The 2021 Congress adjourns

The U.S. House of Representatives went into recess last Wednesday. Time for members to be with their families–and rub elbows with constituents at community gatherings. 

Initially, the Senate planned to labor on through this week.   

It made sense. Democratic members have failed to achieve two of their major goals for the year–passing the Build Back Better Act and two bills dealing with voting rights.  

The Build Back Better Act is considered the centerpiece of Biden’s agenda. It includes some provisions popular with voters–like providing universal pre-K, extending the expanded tax credit for parents a year,  and providing some workers with four weeks of paid family and medical leave. It would also allow the government to negotiate more favorable prices for pharmaceuticals, to provide tax incentives for producers and purchasers of wind, solar, and nuclear power, and to increase taxes on the very rich.  

But the bill took three blows this month. Inflation spread from fuel and housing to a number of other categories. Most Democrats believe that it’s temporary–part of pulling out of the COVID slump–but they want to make sure before they increase government spending.

Then the Congressional Budget Office–whose mid-November report predicted BBB would add $367 billion to the budget deficit during the next 10 years–came up with an addendum. If provisions like the one-year expanded tax credit for parents were so popular a future Congress voted to extend them for the full 10 years, the total addition to the deficit would be $2.75 trillion–less than Trump tax cut is predicted to add, but enough to create a collective shudder throughout Congress.  

When the Senate Parliamentarian ruled for the third time that a provision–one allowing work permits to legalize immigrants who’ve already worked here the past 10 years–couldn’t be included in a budget bill, Biden conceded that getting a final bill would take more work and more time. 

So the President switched the focus to two voting rights bills already passed by the House. Senator Bernie Sanders said, “Obviously voting rights have got to be dealt with immediately.” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer echoed, “This is a battle for the soul of America.”

Then the Senate adjourned at 4:02 a.m. Saturday.   

It was a surprise, but voting rights bills do have a major problem. They can’t qualify for budget reconciliation so they are subject to filibuster rules which don’t allow for a vote by the Senate unless 60% of the Senate’s sworn members–not just 60% of those voting–agree. Republicans voted last June to prevent the opening of debate on voting rights.  

It’s possible to bypass the filibuster. A tricky maneuver used to free approval of appointments from the filibuster involved two points of order–which are non-debatable and can pass by a majority vote. 

Democrats haven’t tried anything to date because they don’t have the votes.  The most vocal of Democratic conservatives, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, supports voting rights. He co-sponsored the bill the House sent to the Senate last year. He’s had a hand in revisions of the two bills now before the Senate. 

But Manchin also supports the filibuster. He’d like to keep negotiating a bill until it has bipartisan support.

But Republicans aren’t about to block attempts by numerous Republican governors and legislatures to gerrymander districts, suppress voter turnout, and, in at least Georgia and Alabama, dismiss officials who won’t guarantee a Republican victory.

Whatever some senators hoped to do this week to pass a voting rights bill fell through. We may see another election next November where millions of voters have fewer rights than those of us in Idaho.     

The U.S. House of Representatives went into recess last Wednesday. Time for members to be with their families–and rub elbows with constituents at community gatherings. 

Initially, the Senate planned to labor on through this week.   

It made sense. Democratic members have failed to achieve two of their major goals for the year–passing the Build Back Better Act and two bills dealing with voting rights.  

The Build Back Better Act is considered the centerpiece of Biden’s agenda. It includes some provisions popular with voters–like providing universal pre-K, extending the expanded tax credit for parents a year,  and providing some workers with four weeks of paid family and medical leave. It would also allow the government to negotiate more favorable prices for pharmaceuticals, to provide tax incentives for producers and purchasers of wind, solar, and nuclear power, and to increase taxes on the very rich.  

But the bill took three blows this month. Inflation spread from fuel and housing to a number of other categories. Most Democrats believe that it’s temporary–part of pulling out of the COVID slump–but they want to make sure before they increase government spending.

Then the Congressional Budget Office–whose mid-November report predicted BBB would add $367 billion to the budget deficit during the next 10 years–came up with an addendum. If provisions like the one-year expanded tax credit for parents were so popular a future Congress voted to extend them for the full 10 years, the total addition to the deficit would be $2.75 trillion–less than Trump tax cut is predicted to add, but enough to create a collective shudder throughout Congress.  

When the Senate Parliamentarian ruled for the third time that a provision–one allowing work permits to legalize immigrants who’ve already worked here the past 10 years–couldn’t be included in a budget bill, Biden conceded that getting a final bill would take more work and more time. 

So the President switched the focus to two voting rights bills already passed by the House. Senator Bernie Sanders said, “Obviously voting rights have got to be dealt with immediately.” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer echoed, “This is a battle for the soul of America.”

Then the Senate adjourned at 4:02 a.m. Saturday.   

It was a surprise, but voting rights bills do have a major problem. They can’t qualify for budget reconciliation so they are subject to filibuster rules which don’t allow for a vote by the Senate unless 60% of the Senate’s sworn members–not just 60% of those voting–agree. Republicans voted last June to prevent the opening of debate on voting rights.  

It’s possible to bypass the filibuster. A tricky maneuver used to free approval of appointments from the filibuster involved two points of order–which are non-debatable and can pass by a majority vote. 

Democrats haven’t tried anything to date because they don’t have the votes.  The most vocal of Democratic conservatives, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, supports voting rights. He co-sponsored the bill the House sent to the Senate last year. He’s had a hand in revisions of the two bills now before the Senate. 

But Manchin also supports the filibuster. He’d like to keep negotiating a bill until it has bipartisan support.

But Republicans aren’t about to block attempts by numerous Republican governors and legislatures to gerrymander districts, suppress voter turnout, and, in at least Georgia and Alabama, dismiss officials who won’t guarantee a Republican victory.

Whatever some senators hoped to do this week to pass a voting rights bill fell through. We may see another election next November where millions of voters have fewer rights than those of us in Idaho.     

Published by Judy Ferro

Judy Ferro is communication director for the 2C Dems and a columnist for the Idaho Press.

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