Your Congress in Action is a series that highlights the Capitol Hill news that affects CRM firms the most. Be sure to subscribe to the ACRAsphere to ensure you don't miss an update.
Capitol Hill turned its attention from the 46th President back to the 45th President last week as the Senate held the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump for his role in the Jan 6th insurrection.
Although the trial ended Saturday with Trump’s acquittal on a 57-43 vote (10 shy of the two-thirds needed for conviction), the partisan divisions laid bare by the insurrection and impeachment are not likely to go away. This creates both challenges and opportunities for President Biden. On one hand, Biden’s stated commitment to unity and bipartisanship has been well-received by the public, keeping his approval ratings at a fairly high level. On the other hand, his desire to advance an aggressive agenda may compel him to act in partisan ways, belying his pledges for comity.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on his efforts to enact a $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan. Even as Biden has maintained he wants a bipartisan package, Congressional Democrats are moving ahead with plans to pass legislation without the support of Republicans. In part, Democrats are emboldened by public support of Biden’s relief plan.
Two weeks ago, the House and Senate passed budget blueprints without a single Republican vote through a process known as “reconciliation” that enabled Democrats to avoid a Senate filibuster. Those votes gave various Congressional committees instructions to assemble the actual COVID relief legislation. House Democrats hope to pass the bill as early as this week, with the Senate to follow. Although the details remain to be worked out, the bill probably will include $1400 stimulus checks to most individuals, expanded jobless benefits through September, and funding for COVID vaccination and testing. The bill also is expected to include $350 billion in emergency relief for state, local and tribal governments. Past experience shows that when states have to tighten their belts, SHPOs wind up in the crosshairs, which is why ACRA supports including funding for state and tribal governments in the bill.
Although no Republicans voted for the Democrats’ blueprint, a group of 10 Senate Republicans have floated a much smaller $600 billion plan. President Biden invited the group to the White House to discuss it two weeks ago in what one participant described as a “a substantive and productive discussion.” But with neither side looking to budge significantly from their positions, and Congressional Democrats moving at full speed to pass their bill, it looks like partisanship will win again.
Once the COVID package is done, President Biden has indicated he wants to move quickly onto what could be an even larger package addressing infrastructure and climate. During the 2020 campaign, Biden released his “Build Back Better” proposal, which sought to spend upwards of $2 trillion to repair and improve the nation’s infrastructure, promote clean energy and address environmental racism, all while creating jobs for the struggling economy.
Infrastructure has traditionally been a bipartisan issue (both red states and blue states have potholes, after all). But Biden’s plan could still face partisan headwinds. For one thing, the plan’s expected focus on climate and promotion of renewable energy at the expense of fossil fuels could rankle Republicans (and even some Democrats), especially from coal- and oil-producing states. Second, the price tag of such a plan – especially if Congress passes the $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan – will prompt many Republicans to balk.
That said, if Biden and Democrats are willing to pass such a bill without Republican support, they may have the votes to do so (and under the Senate’s arcane rules, they will have a chance to bypass a filibuster). Once again, President Biden will face a choice: see his big plans come to fruition, or maintain his commitment to bring Republicans and Democrats together. It is unlikely he can do both.
While it’s unlikely the infrastructure bill will mention CRM, new investments in infrastructure will trigger more Section 106 reviews, which will increase demand for CRM services. That’s good news for ACRA members – as long as the bill does not short-circuit the Section 106 process in the name of regulatory “streamlining.” Reminding policymakers of the benefits of Section 106 remains a top priority for ACRA.
ACRA also is working to make sure that the Department of the Interior, which oversees historic preservation and cultural resources programs, has the leadership and policies in place to ensure the country balances development with preservation. Last week, ACRA wrote to the Senate in support of the nomination of Deb Haaland as Secretary of Interior. Haaland, who currently serves in the U.S. House, would be the first Native American Cabinet member in American history.
However, some Republicans have expressed opposition to her nomination because of her support of the Biden administration’s moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on public lands and other progressive positions she has taken in the past. She is expected to be confirmed, but the debate over public lands policies underscores the partisan disagreements Biden faces.
Assuming she is confirmed, Haaland will take charge of a department beset by low morale and a depleted workforce. As just one devastating example, according to The Hill newspaper, “following a July 2019 announcement that the Department of the Interior would uproot the majority of Bureau of Land Management employees, just 41 agreed to relocate, while a staggering 287 either retired or left the agency before the end of 2020.” Overall, BLM lost 87 percent of its Washington-based staff due to the previous administration’s relocation plan.
Haaland will also have to address policy moves made in the waning days of the Trump administration, including a Secretarial Order issued in December that will make it harder for the department and its partners to conduct Section 106 reviews. ACRA has written to Haaland, urging her to rescind the policy change, which ACRA says “imperils our ability to protect historic and cultural resources.”
Regardless of the partisan passions on display in Washington, policymakers have a long to-do list of issues to address – the economy, the pandemic, climate, racial equity, infrastructure, and many, many more. Most, if not all, affect CRM directly or indirectly, which is why staying engaged in the advocacy process is so important. To learn more about how you can get involved in advocating for the industry, click here.