What to Know in Washington: Infrastructure Odds Tied to Earmarks

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President Joe Biden’s next big economic package helped set off a heated debate among Republicans over whether to participate in the return of lawmakers’ dedicated-spending projects, known as earmarks, a tussle that could be key to its success.

After muscling his $1.9 trillion pandemic-relief bill through Congress without a single Republican vote, Biden is hoping to bring GOP members aboard an infrastructure package set to be a core part of his longer-term economic plan, estimated at trillions of dollars.

Speeding a complex, multi-year initiative through Capitol Hill will be largely impossible without the GOP, due to Senate rules. To make negotiations easier, Democrats rescinded a 2011 ban on so-called spending earmarks. If Republicans decide to amend party rules in coming weeks and follow suit, it could be a good sign Biden’s bill gets done.

“I’ve always been in favor of members of Congress making the decisions and not bureaucrats,” Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the top Republican on the House Transportation Committee, said in an interview. He hopes for a decision within the GOP in the spring, while holding off on predicting the outcome.

Earmarks could allow the kind of trading between legislators that maximizes bipartisan support, and advocates say that greater transparency measures make wasteful spending less of a concern than in the early 2000s. Democrats plan to allow them on transportation and water infrastructure bills as well as annual appropriations bills. Earmarked spending will be capped, disclosed on the Internet, and certified not to benefit the lawmaker or her family.

But fiscal hawks in the GOP, citing concerns about debt, remain bitterly opposed. Read more from Erik Wasson and Emily Wilkins.

Happening on the Hill

California Fears Spur Battle Over DOL No. 2 Pick: The escalating battle over Julie Su’s nomination to be deputy U.S. labor secretary is driven by the broader partisan disagreement over whether progressive workplace regulation and aggressive enforcement are helpful to a recovering economy. The Senate labor panel will hold a confirmation hearing this morning for Su, who is secretary of labor and workforce development in California, arguably the most worker-friendly state in the nation when it comes to enforcing laws on wages, safety, discrimination, and other employment policies. Read more from Ben Penn.

  • Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) filed for cloture on Marty Walsh’s nomination to serve as U.S. labor secretary, an action that will likely set up a final vote in coming days. Schumer’s action paves the way for a vote to limit debate on the Boston mayor’s nomination later this week. Afterwards, a confirmation vote will take place likely early next week. Read more from Ben Penn.

Click here for a complete list of today’s hearings and markups.

Durbin Casts Doubt on Biden Immigration Overhaul: Biden’s plan for a broad immigration revamp, including a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented people, doesn’t have enough support to pass Congress anytime soon, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said. “I don’t see any means of reaching that,” he said of any comprehensive approach. House Democrats have already opted for a piecemeal approach and plan to vote this week on two narrower immigration measures. Read more from Laura Litvan.

Senators Propose Revamp of National-Security Tariffs: A bipartisan Senate group unveiled legislation to overhaul a 1962 trade law that former President Donald Trump invoked to justify tariffs on billions of dollars’ worth of imports on national-security grounds. Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act allows for duties without a vote by Congress if imports are deemed to be a national-security threat. Trump’s administration used the legislation to put tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum, much to the chagrin of lawmakers. Eric Martin has more.

Around the Administration

Biden’s Schedule: The president is taking his pitch on implementation of the $1.9 economic relief package on the road, traveling this afternoon to Chester, Pa., near Philadelphia, to visit a small business.

Haaland Confirmed to Lead Interior: The Senate narrowly confirmed Deb Haaland as Interior secretary yesterday, clearing the way for the former lawmaker from New Mexico to become the first Native American to serve in a presidential Cabinet. The Senate’s 51-40 divide underscored deep opposition from Republicans who worry Haaland’s criticisms of fossil fuels means she’ll discourage oil development across hundreds of millions of acres of federal land. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

  • An order temporarily putting decisions over drilling permits and other matters in the hands of top Interior Department officials will not be renewed when it lapses this weekend. With the expiration of the 60-day order, career officials at the Bureau of Land Management will process drilling permits and other activities on valid, existing leases in a timely manner, an Interior spokesman said, Jennifer Dlouhy reports.

Climate Metric Getting Immediate Use Under Biden: The Biden administration isn’t awaiting a price tag on a final greenhouse gas assessment metric before it starts working on new regulations—even though the final number could support even tougher regulation. The implications are far-reaching for the administration’s efforts to address climate change, affecting everything from vehicle emission standards to permits for oil, coal, and gas projects. Read more from Stephen Lee, Jennifer Hijazi, Bobby Magill and Dean Scott.

Biden Pushed to Implement Trump Organ Rule: The past five HHS chief technology officers are among a diverse group of bipartisan supporters urging the Biden administration to enact a Trump rule designed to improve the nation’s organ donation, procurement, and transplant system. Obama-era alumni Todd Park, Bryan Sivak and Susannah Fox, and Trump-era alumni Bruce Greenstein and Ed Simcox said the rule will save 7,000 lives a year and cut $1 billion per year in Medicare dialysis spending. Read more from Tony Pugh.

Pipette Tip Supply Gaps Snarl Cash Infusion for Testing: Covid-19 test backlogs stemming from lab supply manufacturing snags are expected to continue despite the billions of dollars Congress is pumping into testing programs. Part of the $48.7 billion that Congress set aside for testing and contact tracing in the latest aid law will likely go toward domestic production of pipette tips and other supplies that have been difficult to procure. But even with the extra funds, there’s still a limited number of companies with the expertise to make those products, experts say. Read more from Shira Stein and Jacquie Lee.

Blinken Hits Out at China’s ‘Coercion’: Top U.S. officials spent their first trip abroad rallying Asian allies around a common approach toward China, even as North Korea tried to grab attention with its harshest words yet toward the new administration. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reaffirmed their support for Japan during a visit to Tokyo, in a symbolic first trip to visit allies that neighbor China. In remarks with Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi today, Blinken accused Beijing of using “coercion and aggression” in places including Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Xinjiang. Read more from Jon Herskovitz and Isabel Reynolds.

  • U.S. relations with China won’t improve until Beijing stops its economic coercion against America’s close regional ally, Australia, a senior aide to Biden told the Age newspaper. The administration has told the Chinese government that the U.S. wasn’t going to leave Australia alone on the field, Kurt Campbell, the National Security Council’s Asia coordinator, said in an interview. Read more from Jason Scott.
  • Hong Kong required all staff from the U.S. consulate in the city to take Covid-19 tests after two workers there were found to be infected with the virus and admitted to the hospital for isolation and treatment, Jinshan Hong and Natalie Lung report.

NATO Members Ramp Up Defense Spending: North Atlantic Treaty Organization members boosted expenditures last year, with 11 countries meeting a defense-spending target championed by the U.S. The military budgets of NATO’s European nations and Canada increased to an estimated 1.73% of gross domestic product in 2020, up from 1.55% in 2019, the alliance said in an annual report released today. Read more from John Ainger.

Politics & Influence

Restaurants Keep Up Lobbying for Relief: It took a year for an upstart coalition of star-studded restaurateurs and chefs joined with the lobbying fire-power of the National Restaurant Association to secure a $28.6 billion grant program for their ailing industry. Fresh from their success in garnering relief in the $1.9 trillion pandemic package, restaurant advocates are gearing up to fight for more cash. They plan to leverage the same tactics learned in 2020 to help them navigate some of the same hurdles on Capitol Hill, where earlier efforts to help restaurants faltered repeatedly. Read more from Megan R. Wilson.

AFL-CIO Demands Cutoff of Solar Products From Xinjiang: The leader of the AFL-CIO demanded that the Biden administration and Congress cut off imports of solar energy products from China’s Xinjiang region. The letter from the labor federation’s president, Richard Trumka, was addressed to National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. Trumka singled out products that “contain polysilicon made with forced labor.” His letter, sent yesterday, carries considerable weight because the support of the labor federation and other unions helped propel Biden to victory in last November’s election. Read more from Jenny Leonard and John Harney.

Harris Brother-in-Law is One of Uber’s Top-Paid Executives: Uber made its top lawyer, D. Anthony “Tony” West, who is the brother-in-law of Vice President Kamala Harris, one of the San Francisco-based company’s six highest-paid executives in 2020. West received nearly $12.3 million in total compensation, including nearly $10.9 million in stock awards, according to an annual proxy statement. Uber also paid him more than $1.4 million in cash. Read more from Brian Baxter.

‘Defund the Police’ Faces State GOP Ire: Resistance to the movement advocating that cities “defund” the police—or reallocate money in police budgets to social programs and others—is taking hold in Republican-led legislatures throughout the country. Bills pushed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and governors in Florida and Iowa, and moving through legislatures in states including Georgia and Missouri, would hamstring how cities allocate tax dollars to law enforcement, penalize those that defy the state, or both. Read more from Brenna Goth and Ayanna Alexander.

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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