t rule out releasing its own policy for cutting down skyrocketing drug costs. The proposal to withdraw the interim final rule “does not reflect any judgment by HHS regarding future policy,” the HHS said in a Federal Register release. Read more from Ian Lopez.

Foreign Policy Agenda

Biden’s Iran Nuclear Deal Ambitions Shrink: The Biden administration faces the sobering reality that returning to the Iran nuclear deal may no longer be feasible, as the Islamic Republic finds ways to cope with U.S. sanctions and races toward the capacity to build a bomb. U.S. officials are reviewing their options after months of talks on reentry into the accord failed to produce an agreement, according to people familiar with the discussions. Although still calling for a quick return to the pact as a pathway toward a “longer and stronger” deal, the U.S. is willing to weigh alternatives, including the interim step of limited sanctions relief in exchange for Iran freezing its most provocative proliferation work, they said. Read more from Nick Wadhams and David Wainer.

Afghanistan Likely Headed for War, Ex-Envoy Says: Afghanistan is likely to slide into a prolonged civil conflict with U.S. ground forces set to leave by the end of the month, a former U.S. envoy to Kabul said. Ryan Crocker, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan during the Obama administration, said he didn’t foresee any chance that U.S. troops would return once they exit. Taliban fighters took control of much of the capital of Kunduz province yesterday. Read more from Ben Bain.

  • U.S. military aircraft have been hitting ground targets in Afghanistan in a campaign to protect allies, according to U.S. Central Command, as the Taliban makes rapid advances in the void left by withdrawing American and NATO troops. Read more from Jesse Hamilton.

Russia Policy Tested as Jailed Americans Bid to Return: Two ex-U.S. Marines imprisoned in Russia are likely to seek transfers to the U.S. to serve out their sentences, an early test of whether the Kremlin is ready to respond to Biden’s policy of re-engagement. Paul Whelan, who was sentenced to 16 years for spying, is expected to submit a request later this month, according to his defense team. Trevor Reed, who’s serving nine years for assault, may also apply to return to the U.S., Henry Meyer and Irina Reznik report.

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

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