Becker’s Washington Weekly: April 12, 2021

Becker’s Washington Weekly: April 12, 2021

Becker's Washington Weekly BannerPresident Joe Biden is pushing Congress to pass his hefty infrastructure and budget proposals only three weeks after it passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. His $2.2 trillion infrastructure plan aims to achieve physical infrastructure modernization, nationwide electric vehicle adoption, and other climate-related initiatives. His $1.5 trillion budget proposal would boost investments in similar domestic areas while reducing defense spending. Biden is determined to keep Congress focused on advancing his agenda as the national debate shifts to recent immigration surges, voting rights, and gun control reform

Democrats are pushing Biden to include more progressive priorities in his proposals, but they face an uphill battle in the Senate thanks to their slim majority as well as the filibuster. President Biden said that the procedure should at least be reformed to prevent Republican obstruction of key legislation, but that view may clash with centrist Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) who hold considerable sway in the evenly-divided Senate and have repeatedly supported the filibuster for its protection of minority party rights.

With the pandemic becoming less of a unifying force for congressional Democrats now that the American Rescue Plan has passed and additional vaccines are being administered, Biden will have to weigh the benefit of appeasing progressives with the risk of jeopardizing Democrats’ thin majorities in next year’s midterms.

BUDGET
President Joe Biden released his $1.5 trillion budget proposal for fiscal year 2022, which calls for a 16% boost to nondefense funds and a 1.7% boost for defense funds. That lopsided increase ends a decades-long tradition of harmonizing defense and nondefense spending increases.

The overall $1.5 trillion proposal is $118 billion greater than last year’s budget. It offers $769.4 billion in nondefense discretionary spending, which is $105.7 billion greater than last’s year’s budget. Defense spending would rise to $753 billion, totaling a $12.3 billion increase. The modest defense spending increase will irk both Republicans who wanted a 3-5% boost and progressives who hoped for a larger cut.

Biden is proposing a 20% increase in funding for the Departments of Commerce, Education, Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency as the president hopes to shore up domestic manufacturing capabilities and enhance the nation’s infrastructure in public healthcare and the environment. In addition, Biden is calling for a $65 million increase for the Agriculture Department’s rural broadband program ReConnect which provides grants and loans for broadband deployment to unserved areas. He also wants billions in investment to update the federal government’s IT and workforce infrastructure to prevent future cyberattacks and to attract new talent.

This “skinny” outline omits Administration policy proposals and economic expectations typically included in a president’s budget, but the White House said those will be released later in the year. Such policies which Republicans and Democrats are likely to clash over are future border wall funding and the removal of Hyde Amendment language which generally bans federal funding for abortions.
While Biden has said he is open to negotiating his proposal, any package will require at least 10 Republican votes in the Senate to defeat a filibuster before the government runs out of money on September 30th.

The following is a list of funding levels on a department-basis included in Biden’s proposal.

Health and Human Services. Biden’s proposal recommends:

  • $51 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (a $9 billion increase).
  • $8.7 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (a $1.6 billion increase).
  • $10.7 billion to combat the opioid crisis (a $3.9 billion increase).
  • $670 million for HIV/AIDS programs (a $267 million increase).

The NIH proposal includes $6.5 billion to establish a health division of the Advanced Research Project Agency to combat cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. The Administration also proposes $905 million for the department’s Strategic National Stockpile, which houses vital medical equipment necessary to tackle infectious diseases. Biden plans to nominate infectious disease expert Dawn O’Connell as assistant secretary for preparedness and response to oversee the stockpile.

Homeland Security. $52 billion (no increase).
Biden’s proposal leaves untouched completed and/or funded portions of the border wall. It proposes $1.2 billion in alternative border infrastructure including border security technology and modernized land ports of entry.

  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not have a top-line funding level.
  • The plan increases funding for the Offices of Professional Responsibility for Customs and Border Protection and ICE to investigate workforce complaints “related to white supremacy” and broader concerns regarding domestic terrorism.

Defense. The Department of Defense would receive the largest share of defense spending with $715 billion, and it signals the Administration’s push to deter China and Russia by calling for advanced hypersonic weapons and next-generation Navy vessels and armaments.

Education. $102.8 billion ($29.8 billion increase), including:

  • $36.5 billion for Title I grants for disadvantaged students.
  • $1 billion to hire more school counselors, nurses, and mental health professionals.
  • $15 billion for special education (a 12% increase).
  • $144 million for the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (a 10% increase).
  • $285 million for registered apprenticeships (a 54% increase).
  • $2.1 billion for worker protection programs (a $304 million increase).

Commerce. $11.4 billion ($2.5 billion increase), including:

  • $6.9 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (a $1.4 billion increase).
  • $442 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) manufacturing programs.
  • $916 million for NIST scientific and technological research.

EPA. $11.2 billion ($2 billion increase), including:

  • $936 million for a new “Accelerating Environmental and Economic Justice” initiative.
  • $3.6 billion for water infrastructure.

Agriculture.$27.8 billion ($3.8 billion increase), including:

  • $6.7 billion for nutrition programs.
  • $6.5 billion in rural electric loan authority.
  • $4 billion for department research, education, and outreach programs.
  • $1.2 billion for the Food Safety and Inspection Service to expand small and regional meat processing facility capacity.

Transportation. Includes several priorities in addition to Biden’s major $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal:

  • $2.7 billion for Amtrak (a 35% increase).
  • $625 million for a new grant program for intercity passenger rail.
  • $250 million for transit agencies to purchase low and no-emission buses.

IRS. $13.2 billion ($1.2 billion increase), including a boost for tax enforcement.

Justice. Biden would provide $2.1 billion to address gun violence (a $232 million increase), including $401 million in state and local grants. Violence Against Women Act programs would receive $1 billion (a $487 million increase).

State, Foreign Aid. The plan provides $63.5 billion for the State Department and other international programs (a $6.8 billion increase). It supports the World Health Organization, the UN’s Population Fund and Human Rights Office, but the forthcoming detailed plan will include specific funding amounts and proposed reforms. The proposal would also restore humanitarian aid to Palestine and refugees.

Infrastructure. President Biden released his $2.2 trillion infrastructure plan last month to mixed reviews on the Hill. Its key components include $620 billion for physical infrastructure improvements, $174 billion for electric vehicle and charging station expansion, $100 billion in broadband deployment, and over $100 billion in clean energy production. The bill would be rolled out over an eight-year period and would be financed by increasing the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%. The Administration will also release a second package in mid-April dealing with social welfare spending.

Progressives have criticized Biden’s infrastructure plan for not spending considerably more on climate, while centrists are concerned about its lack of state and local tax deductions and its higher corporate tax rate during a vulnerable economy. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other Republicans have vowed to oppose the bill for increasing taxes during the recovery and for advancing Democratic policy priorities not related to traditional, physical infrastructure.

Regardless, Democrats will likely use budget reconciliation once again to pass the bill by a simple Senate majority in the Senate to avoid a Republican filibuster. While Senate rules limit the number of times reconciliation can be used in a given fiscal year, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) received the Senate Parliamentarian’s approval to use reconciliation once again under a technical exception to the Senate rules.

COVID-19. President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan relief package into law after it passed in Congress exclusively along party lines. Biden also set a new target of administering 200 million vaccine doses by his 100th day in office after surpassing his initial goal of 100 million.

While ongoing vaccinations have generally put a dent in COVID-19 cases, states such as Michigan are experiencing new spikes in cases following the spring break season. Experts also predict that new variants will become the more dominant strain in the U.S. if more people do not get vaccinated quickly.
President Biden announced in late-March that 90% of U.S. adults would be eligible to receive a vaccine by April 19th. The Administration is accomplishing this by ordering and distributing more doses to an additional number of pharmacies within five miles of every American. However, recent stumbles in vaccine supply may affect the nation’s pace towards herd immunity.

A handful of states are temporarily pausing J&J vaccinations after reports indicated adverse side effects. The company also discarded 15 million doses after it reported a manufacturing error at one of its factories. AstraZeneca’s forthcoming vaccine is also under new scrutiny after the company provided outdated data to global health officials in seeking their approval for distribution. Experts have defended the vaccine’s effectiveness despite the company’s error.

In the meantime, new studies show that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were 90% effective in adults after the second does and were 100% effective in children ages 12-15. Both companies have begun preparations to conduct clinical trials in this age group.

Health Policy. The public healthcare infrastructure portion of President Biden’s infrastructure package finds support in House Democrats’ LIFT America Act, which dedicates over $32 billion out of its $312 billion price tag towards state, local, tribal, and territorial health department funding, modern hospital construction, community health center construction project grants, Indian Health service funding, and laboratory and testing infrastructure.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is pushing Biden to include Medicare changes in the infrastructure bill to reduce the eligibility age to 55, allow the government to negotiate drug prices, and to include dental and hearing coverage. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is considering including the drug price negotiation language. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is the Senate’s chief opponent of such measures but has previously worked with Democrats to cap out-of-pocket Medicare costs for elderly consumers.

In the meantime, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), along with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) have introduced legislation to create a public option for health insurance, which Biden promised he would enact as part of his goal of expanding the Affordable Care Act.

Immigration. President Biden is facing new pressure to address recent migrant surges at the southern border. Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas have stated that last year’s rocky transition prevented the new Administration from fully comprehending the nation’s border issues and have publicly called on migrants to temporarily delay traveling to the border. However, Biden insisted that the government will not deport any unaccompanied minors.

Members of Congress have inspected the border to offer their differing reasons for the recent surge. Republicans blame Biden’s compassionate rhetoric on immigration as a pull factor for migrants, while Democrats cite seasonal weather changes as the cause of this “routine” surge. The surge threatens the chances that Biden’s legislative immigration proposals will pass in the Senate.

Two bills giving legal protections for undocumented children and agricultural workers passed the House in mid-March, but House Democrats are splitting over Biden’s more comprehensive reforms, and Senate Republicans would certainly filibuster anything the House sends over. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said that lawmakers are currently negotiating the bill, and that it will eventually pass after the House Judiciary Committee marks it up in mid-April.

Housing Policy. U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) has been confirmed as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), making her the second African American to lead the department. She inherits a $48 billion department which is responsible for handling a housing and rental crisis made worse by the pandemic.

The CDC extended its national eviction moratorium through June 30 after it was set to expire March 31. However, the moratorium has faced legal challenges over whether it was an unconstitutional use of Executive power.

Legislatively, President Biden’s infrastructure proposal would allocate over $200 billion towards building and renovating affordable housing, along with new school construction. The section also provides tax credits to construct housing for low-income families in addition to $40 billion for public housing.

Becker’s Federal Lobbying Team will continue to monitor these developments as they evolve and will share with you as soon as information becomes available.