No shutdown but little headway in Congress
Manchin to side with GOP against private business vaccine mandate
There won’t be a government shutdown this weekend. But Congress is making little progress on key bills. And this was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen at the U.S. Capitol. This is “Regular Order” for December 3, 2021.
NO SHUTDOWN. Avoiding a pre-Christmas shutdown, the House and Senate voted Thursday to approve a stopgap plan to keep the federal government funded through February 18. The House vote was 221-212 for the bill, while the Senate gave it much stronger bipartisan support in a vote of 69-28. Negotiators will try to finalize the 12 funding bills after the Christmas break.
TALKS. Democrats say one reason the work isn’t done is that Republicans have not engaged in negotiations on how much to spend in 2022. “Democrats have made a fair offer, a strong offer, and we need a response,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
LATE AGAIN. Congress is supposed to be finished with its spending work for the federal government by September 30 - when the fiscal year ends. But that rarely happens. In fact, it’s been 25 years since lawmakers last did their work on time, in 1996.
VACCINE MANDATE. Republicans used the debate over the stopgap funding plan to demand a provision which would block Biden Administration actions on the Coronavirus. “No government spending bill should be passed unless it permanently blocks Biden's vaccine mandate,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ).
SENATE. Senators got a chance to vote directly on that issue, but the GOP fell short on a 50-48 vote. Two Republicans were absent, meaning the vote would have been 50-50. The GOP will try again next week with a special procedural vote to overturn the mandate on private businesses.
GOP. “I want the members of this body to go on record,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) about President Biden's vaccine mandate. “The American people have a right to know through our votes where we stand.”
DEMS. Showcasing the deep divide over the Coronavirus, Democrats were in disbelief that Republicans would be trying to shut down the government. “It's unconscionable that some of my colleagues took us to the brink while trying to undermine vaccine efforts,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).
MANCHIN. Next week, the outcome on the vaccine mandate may be different, as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said last night he does not support the White House on this matter. "That's why I have cosponsored and will strongly support a bill to overturn the federal government vaccine mandate for private businesses."
OMICRON. From Capitol Hill and the White House on Thursday, there were more calls for Americans to protect themselves from the Coronavirus outbreak. "But this isn't time to panic," said Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), "it's time to get vaccinated, get boosted, get tested, and wear your mask."
BIDEN. At the White House, President Biden laid out his winter COVID plans, urging people to get vaccinated. Biden said he doesn't want "shutdowns or lockdowns," but instead wants states to focus on vaccinations, boosters and testing.
POST HOLIDAY BLUES. While the Congress struggled to keep Uncle Sam funded, this week also brought little tangible progress on major legislative items from Democrats in both the House and Senate.
DEFENSE. Just as Republicans were blocking the way forward on government funding, GOP Senators are still holding up a major defense bill. One provision they want inserted - barring products made with forced labor in China - would open the bill up to a major procedural problem in the House.
BUILD BACK BETTER. There was definitely no momentum in Congress on the budget reconciliation bill passed by the House before Thanksgiving. Behind the scenes, Senate Democrats were working on their own batch of changes, and there was more and more talk that this could get punted into 2022.
BIDEN. The White House said Thursday that President Biden had spoken with various Democratic Senators about the legislation. But there was no talk of a vote. “The President looks forward to continued engagement with Senators on the Build Back Better Act in the coming days.”
COMPETITIVENESS. Before Thanksgiving, Democrats said they would push to finalize a major competitiveness bill. Speaker Pelosi said the same thing on Thursday, but there has been no move to set up a House-Senate conference committee on that legislation.
DEBT LIMIT. Next week, Democrats hope to press ahead with a plan to raise the nation’s debt ceiling But it’s not clear how that will get done. In other words, there are a lot of big issues out there - with no clear way to check them off the Congressional To-Do List.
GUNS. After a high school shooting in Michigan left four dead, Democrats tried to pass a bill to tighten background checks on gun sales, forcing Senate Republicans to block the measure. "I'm past my breaking point," said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). “Congress must not continue to sit on the sidelines while children are gunned down at school,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL).
GOP. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) objected to action on the background checks bill. "So-called universal background checks will not prevent crime and will turn otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals," the Iowa Republican countered.
BACKGROUND CHECKS. At this point, there is almost no chance any significant gun legislation will move forward in this Congress. And that's what aggravates Democrats. "We cannot allow gun violence — especially in our schools—to be normalized," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).
DEMS. On the House floor, there was a moment of silence for the victims in Michigan. But there was also frustration there from Democrats. “Congress has not enacted a single new law for our kids,” said Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI).
SULLY. The Senate on Thursday confirmed C.B. "Sully" Sullenberger to be the U.S. Representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization. "It is one of the greatest honors of my life," Sullenberger said, who gained notoriety after a safe emergency landing of a U.S. Airways passenger jet in the Hudson River.
GOP HOLDS. Sullenberger also took the opportunity to press Republicans to drop their slowdown on nominations by President Biden. "Now we must also confirm all the other fully qualified nominees who are being held, so they can represent the United States around the globe."
BLOCKADE. One Biden pick who has been blocked is Dilawar Syed, nominated for Deputy Administrator at the Small Business Administration. Republicans have taken the highly unusual step of boycotting the committee vote five times - in order to prevent action.
OPPOSITION. "They have run out of excuses," Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) said of Republicans as he welcomed Syed to a meeting in his office. "This has the stench of religious bigotry."
INFRASTRUCTURE. The Biden Administration is beginning to dole out money from the new infrastructure law, starting to release $7.4 billion in funding for states to improve water infrastructure and help deal with lead contamination.
MONEY. The EPA churned out the press releases on Thursday. Georgia will get $158 million. Florida will receive $275 million. $199 million will go to North Carolina. $83 million to West Virginia. New Jersey will get $168 million. You get the picture.
GOP V GOP. This is flat out one of the weirdest things I have ever seen in the Congress. A pair of freshman Republican women going after each other with gusto on Twitter. Trash. Liar. Bigot. Grifter. Bat shit crazy. “Bless her fucking heart.” It was nuts. My column this week for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
COMET PING PONG. Saturday marks five years since a guy drove up from North Carolina - radicalized by conspiracy theories on conservative talk radio and the internet - and shot up my local pizza joint in Washington, D.C., wrongly convinced it was being used by allies of Hillary Clinton for a child sex operation. Five years later, the restaurant is still drawing QAnon-type protesters.
CALENDAR. Christmas is three weeks from Saturday. One thing about a gift subscription to “Regular Order” is that it won’t get stuck on a boat or back ordered. Give the gift of straight news from someone who has covered Congress for 35 years.
MUSE OF HISTORY. December 3, 1867. On this date, the House was locked in a parliamentary tussle over President Andrew Johnson's State of the Union Address. Some lawmakers were mad that the written message from the White House had been leaked and printed that morning in many newspapers - before being read on Capitol Hill. "I hold it to be disrespectful to this Congress," said Rep. Robert Schenck of Ohio. Rep. Lawrence Getz of Pennsylvania took to the House floor and blasted the press corps for printing the speech, "just to gratify a feverish desire" to break news, as the House even fought over a motion to print copies of the speech.
The House meets at 9 am.
The Senate meets on Monday.
President Biden’s daily schedule link.
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