Both houses of Congress return this week as the House joins the Senate in an early return. Facing members is a list of challenges some are a carryover while Covid-19 returns in another variant.
On the Build Back Better Reconciliation, the House will have to wait on Senate action and that does not seem likely over the next several weeks as the Senate turns it focus to trying to pass voting rights legislation and, along with it, how to deal with the Senate filibuster. Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) has made action a priority, but Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) seems unmoved on any change to the filibuster, and he would likely be joined by at least one other senator on that issue (Senate Kyrsten Sinema D-AZ). Regardless Senator Schumer is likely to push for action and votes by Martin Luther King’s birthday celebration on January 17.
The fate of the Build Back Better is not determined yet although it seems like some key elements will be tough to get through as long as the West Virginia Senator is the 50th vote. The fate of the Child Tax Credit seems very much in doubt as his criticisms have grown in recent weeks. Advocates for the CTC, including CWLA have not given up the push for an extension. In addition, there are several other critical proposals that might pass and if they did pass, they would be historic.
Items that might receive strong support include a universal child care and pre-kindergarten package that are in BBB. There seems to be less opposition or resistance from Manchin and there are likely other items that could be included and still be historic and critical such as housing increases and nutrition programs. All of that, however, will not be discussed in the next several weeks of January.
Finally, there is the need to finish appropriations. The current continuing resolution (CR) runs out on February 18, 2022. Republicans have made clear that they would like to see bigger increases in the Defense budget, and they won’t get those increases if Congress adopts a year-long CR. A CR would merely carry over 2021 funding levels into FY 2022. Just as concerning for advocates, including CWLA, a year-long CR might encourage an effort to impose a CR for FY 2023. That would mean frozen spending levels for three years.
The Defense Authorization, which is a separate annual bill to go along with the Defense Appropriations bill, did get bipartisan agreement and it raises the authorization to a proposed spending level of $740 billion up from $715 billion. The $715 billion is what the Biden Administration had requested. President Biden has now signed that Defense bill but an authorization still requires a separate appropriation.
That may be the ultimate leverage to get a deal on the 12 appropriations bills. The Republican leader for appropriations, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) did seem to indicate some progress during comments on the Senate floor last week but nothing formal has been announced. A deal would likely mean a roll-back in some of the domestic spending but at least some of the significant increases adopted by the House, especially for the Labor-HHS-Education bill could survive.