What to Know in Washington: Lawmakers Pitch Competing Messages

Senators are heading home for spring break armed with tailored messages for their constituents, with Democrats touting the latest round of pandemic aid and Republicans spotlighting the migrant surge at the border.

The lawmakers are filling their calendars with events, including a GOP-led trip to Texas and Democratic plans to coordinate with President Joe Biden’s cross-country tour to promote the Covid-19 relief package.

The two-week recess provides both parties with an opportunity to position themselves for the legislative battles ahead as well as test themes they hope will resonate in the 2022 elections, particularly in battleground states and districts that will determine control of both chambers.

Messaging for the next election is well underway and there’s a lot at stake for both sides, said Sarah Binder, a congressional analyst at the Brookings Institution.

“If we ever had a separation between the sort of campaigning on one hand and governing on the other, that distinction disappeared long ago,” she said in a phone interview. Read more from Nancy Ognanovich.

Photographer: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/Bloomberg
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) at the Capitol on Thursday.

Happening on the Hill

What to Watch Today:

Senators Unveil Bill to Ban Fencing Around Capitol: Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) unveiled legislation to bar funding for permanent fencing around the U.S. Capitol complex. “There are clearly steps that need to be taken to strengthen security around the Capitol,” Blunt said in a statement, “but permanent fencing should not be a part of that response.” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) previously introduced the legislation in the House, Megan Howard reports.

Rural-Urban Debate Highlights Infrastructure Divides: Republicans are defending federal funding for rural transportation projects as the Biden administration begins its push to invest in infrastructure and reauthorize surface transportation programs. Democrats have called for major infrastructure investments that also tackle environmental and equity issues, which can mean more funding for public transportation in urban areas. But Republicans in hearings say they want a bipartisan effort that sticks to transportation and balances rural and urban needs. Read more from Lillianna Byington.

Democrats Call for Repeal of Trump True Lender Rule: Congressional Democrats took their first steps to undo a Trump administration rule they said facilitates predatory lending through “rent-a-bank” schemes. Senate Banking Chair Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced a Congressional Review Act resolution yesterday that would repeal the “true lender” rule issued by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in October 2020. Evan Weinberger has more.

Around the Administration

Biden Signals a Declining Taste for Bipartisanship: Biden signaled in his first formal news conference that he’s in no mood to let the trappings of bipartisanship stand in the way of his agenda, providing clear notice he values his policy ambitions over a post-Trump detente with Washington Republicans. “I want to change the paradigm,” Biden told reporters yesterday at the White House. The president for the first time signaled he may eventually support getting rid of the Senate filibuster entirely, after Republicans threatened to use the procedure to halt many of his priorities, from voting rights to immigration to gun control.

He said the filibuster had been “abused in a gigantic way” by Republicans. He portrayed GOP efforts to restrict voting rights in states as racist. His remarks on the filibuster and Republicans brought into relief a shift Biden has undertaken from candidate to president. He said that he believes his election win offers him a political mandate to fundamentally expand and refocus the mission of the federal government. Read more from Justin Sink.

Biden Budgets Challenge CBO: The Biden administration appears relaxed about running large budget deficits, but for one government agency that’s usually been a cue to start sounding alarms. The Congressional Budget Office –- whose job is to evaluate how new legislation will affect the public finances — finds itself in a tough spot as Biden prepares to announce an economic package worth as much as $3 trillion, on top of his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill earlier this month. Since its creation in the 1970s, the CBO has often been on the hawkish side of budget arguments, flagging the risk that the U.S. could slide into a fiscal crisis by spending too much. It repeated the warning this month. But the agency has persistently overestimated the government’s borrowing costs — leading to exaggerated debt projections that helped deter public spending. Read more from Katia Dmitrieva.

Walsh Gets to Work on Delayed Virus Safety Rule: Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, on his second full day in office, said he’s inserting himself in the agency’s stalled rulemaking to protect workers from Covid-19 and is hopeful to complete the complex process. “Certainly the health and safety of people, of workers, is our priority. We’re reviewing things now and, hopefully, over the course of the next—whatever it is—we’ll be able to do that,” Walsh said last night, when asked about the status of the U.S. Labor Department’s effort to develop an emergency regulation that would require businesses to take steps to safeguard workers against virus spread. “Of course I’ll be involved in it,” he added. Read more from Ben Penn.

Administration on Track to Meet Kigali Climate Deadline: The Biden administration is moving forward on its commitment to seek Senate ratification of a 2016 international agreement to reduce powerful greenhouse gas emissions. The State Department is on track to finish its work by the March 28 deadline on a “transmittal package” for the White House, spokesman Larry Pixa said earlier this month. Biden’s Jan. 27 executive order directed the State Department within 60 days to prepare the paperwork seeking the Senate’s advice and consent to ratify the Kigali Amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol. The Kigali amendment is a five-year-old international agreement to scale down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), chemicals found in air conditioning and refrigeration that contribute to climate change. Read more from Kellie Lunney.

Revamp of Global Tax Rules Looms: Biden and congressional Democrats are warning they may get tough on taxing U.S. companies abroad to raise more revenue and walk back some policies they see as being too corporate-friendly. Their plans include raising the corporate tax rate and increasing taxes on U.S. companies’ foreign income. They might also revise or reverse still-pending regulations to implement foreign-tax provisions of the 2017 tax law—with the aim of getting multinationals to pay more in U.S. taxes. Read more from Michael Rapoport.

Americans Made Additional $1.1 Trillion on Stimulus: Americans earned an additional $1.1 trillion last year, the most ever in data dating back to 1930, thanks entirely to stimulus checks and other government aid. Total U.S. personal income rose 6.1% last year to $19.7 trillion as a surge in coronavirus-era relief outpaced gains in wages, property values and other sources of wealth, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Read more from Alex Tanzi.

South Korea’s Chip Industry Caught Between China, U.S.: South Korea has long relied on the U.S. for security and on China for trade, seeking to keep politics out of business to avoid picking sides. That geopolitical balancing act is becoming increasingly untenable as Washington and Beijing square off over technology. South Korea’s advanced semiconductor industry is witnessing soaring global demand as consumer electronics sell out during the pandemic, with exports by Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix leading what is shaping up to be the strongest quarter of economic growth since 2018. Read more from Jeong-Ho Lee and Sohee Kim.

Politics & Influence

Georgia Governor Signs Bill to Overhaul Elections: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp yesterday signed an overhaul of the state’s elections systems giving the Republican-led General Assembly more authority over local election boards after last year’s record voter turnout and presidential recounts. The measure is among attempts by Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country to impose new voting restrictions that Biden yesterday called “sick” and “un-American.” Read more from Jennifer Kay.

Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) condemned the arrest of state Rep. Park Cannon, who was handcuffed and forcibly removed yesterday from the Georgia State Capitol after she sought entry to the governor’s office as he signed the sweeping overhaul of state election law. Read more from Kathleen Hunter.

Goldman Fraud-Claim Case Will Test Supreme Court: The Securities and Exchange Commission sent Goldman Sachs shares tumbling by 13% in a single day in 2010, when it accused the firm of defrauding customers by selling them a mortgage-backed investment that was secretly designed to fail. Eleven years later, shareholders who lost money that April day are before the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that could deal an even more sweeping blow to investors. In an argument set for Monday, Goldman Sachs will urge the court to put new limits on class action shareholder suits, and toss out a case that seeks to recoup potentially billions of dollars. Read more from Greg Stohr and Robert Schmidt.

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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