What to Know in Washington: Infrastructure Talks Near Finish

Senators negotiating a $579 billion infrastructure package are aiming to finish negotiations early this week, under pressure from colleagues to salvage an August recess and to allow the Senate to turn to preventing a government shutdown and debt ceiling default in the fall.

A pending five-week break scheduled to begin Aug. 9 is motivating the 22-member bipartisan group to end dickering over relatively minor components of their plan after Republicans spurned Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) deadline for action last week.

“If it’s not ready for Monday vote, we’re going to lose a couple of weeks on our August recess if we don’t, so it’s got to be ready,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said last week.

Getting the deal turned into legislation that can pass Congress is a major political goal for President Joe Biden, who ran for office pledging to govern as a centrist who could work with Republicans. That promise is widely seen as helping him win him suburban swing voters, who also will have a significant role in deciding control of Congress in the 2022 midterms.

Finishing a bipartisan infrastructure plan also is pivotal to getting all Democrats on board with a budget outline setting up a $3.5 trillion tax and spending package that will carry most of Biden’s agenda through Congress without Republican votes. Schumer said last week he would keep the Senate working past Aug. 9 if necessary to pass both.

A Republican aide familiar with the negotiations said billions of dollars still separate Democrats and Republicans on transit. The main dispute is over how to divide money from the highway trust fund between roads and transit. Democrats want 20% to go to transit and GOP lawmakers want a smaller portion. Read more from Erik Wasson.

Photographer: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg
Biden at the White House on Sunday.

More on Democrats’ Economic Plans

Pelosi Says No Vote Without Broader Plan: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) isn’t backing off her plan to hold up a bipartisan infrastructure deal until the Senate delivers a larger, Democratic-only plan expected later this year, prompting a rebuke from Senate Republicans.

Pelosi said on ABC she was “enthusiastic” about the $579 billion bipartisan package and hopes the Senate passes it. But she warned: “I won’t put it on the floor until we have the rest of the initiative.” Read more from Steven T. Dennis.

Drug Pricing Will Make or Break Health Agenda: Democrats’ ambitious plans to add new benefits to Medicare and bolster Obamacare this year hinge on delivering a major drug pricing package, putting pressure on committee leaders to find legislation the entire party can embrace.

Democrats plan to pass a $3.5 trillion legislative package that includes their main health care priorities via a reconciliation budget process, without Republican support. The multi-trillion-dollar legislative package could include expanding Medicare and Medicaid as well as extending enhanced insurance subsidies for people on the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges.

To offset at least some of the cost, lawmakers have proposed empowering the government to negotiate with drugmakers, and other changes to lower the price of medicines. But a failure to win big on drug pricing means Democrats won’t deliver much of their promised health agenda, lawmakers say. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

A Test for Transit Accessibility: The debate over transit funds in the infrastructure measure may dim prospects for agencies to get the influx of cash they would need to finally comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Today marks the 31st anniversary of the enactment of the ADA, the groundbreaking legislation that became the gold standard for accessibility and guaranteed people with disabilities equal access to public transportation. Biden, who co-sponsored the original legislation, will mark the occasion with an event in the Rose Garden.

Advocates for people with disabilities want to ensure the infrastructure package lawmakers are negotiating makes transportation systems more accessible, while going beyond federal standards written before the proliferation of powered wheelchairs and other new technology. Read more from Lillianna Byington.

Correa Insists on Immigration: A second House Democrat vowed to oppose his party’s budget package unless it includes an immigration overhaul benefiting unauthorized immigrants. “I will not support any budget reconciliation deal that continues to leave hard-working undocumented taxpayers in limbo,” Democrat Lou Correa of California said in a statement yesterday. Correa joins Rep. Chuy Garcia (D) of Illinois, who earlier insisted any budget deal must include a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants. Read more from Sophia Cai and Steven T. Dennis.

Debt-Limit Deadline Has Democrats Weighing Options: Democrats who control Congress are expressing confidence they can raise the federal debt limit in time to avoid a default this fall, but exactly how and when they’ll act isn’t yet clear. They have a rough deadline: the Congressional Budget Office last week said it expects so-called extraordinary measures available to the Treasury Department, like temporarily withholding special bonds from federal retirement accounts, will give Congress until October or November to act before the government runs out of money.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned Friday of a payment-default risk soon after Congress returns from its recess in September, though she said she couldn’t provide a precise date for how long special measures would last. Read more from Steven T. Dennis.

Happening on the Hill

Today’s Agenda:

  • The House is scheduled to vote on 20 bills under expedited floor procedure.
  • The Senate plans to vote on Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
  • Click here for a complete list of the week’s hearings and markups.

Pelosi Appoints GOP’s Kinzinger to Jan. 6 Committee: Speaker Pelosi appointed Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) to a select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, bypassing a boycott by GOP leaders. “Today, I was asked by the Speaker to serve on the House Select Committee to Investigate January 6th and I humbly accepted,” he said yesterday. “He brings great patriotism to the committee’s mission: to find the facts and protect our democracy,” Pelosi wrote in a statement. The panel will hold its first hearing tomorrow. Read more from Steven T. Dennis and Billy House.

Scott Hopeful on Police Reform: Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said yesterday he’s hopeful an agreement on police reform will be reached but vowed that any final accord wouldn’t “demonize” the police, including allowing individual officers to be sued in civil cases. Scott is leading slow-going bipartisan negotiations on legislation to overhaul policing practices in the U.S., along with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.). Both sides say chances for legislation could collapse if there isn’t a deal before an August recess that begins in less than two weeks. Read more from Laura Litvan.

Key Republican Presses for Answers on Student Loan Contracts: Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, told the Biden administration Friday that uncertainty over student loan contracts is unacceptable after two loan servicers announced they wouldn’t renew federal contracts at the end of the year, Andrew Kreighbaum reports. Foxx previously asked Education Secretary Miguel Cardona how the Education Department would transfer borrower accounts managed by Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, which also administers the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. In the letter Friday, she connected the departures of PHEAA and New Hampshire Higher Education Assistance Foundation Network to June comments made by Federal Student Aid Chief Operating Officer Richard Cordray, who promised an end to “business as usual” at the office overseeing loan servicing companies.

Politics & Influence

New Democrat Coalition Launches Task Forces: The New Democrat Coalition is creating three new policy task forces on rural reinvestment, future of work and capitalism, and trade, Erik Wasson reports. Reps. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) and Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) will serve as co-chairs of the rural reinvestment task force. The future of work and capitalism group will be led by Reps. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) and Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.). The trade panel co-chairs are Reps. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas).

“New Dems are focused on getting things done and delivering tangible change for Americans so that they can succeed in the 21st century,” said NDC Chair Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.). “The NDC’s task forces will continue to help deliver by developing policy ideas that promote equitable growth and opportunities for all Americans.

The new policy task forces come after the NDC previously formed panels on climate change, health care, immigration, and infrastructure.

Special Elections Testing Trump’s Clout: Special elections to fill four vacant House districts are highlighting skirmishes within the parties and testing the influence of Trump’s sway over Republican voters. In all four districts, the defending political party is either guaranteed victory or heavily favored to win—thus heightening the importance of the intraparty battles. The former president has backed candidates in a special election tomorrow in Texas and a GOP primary in Ohio next week. Greg Giroux has more.

Biden Previews Midterm Strategy, Tying Trump to GOP: Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe brought Biden to the vote-rich suburbs on Friday as he works to keep a national focus in the race and tie his GOP opponent to Donald Trump. Speaking in Arlington, a Democratic stronghold outside Washington, Biden said the race would be seen as a bellwether for 2022. “Terry and I share a lot in common. I ran against Donald Trump, and so is Terry,” Biden said. Read more from Ryan Teague Beckwith.

Around the Administration

White House Shifts Inflation Messaging: The Biden administration is shifting the way it talks about inflation, as polls show voter concern and Republicans try to use rising prices to kill off the president’s plan to spend trillions of dollars on social programs and infrastructure. Out: wonky jargon like “transitory” and complicated statistical explanations for price indicators. In: plain-language explanations from Biden himself, who sought in remarks last week to acknowledge ordinary Americans’ jitters about higher costs. Read more from Nancy Cook.

CDC Pressured to Revise Mask Guidance: A growing number of public-health experts are urging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend that even fully vaccinated people wear face masks in public amid the resurgence of virus cases fed by the Delta variant. Doctors including former surgeon general Jerome Adams say that the CDC acted prematurely in May when it announced that fully inoculated Americans would no longer need to wear a mask in most situations. Read more from Fiona Rutherford.

  • The U.S. is moving in the “wrong direction” in combating a new wave of Covid-19, and a booster vaccine shot may be needed especially for the most vulnerable, said Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert. Read more from Linus Chua and Yueqi Yang.

U.S. Declines to Probe N.Y. Nursing Home Deaths: The Justice Department has decided not to investigate New York state’s handling of the coronavirus in its nursing homes, the department said in a letter Friday to a Republican opponent of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. John Harney has more.

EPA Pushes Ahead to Enact Staffing Plan: The EPA has put a retention plan in place to strengthen “employee engagement” and develop “clear paths to career development” as a way of preventing current staff from either leaving or retiring. But some staffers say they haven’t seen much change yet, nearly four and a half months into EPA Administrator Michael Regan’s tenure. Read more from Stephen Lee.

NLRB Attorney Taps Predecessor as Deputy: Jennifer Abruzzo, the new general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, has named Peter Sung Ohr, the acting general counsel while she awaited confirmation, to the permanent role of deputy general counsel. The announcement came after Abruzzo was sworn in Thursday, ending a lengthy confirmation battle that required a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris. Ohr had served as acting general counsel since January. Ian Kullgren has more.

Biden Signals Shift Toward Tech on Patents: Biden’s administration has made several moves breaking from the previous administration’s approach to standard-essential patents, charting a course more favorable to Apple and other companies wanting to pay lower royalties on critical technologies. Read more from Matthew Bultman.

China Unloads Grievances in U.S. Talks: China lashed out at U.S. policies in a tense start to high-level talks in Tianjin, handing the Americans lists of demands and declaring the relationship between the world’s two largest economies in a “stalemate.” Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng told visiting Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman that some Americans seek to portray China as an “imagined enemy,” according to accounts released by the Foreign Ministry at the first talks between the two sides since an acrimonious exchange in Alaska earlier this year. The U.S. has not yet released its account of the Xie-Sherman meeting. Read more.

With assistance from Andrew Kreighbaum and Erik Wasson (Bloomberg News)

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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