Your Congress in Action: Vol. 28

05/10/2021 1:07 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

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.

As President Biden reaches the end of his first 100 days in office, partisanship is clouding the outlook for his ambitious agenda – even as policies that impact cultural resources continue to move forward.

On April 28, Biden headed to Capitol Hill for his first address to Congress. Speaking to a House chamber that was half-empty due to COVID precautions, Biden said the country "was on the move again" as he touted his administration's success in delivering vaccines. In the speech he called on Congress to pass his $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan and his $1.8 trillion social plan, as well as legislation on gun violence, policing reform, immigration and other issues. In the Republican response, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) criticized Biden for the size and scope of his spending plans.

The ”social infrastructure” plan Biden unveiled would spend $1.8 trillion on a range of education, health and safety-net programs intended to reduce economic inequality. It includes two years of tuition-free community college, universal pre-Kindergarten for 3- and 4-year olds, tuition subsidies for students from families earning less than $125,000 enrolled at historically Black institutions, tribal colleges and other minority-serving institutions for two years, up to 12 weeks of paid parental, family, and personal illness leave, and a temporary extension of an enhanced child tax credit until 2025. The plan also would raise taxes on upper income earners.

Not surprisingly, the plan received a less-than-enthusiastic response from Congressional Republicans due to its size and tax increases. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said last week that "100%" of his focus is "on stopping this new administration." Nonetheless, Biden said he hopes he can win bipartisan support for his program.

The last two weeks made clear, however, that even as the two parties battle one another, they also are battling with themselves. Democrats have been growing increasingly frustrated with two of their own, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who have steadfastly opposed curtailing the filibuster (and, in the case of Manchin, opposes parts of Biden’s proposals). With the filibuster intact, Senate Democrats will be forced either to win over at least 10 Republicans for their agenda, or use the same procedure, known as reconciliation, they used for the COVID relief plan, which requires just 50 votes to pass but also limits what legislation can be approved.

For their part, meanwhile, Republicans appear to still be re-litigating the 2020 election. The House GOP may vote this week to remove Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) as the GOP Conference Chair, the third-ranking slot in leadership. Cheney has angered a number of Republicans, including former President Trump, for stating that President Biden won the election fairly. Trump and House GOP Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) have thrown their support behind Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who has defended the former President and his unsubstantiated election fraud claims, to replace Cheney.

The partisan and intra-partisan squabbling may make it seem like nothing is happening in Washington. But below the surface, there are signs that on some issues, progress is possible. This includes policies that impact the CRM industry, directly or indirectly. Recent developments include:

  • Protecting Tribal Artifacts. ACRA joined with a number of its cultural resources partners in late April to support the introduction of the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act of 2021 (STOP Act). This bipartisan legislation would enable the U.S. to take strong steps toward halting the overseas auctions of illicitly-procured tribal objects, and in encouraging the voluntary return of such items to their rightful owners. As the letter signed by ACRA and other groups states, “Passage [of the STOP Act] is critical to ending illegal trafficking in tribes’ cultural heritage and bringing home objects that have been separated from their communities for far too long.
  • Improving Water infrastructure. The Senate approved a $35 billion bill to upgrade the nation's water infrastructure two weeks ago on an 89-2 vote. The bill would improve the nation's aging water and wastewater infrastructure, support programs to provide safe drinking water and set aside grant funding for poor, rural and tribal communities that have struggled with poor water quality. The bill leaves intact protections under the National Historic Preservation Act to ensure that any federally funded projects require a Sec. 106 assessment. The bill now goes to the House.
  • Financing New Infrastructure. The Biden administration announced new programs from the Department of Energy that will provide upwards of $8 billion to finance high-voltage transmission lines, martialing its loan program to pay for the investments and encouraging applications for loan guarantees of up to $5 billion. The White House also announced that DOT is releasing new guidance on how states should remove obstacles along highways and railroads to facilitate the construction of power lines.
  • Protecting the Permitting Process. A coalition of environmental groups has sued the Army Corps of Engineers in federal court in Montana, arguing that the Corps failed to properly analyze environmental impacts when issuing a broad pipeline permit. The permit at issue, Permit 12, is a nationwide permit that streamlines the pipeline permitting process. The Corps has estimated that its 2021 version will be used more than 40,000 times over the next five years.
  • Supporting Land and Water Conservation. The Biden administration unveiled broad principles to achieve the 30x30 goal of conserving 30 percent of the nation’s land and waters by 2030. The "America the Beautiful" framework, released by the Commerce, Interior and Agriculture Departments. outlines in broad strokes steps the U.S. could take to safeguard key areas on land and in the sea to restore biodiversity, tackle climate change and make natural spaces more accessible to all Americans.

Although there is a long road ahead for the President’s agenda, developments over the last two weeks show that it is possible to move the ball forward on issues that affect millions of Americans.

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