Your Congress in Action: Vol. 34

08/16/2021 1:12 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 is heading off for a shortened August recess having taken a major step forward on a landmark infrastructure bill, but girding for tougher battles to come.

Last week, the Senate passed a $1.2 trillion "hard" infrastructure bill. 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 bill was approved by the Senate 69-30, with 19 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats to pass it and send it to the House.

The bill’s passage was a big victory for President Biden, who campaigned for the White House on a pledge to restore bipartisanship to solve big problems. But the Senate passage is just the first step in the bill’s journey. It now goes to the House, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said last week the House won’t take up this bill until the Senate passes a larger $3.5 trillion “social” infrastructure bill. The reason: many progressive Democrats believe the Senate bill does not go far enough in addressing major issues like climate and equity, and they want to ensure the larger bill move forward before giving the Senate bill the green light.

The Senate took its first steps towards that bigger bill last week as well, approving on a party-line vote a budget resolution that creates the framework for the legislation. The resolution contains instructions for the various Senate Committees to draw up their portions of the larger bill (the House will have a similar bill).

According to the Senate Budget Committee, “The [resolution] calls for the $3.5 trillion in long-term investments to be fully offset by a combination of new tax revenues, health care savings, and long-term economic growth. In addition, the agreement would prohibit new taxes on families making less than $400,000 per year, and on small businesses and family farms.”

Although the resolution does not provide specific legislative language, it does provide a roadmap of what Democrats hope to put into the bill, including:

  • Universal Pre-Kindergarten for 3 and 4-year olds
  • Childcare for working families
  • Tuition-free community college
  • Paid Family and Medical Leave
  • Expansion of the Affordable Care Act (aka, Obamacare)
  • Expanding Medicare to include dental, vision, hearing benefits and lowering the eligibility age
  • Expending child tax credits and the Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Lawful permanent status for qualified immigrants
  • Electrifying the federal vehicle fleet
  • A new Civilian Climate Corps, including a Native Civilian Climate Corps
  • Environmental justice investments in clean water affordability and access, healthy ports and climate equity

Republicans have come out uniformly against the bill, arguing that it spends too much money, would ignite inflation, and represents unneeded federal intrusion into the economy. But under the procedural rules Senate Democrats will use to advance the bill, Republicans cannot stop it. That said, it’s support among Democrats is not certain; at least two moderate-to-conservative Democratic Senators who have expressed concerns over the overall price tag and specific provisions.

Nonetheless, the Senate’s action sets the stage for a big debate in the fall over this significant expansion of the country’s social safety net.

The $3.5 trillion bill is not the only item on Congress’ to-do list for the fall. Lawmakers need to approve spending bills for federal agencies in order to keep the government running after September 30, the end of the fiscal year.

In addition, Congress will need to act to raise the debt ceiling this fall to prevent the federal government from defaulting on its debts. The Treasury Department says the government will reach this make-or-break point as early as September. However, Senate Republicans have vowed not to support efforts to raise the debt ceiling, forcing Democrats to go it alone.

Meanwhile, funding for the Historic Preservation Fund – which helps state and tribal historic preservation offices (S/THPOs) fulfill their obligations on Sec. 106 reviews and other duties – also will be on the agenda in the fall. In July, the House passed a funding bill for the Department of Interior and other agencies for the new fiscal year. In that bill, the House provides nearly $156 million for the Historic Preservation Fund; if that level makes it through the Senate, it would represent the largest single-year amount ever appropriated for the Fund.

While the additional funding is a good step, it’s not keeping up with the increased demand on S/THPOs in recent years. That’s why ACRA and a coalition of preservation groups is pushing Congress to double the amount that is authorized to be deposited into the Fund each year, to $300 million, and to permanently authorize the Fund, so that it will never sunset. The House approved an amendment to do just that by Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM), who formerly served as Vice Chair of the ACHP, as part of its initial infrastructure bill. Although her proposal was not included in the Senate-passed bill, ACRA and its allies are continuing to press Congress to support increased funding levels for the HPF.

When Congress returns in September, it will need to deal with the infrastructure bills, along with agency funding for the new fiscal year, the debt ceiling, and a host of other issues that will impact the CRM industry.

The timing could not be better for ACRA’s annual Hill day during ACRA’s 27th Annual Conference in Old Town Alexandria, VA, September 8-12, 2021. On 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 important issues, we hope you will join us in DC to help educate policymakers about the value of CRM.

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