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D.C. Memo: In crunch time for business, U.S. Senate hitting partisan roadblocks

Again, calls to end the filibuster, Sen. Amy Klobuchar bill takes on big-tech, more Jan. 6 hearings and Finstad is one of the NRCC’s Young Guns.

Sen. Joe Manchin is the most conservative member of the Democrats’ 50-member quasi-majority.
Sen. Joe Manchin
Leigh Vogel/Pool via REUTERS

WASHINGTON – Even as members of Congress were enjoying the July 4 break this week with picnics and parades, lawmakers, especially in the Senate, are preparing for major conflicts next week.

Senate Democrats are hoping to vote on a reconciliation package that contains some of the provisions in the Build Back Better bill that was derailed by a lack of support from Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. Unlike other Senate legislation, reconciliation bills are not subject to the filibuster and can be approved with 50 Senate votes (with the vote of Vice President Kamala Harris making it 51.)  Senate Democrats used the reconciliation process to win approval of the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

Dubbed the “Build Back Manchin” bill because it has won the senator’s support, the latest effort at a reconciliation package would allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices – potentially pushing down the price of some popular prescriptions for seniors – and cap out-of-pocket costs for Medicare patients at $2,000 per year, among other provisions.

Other aspects included in the original text of Build Back Better — pertaining to climate change and tax reform — are still being negotiated among Senate Democrats.

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But the prospect of a slimmed-down Build Back Better bill has infuriated Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, who has threated to block a top priority for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., that’s a bill aimed at boosting U.S. high-tech research and manufacturing.

So, a standoff and plenty of fighting is expected. While Democrats can push through certain legislation under reconciliation rules, the process is limited to certain tax, spending and debt limit issues. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last month, there are renewed cries for an end to the Senate filibuster, which requires 60 votes to overcome, so Democrats can pass a bill codifying abortion rights.

The Supreme Court’s ruling has also prompted President Joe Biden to drop his objections to efforts to rid the Senate of the filibuster, at least in a limited way to codify abortion rights and protect what the president said were other privacy issues.

Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., however, supports eliminating the filibuster for all legislation. And “generally speaking,” so does Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who as the chair of the Senate Rules Committee is particularly involved in the issue.

Klobuchar big-tech bill still pending

Another bill pending as the Senate’s window for business in an election-shortened session is beginning to close, is Klobuchar’s American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which would crack down on the practice of Google, Facebook and other big-tech companies of using their platforms to give preference to their own products.

The bill would be a defining point for Klobuchar’s Senate career, but has come under assault by the nation’s tech giants who are working to erode its bipartisan support. In January, the bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee by a bipartisan vote of 16-6, making it, Klobuchar said “the first major bill on technology competition to advance to the Senate floor since the dawn of the Internet.”

Stay tuned for when that bill will be considered on the Senate floor.

Jan. 6 committee unveils another special witness

While Congress was out of session this week, the work of the U.S. House’s special January 6 committee continued. Former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone has been subpoenaed and agreed to testify behind closed doors on Friday to the House committee investigating last year’s assault on the U.S. Capitol.

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Cipollone has emerged as a key witness into the activities of then President Donald Trump and his allies before and during the Jan. 6 insurrection. He agreed to sit for a transcribed and video-recorded interview.

“The select committee’s investigation has revealed evidence that Mr. Cipollone repeatedly raised legal and other concerns about President Trump’s activities on Jan. 6th and in the days that preceded,” Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in a statement last week in announcing the subpoena.

The Jan. 6 insurrection was aimed at stopping the certification of Biden’s electoral win.

Finstad an NRCC ‘Young Gun,’ but only for the special election

Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee, headed by Rep. Tom Emmer, R-6th District, has made the GOP candidate for the special election in Minnesota’s 1st congressional district, a “Young Gun,” at least temporarily.

The NRCC’s Young Gun program rewards candidates who are thought best able to flip a Democratic seat or win an open seat. So the NRCC has dubbed Republican Brad Finstad – who is running against Democrat Jeffrey Ettinger – a Young Gun.

Finstad and Ettinger are competing to fill the unexpired term of Rep. Jim Hagedorn, who died in February. But the NRCC is limiting its endorsement of Finstad to the Aug. 9 special election.

That’s because there’s a primary contest in that race and two other Republicans are challenging Finstad for the two-year term.  The NRCC, for the most part, stays away from endorsing any Republican in a primary.  The Republicans challenging Finstad in the primary are Jeremy Munson and Matt Benda, who shortly after filing for the race said he told election officials to take his name off the ballot.

To make matters more confusing, the special election and the primary will be held on the same day, Aug. 9.

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No matter. The elevation of Finstad as a Young Gun has given him access to campaign help and to NRCC campaign donation, which will be useful in both elections. Just how much campaign money the NRCC has given Finstad will be determined when all congressional candidates file their latest reports with the Federal Elections Commission next week.