Your Congress in Action: Vol. 32

07/19/2021 1:46 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.

Congress and the White House are working furiously to pass not one, but two, massive infrastructure bills that could reshape many parts of the economy, from transportation to education and health care – and could have large impacts on the CRM industry.

With all the maneuvering and proposals flying back and forth, let’s take a moment to break down all the moving parts:

How We Got Here

Joe Biden was elected partly on his platform of “Build Back Better,” promising increased spending on infrastructure, action on climate change, and expansion of the social safety net. The 2020 election results, a 50-50 split in the Senate coupled with the Democrats’ narrow majority in the House, gave Democrats control of all the policymaking levers in Washington, but barely.

Traditional infrastructure, meaning roads, bridges, water systems, rail and other “hard” elements, has traditionally received bipartisan support, but in the current partisan environment, even infrastructure is a hard sell. Meanwhile, Biden’s call for more spending on “soft” infrastructure like early childhood education, senior care, clean energy and the like, has received near-unanimous opposition from Republicans.

Although Democrats have a functional majority in the Senate (50 Senators plus the tiebreaking vote of the Vice President), Senate filibuster rules mean that Democrats need to secure the support of at least 10 Republicans to move any legislation, with one exception (more on that in a second). And Democrats can’t even count on all 50 Senators sticking together, with a caucus that ranges from super-progressive Bernie Sanders (VT) to conservative Joe Manchin (WV).

The one exception to the filibuster rule is a process called “reconciliation,” which is used for legislation to address the federal budget (taxes and spending), A reconciliation bill can’t be filibustered, meaning Democrats need just 50 Senators – but because everything in a reconciliation bill has to directly affect the federal budget, a lot of things Democrats want can’t be passed in a reconciliation bill (i.e., back to needing 60 votes).

Consequently Biden – who also campaigned on his ability to negotiate deals in the Senate – adopted a two-track process: work with some Republicans on a “hard” infrastructure package that could get 60 votes, while at the same time using reconciliation on a Democrats-only package that incudes a lot of his other priorities.

The Bipartisan “Hard” Infrastructure Plan

Two weeks ago, Biden and a bipartisan group of 10 Senators came to agreement on a framework for a “hard” infrastructure package. The package would spend $1.2 trillion over 8 years, including $579 billion in new spending, on roads, bridges, water systems, broadband and other traditional infrastructure. The biprasn group of Senators, which now has swelled to 22, is now working on filling in all the details. Majority Leader Schumer said last week he will start debate on the bill this week.

Although the bill has support from both parties, there is no guarantee that it will ultimately succeed, as many Republicans may still oppose it – and some progressive Democrats aren’t happy that it does not include more funding.

That is where the other bill comes in.

The Democratic “Soft” Infrastructure Plan

Last week, the White House and Senate Democrats came to an agreement on the broad outline of a $3.5 trillion "soft" infrastructure bill last week. Although the details have not yet been finalized, the bill could address several parts of President Biden's "Build Back Better" agenda, including universal prekindergarten for all 3- and 4-year-olds, two years of free community college, clean energy requirements for utilities, and expanded Medicare benefits. The plan would be paid for with a combination of tax increases on corporations, increased IRS enforcement, and other provisions.

The size of the bill is smaller than progressive Democrats had wanted, but larger than moderate and conservative Dems had been aiming for. At this point, the plan has not engendered any opposition from Senate Democrats, which is crucial since the plan would need all 50 Senate Dems to support it, assuming that no Senate Republicans back the plan. If Democrats are able to stick together, this plan could become law.

What is the Timeframe for Action?

There are two key deadlines for action on the infrastructure bills, one official and one less so.

The official deadline is September 30, when the current surface transportation law expires. If Congress fails to act, states will not receive billions of dollars in funding for roads, bridges and other transportation needs. Therefore, the bipartisan “hard” infrastructure bill will likely serve as the vehicle (no pun intended) to extend those programs. In fact, the House and Senate have both been working on transportation bills, which are expected to be folded into the bipartisan bill.

The non-official deadline is the 2022 midterm election, when all of the House and a third of the Senate are up for grabs. Democrats, worried that they may very well lose their majorities in a year, are anxious to get as much of Biden’s agenda passed now. Since passing major legislation gets trickier the closer you get to an election, they hope to wrap up the larger bill by the end of 2021.

How Will CRM Be Affected?

The size and scope of the two bills will impact the CRM industry in myriad ways, from the indirect to the more specific. Here are some of the ways in which the bills could affect CRM firms:

  • Infrastructure spending. If Congress increases spending on major infrastructure projects, there will be more Section 106 reviews, which means more work for CRM firms.
  • Regulatory streamlining. Every infrastructure debate comes with calls to reduce red tape. That means there are calls to “streamline” Section 106, and even exempt certain projects from it. To date, none of the proposals moving through Congress explicitly impact Section 106.

    But that could change. One area where there is the possibility of changes to Sec. 106 involves railroad rights-of-way (ROW). Although the railroad industry has been pressing Congress to allow more exemptions from Sec. 106, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee did not include such a provision in the transportation bill they approved, instead authorizing a study by the General Accounting Office (GAO) to assess the extent to which the existing exemptions work. But the railroad industry is continuing to press for more exemptions as the bill moved forward.
  • Historic Preservation Fund. As noted in the last Your Congress in Action, the House-passed transportation bill included an ACRA-backed amendment to permanently authorize the Historic Preservation Fund and double its annual authorization to $300 million. ACRA is now working with its allies to secure Senate support for a similar amendment.

Congress and the White House have a long way to go before any infrastructure legislation is enacted into law. For the CRM industry, this process presents an opportunity to make sure its priorities are reflected in whatever bills become law.

A great way to do that is by attending ACRA’s 27th Annual Conference in Old Town Alexandria, VA, September 8-12, 2021. On Thursday, September 9, ACRA members will go to Capitol Hill and lobby their elected representatives on the issues that matter the most to the industry. With Congress expected to be in the midst of the debate over these landmark bills, the timing is right to make sure that policymakers understand the value of CRM.

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