What to Know in Washington: Lawmakers Seek Wins by Midterms

  • Moderates Democrats need legislative wins to tout at home
  • China competition measure inches forward in Senate

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A group of centrist House Democrats is urging leadership to put nearly two dozen health-care bills on the floor for votes.

The endorsement for the swath of legislation will be rolled out with a social media push on Thursday and is part of the New Democrat Coalition’s broader effort to encourage the party to pass as many bipartisan bills as possible before the midterm elections—while they still control the House, Senate, and White House.

The potential for Republicans to take back the House majority means the time is now for any lingering legislative priorities that may potentially find support in the Senate, New Democrat Chair Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) said in an interview. “We’re here right now, we’re ready to legislate right now,” she said. “Let’s get things done right now to help our communities.”

Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
Reps. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.), Scott Peters (D-Calif.), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), and Ami Bera (D-Calif.), all leaders of the New Democrat Coalition, speak to reporters outside the White House on March 30.

The group’s leaders are working with the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its health subcommittee to get some of the bills marked up next month, with potential floor votes in the summer, said Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.), who sits on the Health subcommittee. Lawmakers on the coalition are also discussing whether such bills should be voted on as standalone measures or combined in a larger package.

Many of the bills tackle mental health and opioid addiction, two issues President Joe Biden requested bipartisanship on during his State of the Union address. Biden’s administration released its drug control strategy last week, a sweeping plan that promises a new injection of funding for law enforcement agencies to crack down on drug traffickers and an expansion of harm-reduction programs.

House leaders also support the effort. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said addressing mental health is a top priority for Democrats, especially amid the pandemic. “I applaud the efforts of the New Democrat Coalition Health Care Task Force to advance a number of bills that take action on the opioid crisis and make important improvements in mental health support and treatment,” Hoyer said in a statement to Bloomberg Government. Emily Wilkins has more.

Happening on the Hill

CONGRESSIONAL SCHEDULE:

  • The Senate meets at 10 a.m. to initiate a conference with the House on a bill to boost competition with China.
  • The House meets at 10 a.m., with votes planned on the Senate-passed Ukraine Democracy Defend Lend-Lease Act.

A bill that would aid the U.S. domestic semiconductor industry and bolster competitiveness with China inched forward in Congress as lawmakers race to complete negotiations before the November elections scuttle hopes of delivering a bipartisan win. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday evening locked in a series of procedural moves that start the formal conference process with the House so the two chambers can reconcile their different versions of the bill.

“Tonight’s agreement is very good news for America, for good paying jobs in America, for economic strength in America, for investments in the kinds of science and technology that will help us grow as a country and provide great futures for the next generation,” Schumer said on the floor. “The time has come to move forward on this bill.” Final passage remains months off, according to a person familiar with the matter, but Schumer’s actions do advance the measure. Daniel Flatley has more.

The Senate will wait to confirm Biden’s Federal Reserve picks until the return of Democrats recovering from Covid, Banking Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said. Brown blocked votes this week on a second term for Jerome Powell as chair of the Federal Reserve and the nomination of Philip Jefferson to the Fed Board of Governors after top Republican Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) refused to postpone a procedural vote on the nomination of Lisa Cook as a governor, Steven T. Dennis reports.

  • The Senate confirmed eight U.S. attorneys, including new chief prosecutors in Atlanta and Cleveland, after Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) removed a months-long blockade preventing fast approval. Cotton agreed Wednesday to allow a packaged vote on U.S. attorneys, a position that traditionally gains bipartisan approval but was postponed over Cotton’s unrelated objections to the Justice Department’s handling of Black Lives Matter litigation. Ben Penn has more.

A bipartisan Senate group will explore options for immigration legislation this year. “The idea is to get as many bipartisan bills we can find that have goals that will add up to 60,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said, referring to the Senate threshold for passing most bills. He’ll meet Thursday with another Democrat and two Republicans. It’ll mark the most concrete step senators have taken on map immigration action this year. Ellen M. Gilmer and Steven T. Dennis have more.

A House panel is set to vote on a pair of bipartisan bills that aim to better prepare the U.S. for more drones and futuristic aviation like flying taxis. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will weigh legislation (H.R. 5315) that would create an infrastructure inspection grant program to fund drones that could help find cracks in bridges. Members will also consider a bill (H.R. 6270) on grants for advanced air mobility infrastructure. Lillianna Byington has more.

Legislation aimed at bringing more competition to the cattle industry falls short of what small ranchers say they need to compete against big competitors. Farmers say the legislation (S. 4030)—which is opposed by meatpackers and has split Republicans—doesn’t do enough to break up the market concentration that’s edging them out of the industry. CEOs of cattle producers and meatpackers testified before the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday. Maeve Sheehey has more.

A top appropriator wants a revised budget proposal from Biden after officials inadvertently sought cuts to Violence Against Women Act funding and other programs—although the White House blamed Congress’ own tardiness in pushing through the latest spending package. Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) asked for an update after the March 28 fiscal 2023 proposal didn’t reflect recent changes to the Violence Against Women Act, including an LGBT grant program and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention programs.

Biden’s budget proposal called for $29.3 million for the CDC’s National Diabetes Prevention Program, down from $33.3 million in the 2022 omnibus measure; $20.5 million for the CDC’s Alzheimer’s program, down from $30.5 million in the omnibus; and $16 million for its Lyme disease program, down from $20.5 million in the omnibus. It also accidentally requested cuts for the CDC’s Lead Exposure Registry focused on Flint, Mich. Read more from Jack Fitzpatrick.

The debate over where a new biomedical accelerator should sit within the federal government isn’t over, as a top health lawmaker said she’ll keep working to keep the new agency outside of the NIH. “Congress authorizes. Congress appropriates,” Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said at a House Energy and Commerce Committee health subcommittee hearing on the Health and Human Services Department’s budget request. Alex Ruoff, Jeannie Baumann, and Shira Stein have more.

Congressional Black Caucus members urged Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to support minority-owned banks as one of the ways to tackle challenges faced by the Black community. Yellen reviewed during the meeting some of the policies already put in place by the Biden administration that benefited the Black community, including the 2021 pandemic stimulus package known as the American Rescue Plan and the expanded child tax credit, a congressional aide said. Jarrell Dillard has more.

House appropriators are bracing for what might be another year of intense U.S. wildfires, proposing billions of dollars in funding and 1,500 additional firefighters to better protect communities and property. The upcoming fire season “looks to be another severe year” for fires, House Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee Chair Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) said at her panel’s hearing Wednesday on the U.S. Forest Service budget. Read more from Dean Scott.

The CFPB wants to take another look at late-fee limits and customer disclosures that have governed the credit card market for over a decade, the agency’s director said. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Rohit Chopra told lawmakers he’s asked the agency’s staff to study whether “we should reopen” regulations under the Credit CARD Act of 2009. The law requires credit card issuers to provide written notice before raising rates and other disclosures. Read more from Evan Weinberger.

The head of McKinsey acknowledged that it failed to see the opioid epidemic unfolding while simultaneously doing work for drug regulators and makers of medications such as OxyContin in his first appearance before lawmakers investigating the consulting firm’s decisions. “While our intent was not to fuel the epidemic, we failed to recognize the broader context of what was going on in society around us,” said Bob Sternfels, who became global managing partner in 2021, Matthew Boyle reports.

What’s Next for Congress: Lawmakers returned from spring recess this week with a long to-do list and midterm elections on the horizon. The Bloomberg Government legislative analyst team held a webinar to discuss the agenda for the remainder of the year, including fiscal 2023 appropriations, Ukraine and Covid-19 aid, and a U.S.-China competition package. Download the BGOV webinar.

Around the Administration

BIDEN’S SCHEDULE:

  • Biden delivers remarks on Ukraine at 10:45 a.m. at the White House.
  • The president meets with small business owners at 2 p.m. in Washington.

Biden administration officials will send Congress a request for more Ukraine funding as soon as today, calling for military resources, humanitarian resources, and possibly broader global food aid and money to restore a U.S. diplomatic presence in Kyiv. The bill “should be coming forward in the next couple of days,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told lawmakers yesterday afternoon in a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing. See Jack Fitzpatrick’s Budget Briefing for the latest.

The U.S. has secured the commitment of more than 50 countries to promote freedom of expression on the internet in a campaign that has been delayed and fallen short of initial Biden administration aspirations. U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is set to announce on Thursday morning that Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan are among those that have signed onto the declaration, which pledges to support the internet as a platform for transparency and innovation, according to two senior U.S. officials. Katrina Manson has more.

The CDC’s plan to modernize its data operations is overly vague, lacks deadlines, and doesn’t assign clear responsibility for completion, a government watchdog said in a new report. The Data Modernization Initiative was launched in 2020 as part of a broader effort to overhaul U.S. public health information systems. While the pandemic pushed some of those efforts into high speed, the Government Accountability Office faulted the agency’s overall plan. Read more from Drew Armstrong.

A federal judge temporarily blocked the White House from ending Title 42, a pandemic-related rule that has allowed U.S. officials to turn away asylum-seekers and other migrants at the border. The Western District of Louisiana granted a request from a multi-state coalition to issue a temporary order barring the Homeland Security Department from reducing its use of Title 42 for two weeks. DHS retains its case-by-case discretion over migrants’ cases, Maeve Allsup and Ellen M. Gilmer report.

Biden has approved more requests to export U.S. natural gas as it seeks to counteract Russia’s efforts to use the fuel as a weapon against Ukrainian allies. Golden Pass LNG, a liquefied natural gas project that Qatar Petroleum and Exxon Mobil are building in Texas, and Glenfarne’s Magnolia LNG project planned for Louisiana won Energy Department authorization to ship gas to countries that don’t have a free trade agreement with the U.S. Read more from Ari Natter and Sergio Chapa.

To contact the reporters on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri in Washington at gmacri@bgov.com

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

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