After more than a month in their home states, senators have arrived back in Washington to take up where they left off at the end of the first long stretch of lawmaking in the 117th Congress. The House will be officially back next week.
The lawmakers have a lot to work on between now and their planned adjournment in early December: Two of the top congressional priorities coming out of summer recess include passing the infrastructure package and getting a major budget plan through the reconciliation process. If Congress doesn’t pass a budget by October 1 they’ll need to approve a continuing resolution in order to keep the government going through the start of the next fiscal year.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that the federal government will run out of borrowing authority sometime in October without action to raise the debt ceiling.
Aside from that, though, members of Congress have a lot of ideas for what they would like to accomplish in the coming months. Here’s a look at what Congress needs to get done — and the policy areas some members of the Minnesota delegation are pushing for before the end of the year.
Infrastructure and the budget bill
Infrastructure: the one word that has dominated politics all year. President Joe Biden introduced his goals for a $2.2 trillion infrastructure package earlier this year. Lawmakers negotiated the infrastructure bill down to $1 trillion, with Republicans trying to lower the cost of the package and Democrats trying to include progressive priorities like measures to reduce climate change.
The Senate passed the bill in August and sent it to the House for their consideration. Lawmakers marked this bill as so important that at the end of August House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called members of the House back from summer recess to Washington in order to vote.
But an actual vote on the infrastructure bill wasn’t in the cards. The fight pivoted from Democrats vs. Republicans in the Senate to progressives vs. moderates in the House. Progressives said they would not vote on the infrastructure bill without first completing a larger budget bill that would include more of their priorities. But then, nine moderate House Democrats wrote a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying they would not consider voting for a budget resolution until the infrastructure package is signed into law.
Eventually, the House reached a compromise: Lawmakers set a September 27 deadline to vote on the infrastructure bill, while agreeing to start drafting legislative text for the budget. That’s where the House left things there in August.
A big budget
The budget deal (also called the Build Back Better Act), is so far expected to contain progressive priorities like universal pre-K for three- and four-year-olds, an expanded child tax credit and investments in research and development to combat climate change. The budget is currently being drafted in various committees.
Progressives are pushing to get the Build Back Better Act through the House as soon as possible, but legislative text is still being written and amendments added. One of those recent amendments came from Rep. Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota’s Fifth District, capping child care copayment costs in a new, national child care program at seven percent of a family’s income.
According to early numbers, the Build Back Better Act could include as much as $450 billion for U.S. child care and universal pre-K.
The Build Back Better Act also includes expansion of Medicare, including a plan to expand the program to cover hearing aids, glasses and dental care. Rep. Angie Craig, from Minnesota’s Second District, listed this aspect of the budget in particular as a priority.
Craig also wants $100 billion over ten years for a federal reinsurance program — reinsurance is sort of like insurance for insurance companies, helping them reduce financial risk. While some states, including Minnesota, have reinsurance programs, there is currently no federal reinsurance program.
Sen. Tina Smith, who serves on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee also named Medicare changes as a major priority for the budget bill, including a measure to allow the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries.
There’s still a long road ahead for the Build Back Better Act. The Ways and Means Committee has been working this week on considering legislative proposals and a markup of the bill, and committee chairman Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) announced that the committee will have to continue its work throughout the week.
The backup plan if Democrats can’t finalize their budget legislation by the September 30 end of the federal fiscal year? A continuing resolution. As the chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. Betty McCollum said she’s prioritizing passing a continuing resolution to keep the government funded.
Beyond the budget
The budget understandably is taking a lot of time and energy for lawmakers in Washington, but members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation also named other pieces of legislation they would like to see enacted in the coming months.
Rep. Tom Emmer, who represents Minnesota’s agriculture-heavy Sixth District, is advocating for more mental health resources for farmers, the expansion of community-focused policing efforts with Minnesota-developed solutions and encouraging the use of trauma-informed care for victims of sexual assault.
Third District Rep. Dean Phillips announced last week that he will lead an effort with the Small Business Committees in the House and the Senate to secure and pass a “targeted small business relief package” to help the industries most impacted by this pandemic.