Senate Trying to Reach Organizing Resolution as Hurdles Mount Re: Aid Proposal

Posted on 01/24/2021 8:21 PM

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Washington Focus


With a bipartisan deal, Trump’s second impeachment trial was temporarily delayed. A Friday night deal between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the trial will begin on Feb. 9. The Democratic-majority House on Jan. 13 voted for a single impeachment article against Trump, charging him with inciting an insurrection that led to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) plans to send the article over Monday at 7 p.m. ET.


     McConnell wanted to postpone a trial to provide time for Trump to prepare an adequate defense. The extra days, McConnell said, would also give Democrats more time to confirm President Biden’s Cabinet, which got off to a slow start this past week.


     Senate Republicans said they would only agree to trial terms that match past impeachment proceedings for Trump last year and former President Bill Clinton.


     Impeachment calendar


Who controls the Senate? Even though Republicans no longer have a majority in the Senate, under the body’s rules, the GOP still chairs some committees. Why? The three new Senators who took their oaths this past week can’t be assigned committees and GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can still block progress going into this two-year congressional session.


     What’s next? Until the two parties’ leaders — or all 100 Senators on a separate track — agree to how the Upper Chamber will work for the next two years, the old rules still hold. Key is a document known as an organizing resolution, including the still current option of a filibuster. McConnell, who ran the Senate chamber for the prior six years, wants Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to agree to keeping the filibuster in place so the out-of-power party can block most measures lacking 60 votes. The filibuster gives the minority party leverage and largely keeps most anything from going forward along strictly partisan lines (exceptions are judicial nominees, including Supreme Court justices, and eligible measures attached to budget reconciliation bills). Senate Democratic activists want to nix the filibuster, but that takes 51 votes to do so. Senators like Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Chris Murphy (Ct.) are not so eager to do so, knowing that the 2022 map or other elections may give Republicans a majority again. However, some of those lawmakers have also hinted that GOP stonewalling could change their minds. Manchin told reporters hat while his mind hadn’t changed on preserving the filibuster, he backed Schumer as he seeks to hammer out an operating accord with McConnell. And he signaled that, when it comes to a dysfunctional Senate, there is one Democrat he may take his cues from going forward. “If there’s one person who can make it work, it’s Joe Biden,” he said, adding the president “understands how this place used to work, how it should work and how it can work — if it doesn’t work under Joe Biden, it doesn’t work at all.”


     Regarding the Dem-led Senate potentially axing the filibuster, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told the New York Times (link) that Biden should go nuclear but doubts that he will: “Knowing Joe Biden the way I do, he will be very patient and try to continue how the Senate used to be. I am not particularly optimistic.” McConnell and other Republicans reminded Democrats that many of them praised the filibuster in the past — particularly in the two-year period in 2017 and 2018 where the GOP controlled the House, Senate and White House. Twenty-seven Senate Democrats who now serve signed an April 2017 letter calling on Schumer to preserve the status quo. Biden, who spent 36 years as a senator before becoming vice president in 2009, said in July that he’d “take a look” at filibuster elimination if Republicans bogged his agenda down in the Senate: “It’s going to depend on how obstreperous they become.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki indicated Friday that Biden had not yet reached that point.


The Biden agenda plan unveiled this past week was "step one in a two-step plan." Next month, Biden said he'll appear before a joint session of Congress to lay out part two. The second part will include "historic investments in infrastructure, manufacturing, innovation, research and development, and clean energy."


     Biden signaled that he won't be shy about seeking major tax hikes, saying that his two-step plan "will not come cheaply… Where we're making permanent investments, recurring investments, we will pay for them by making sure everyone pays their fair share," Biden said, including those "at the top." He said he'll seek to close tax loopholes "that allow American companies — 90 of them in the Fortune 500 — to pay zero in federal income taxes." Besides massive infrastructure spending, state aid and health care subsidies, Biden's second step is likely to include permanent versions of the temporary tax-credit expansions in his stimulus plan. Biden has proposed hiking the corporate rate from 21% to 28%. He also backs a minimum 15% tax on book income, or income reported to shareholders. And he calls for a 39.6% tax on long-term capital gains for high earners vs. 20% now.


Biden’s push for $1.9 trillion in Covid/stimulus aid proposal continues to be a major focus, with hurdles ahead. The package includes:

  • $400 billion directly related to getting past Covid-19. Major components include $20 billion to fund mass vaccination efforts and $170 billion to help schools and colleges open safely. Also, $50 billion to expand testing and lab capacity; $40 billion for procuring and manufacturing protective equipment; and funds to hire 100,000 public health workers.
  • $1 trillion in direct relief to individuals and families, including additional $1,400 stimulus checks per person, gradually phased out at higher income levels.
  • Extension of emergency pandemic unemployment insurance through September, with an extra $400 per week.
  • Short-term tax relief, with a one-year expansion of child tax credits, the earned income tax credit and reimbursement for childcare expenses.
  • A proposed permanent increase in subsidies for insurance purchased through the ObamaCare exchanges, lowering the cap on premium payments to 8.5% of income.
  • $350 billion for state and local aid. Another $50 billion would be devoted to small business. That includes $15 billion in grants and a pot of $35 billion that would be leveraged to provide up to $175 billion in low-interest loans.
  • Increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
  • $130 billion for K-12 schools, , which could use the money to improve ventilation, hire nurses and counselors, reduce class size to allow distancing and buy PPE.

     Republicans respond. “I suspect the whole package is a nonstarter, but it’s got plenty of starters in it. And a lot of them are things that we proposed in terms of more assistance to the states,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), referring to money for vaccine distribution and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “There’s some things in there that aren’t going to happen. There’s some things that can happen. And that’s how this process should work.” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said: “We should only be spending money where there is need that needs to be met, and so I’d like to see the figures and calculations behind their proposal. I think there’s a recognition on both sides of the aisle that where there’s need, we in Congress have a responsibility to help meet that. But we don’t want to be borrowing money that’s not absolutely necessary.”


     White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that in trying to sell the package to Republicans, the White House approach would be to ask them which priorities they would cut.


     Aid outlook: Downsizing of the Democratic plan is likely, especially state and local aid and permanent health insurance subsidies. But Democrats can and will add discarded items to the next bill they will seek to pass that bill through budget reconciliation, a process that needs only a majority vote in the Senate, but any individual Democratic senator could hold the legislation up with an array of demands. "One way or another, through this step or over several steps, we ultimately expect fiscal support to the economy under the new Biden administration that totals close to what was proposed Thursday, wrote Moody's Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi. That extra support could fuel close to 8% GDP growth this year (an estimate labeled too hefty by some others), restoring full employment by the fall of 2022, he wrote.


Nomination hearings will be another focus this week in the Senate. The chamber has confirmed just two of Biden’s Cabinet picks — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (93-2) and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines. The House voted 326-78 to pass a waiver (HR 335), which exempts Austin from the seven-year "cooling off period" for retired generals taking over the helm of the Pentagon currently prescribed by law. The Senate immediately took up the waiver, passing it on a 69-27 vote. Austin served as commander of U.S. forces in Iraq in 2010 and 2011 and then as head of U.S. Central Command from 2013 to 2016, when he commanded all U.S. forces in the region. Following his retirement in 2016, Austin joined the board of Raytheon Co., one of the nation's largest defense contractors.


     Yellen vote late Monday. The Senate on Monday is widely expected to confirm Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen. The Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved Yellen’s nomination on Friday — Republicans noted their policy differences with her but cited Yellen’s promise to be responsive to their questions and work with them. Yellen has previously been confirmed by the Senate five times, including for Federal Reserve chairwoman, a job she held from 2014 to 2018. She was also confirmed for the Fed's No. 2 position, where she was vice chairwoman from 2010 to 2014, after serving as a Fed board member in the 1990s. Yellen was also confirmed as White House Council of Economic Advisers chairwoman during President Bill Clinton's second term.


     Several nomination hearings are on tap this week (details below), with a possible Senate chamber vote on Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken. Meanwhile, the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday will vote on the nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas. Ag-related groups have been positive toward the nominee, saying in a letter (link) that Mayorkas “has the requisite background, agency mission and issue knowledge to provide serious and stable leadership at the helm of DHS."


Biden speaks with leaders of France, U.K., Mexico, Canada. President Joe Biden spoke with world leaders over the weekend on topics ranging from increasing cooperation between nations on security issues and the Covid-19 pandemic to climate change and trade policy. Biden spoke with Canadian Prime Minister Justice Trudeau; French President Emmanuel Macron; U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson; and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.


     Biden spoke with Macron about ways to "strengthen bilateral ties with our oldest ally" and build a more durable relationship between the U.S. and European Union. The two agreed to tackle shared challenges like climate change and the global pandemic through international institutions.


     On his decision to terminate the Keystone XL Pipeline, Biden acknowledged Trudeau’s disappointment but emphasized "his commitment to maintain an active bilateral dialogue and to further deepen cooperation with Canada," according to the White House. Biden and Trudeau discussed an "ambitious and wide-ranging agenda" to be revisited in a meeting again next month.


     Regarding the U.K., Biden reaffirmed his commitment “to strengthen the special relationship between our countries and revitalize transatlantic ties” with the United Kingdom.


     Biden assured López Obrador that he would "reduce immigration by addressing its root causes" with a focus on promoting development and stability in both Mexico and the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Biden is planning a new wave of executive orders and actions this week. The White House has designated Friday as an immigration-themed day, following the president's orders to reverse his predecessor's ban on arrivals from several Muslim-majority nations, halt border-wall construction and extend the census count to everyone in the U.S.


     Some details of the coming executive orders:


     Monday, Jan. 25

     "Buy American" day, Biden is expected to sign one executive order directing agencies to “strengthen requirements for procuring goods and services from sources that will support U.S. businesses and workers.”


     Tuesday, Jan. 26

     A focus on equity, with a list of executive orders that will:

        — Create a policing commission and reinstate Obama-era policy on the transfer of military-style equipment to local law enforcement.
        — Establish steps to improve prison conditions and eliminate the use of private prisons.
        — Formally disavow discrimination against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, which, the document says, comes “particularly in light of rhetoric around the Covid-19 pandemic."


     Biden also plans to sign a memorandum directing Housing and Urban Development to take steps to promote equitable housing politics.


     Wednesday, Jan. 27

     Executive order initiating regulatory actions to “combat climate change domestically and elevates climate change as a national security priority," along with the re-establishment of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.


     Biden is also expected to sign a memorandum on scientific integrity.


     Thursday, Jan. 28

     Health care is the theme with Biden set to rescind the Mexico City Policy and review the Title X Domestic Gag Rule. There may also be an executive action on Medicaid, as well as the initiation of open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act.


     Friday, Jan. 29

     Focus on immigration, with executive orders on regional migration and border processing, the U.S. refugee policy and the establishment of a family reunification task force, and an executive order directing immediate review of the Public Charge Rule.


Hearings and Events This Week


Monday, Jan. 25
     • Chinese President Xi Jinping gives keynote at the World Economic Forum’s first global virtual meeting, Jan. 25-29, ahead of a live meeting in Singapore May 13-16. Follow what’s happening during the week on social media via the event’s official hashtag, #DavosAgenda. Xi is laying the groundwork for the 20th National Congress of the CCP in the second half of 2022.
     • International Dairy Foods Association Annual Dairy Forum, online through Thursday.
     • Nomination hearing: Secretary of State. Senate Foreign Relations Committee markup to vote on the nomination of Antony Blinken to be secretary of State.

     • Impeachment. Presentation of impeachment articles to the Senate.
     • International trade. Federal Communications Bar Association virtual discussion on "Update on International Trade."
     • Vice President Harris. National Press Club discussion on "Kamala's Way: An American Life."
     • State of the state. The Government Executive Media Group webinar on "State of the State."
     • Energy issues. United States Energy Association webcast on Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage."
     • Federal workforce. The Hill webinar on "Rebuilding the Federal Workforce, Part 2."
     • Global trade. Chatham House virtual discussion on "Global Trade in 2021: New Year, New U.S. Administration, New Outlook?"
     • America and China in Southeast Asia. East-West Center in Washington virtual discussion on "Where Great Powers Meet: American and China in Southeast Asia."

Tuesday, Jan. 26
     • Nomination hearing: Sec. of Commerce. Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the nomination of Gina Raimondo to be secretary of Commerce.
     • Nomination hearing: Homeland Security. Senate Homeland Security Committee meeting to consider the nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas to be Homeland Security secretary.
     • Infrastructure. U.S. Chamber of Commerce webcast on "Last Mile Delivery and Electric Vehicles: Why Congress Should Support Logistics in the Next Infrastructure Bill."
     • WTO. American Society of International Law virtual discussion on "Rethinking the WTO Panel Process."
     • Clean energy. International Energy Agency virtual discussion on "Our Inclusive Energy Future," a new global commission on people-centered clean energy transitions.
     • Global economy. Peterson Institute for International Economics webinar on "It's All in the Mix: How Monetary and Fiscal Policies Can Work or Fail Together.”
     • Economics and trade. Center for Strategic and International Studies webcast on "Economics and Trade."
     • Trade and security. German Marshall Fund of the United States webinar on "Foreign Policy for the Middle Class?" focusing on "how a future U.S. foreign policy could resonate with domestic demands in areas such as trade, climate, and security."
     • USMCA at six months. American Bar Association (webcast on "The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) at Six Months Old."
     • SBA program. Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) virtual information session to discuss "the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the loan application process to provide a lifeline for district small businesses impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic."

Wednesday, Jan. 27
    • Nomination hearing: Energy secretary. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the nomination of Jennifer Granholm to be Energy secretary.
     • Nomination hearing; VA secretary. Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on the nomination of Denis McDonough to be Veterans Affairs (VA) secretary.
     • Committee organization. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting to organize for the 117th Congress.
     • UN nominee. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the nomination of Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be the representative to the United Nations (UN).
     • Covid vaccine. Center for Strategic and International Studies webinar on "Trusting a Covid-19 Vaccine: The Role of the Media and Misinformation."
     • FDA meeting. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) webcast on an interim assessment of the Program for Enhanced Review Transparency and Communication in the Biosimilar User Fee Act.
     • Brexit and London. Peterson Institute for International Economics webinar on "Early Post-Brexit Observations on the City of London."
     • Government relations challenges. CQ Roll Call and Fiscal Note virtual discussion on "Challenges Facing Government Relations in 2021 — and How to Solve Them."
     • Transportation workers. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on "Protecting Transportation Workers and Passengers from Covid: Gaps in Safety, Lessons Learned and Next Steps."
     • Climate change. George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs webinar on "Taking Stock of Climate Change: Earth, Air, Fire and Water."
     • Xinjiang issues. Washington International Trade Association webinar on "The U.S. Moves Against Forced Labor in Xinjiang," focusing on the U.S. ban on cotton products and tomatoes produced in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Thursday, Jan. 28
     • Nomination hearings: HUD & CEA. Senate Banking Committee hearing on the nominations of Marcia Fudge to be secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Cecilia Rouse to chair the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA).
     • Gasoline consumption. Environmental Law Institute webinar: “Governing the Gasoline Spigot: Gas Stations and the Transition Away from Gasoline.”  
     • Covid response. Washington Post Live webinar on "Prognosis 2021," focusing on "progress on the country's Covid-19 response, testing and vaccine development."
     • China tech competition. George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs holds a virtual discussion on "Outlook for 2021: Where is the China Tech Competition Going?"
     • Organizational meeting. House Energy and Commerce Committee meeting to organize for the 117th Congress.
     • Congressional reform. New America virtual discussion on "Congress Overwhelmed: The Decline in Congressional Capacity and Prospects for Reform."


Friday, Jan. 29

    •  Immunizations and Covid-19. Center for Strategic and International Studies webinar on "The State of Immunization Under Covid-19."
     • Budget and stimulus. Environmental and Energy Study Institute webinar on "Budget, Appropriations, and Stimulus," as part of the Congressional Climate Camp series focusing on carbon reductions.


Economic Reports for the Week


The Federal Reserve meets, and while it is not expected to take action, investors will be paying close attention to what Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has to say about the Fed’s bond buying program, inflation and the economy. Key economic reports include the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge Friday, and the first look at fourth quarter GDP. Also on tap: The International Monetary Fund will update its economic outlook, and several policy makers speak at the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) virtual Davos Agenda conference, including Chinese President Xi Jinping. Last week, the WEF published a report (link) that said the pandemic has intensified China's rivalry with the U.S.


Monday, Jan. 25
     • Chicago Fed National Activity Index for December. Consensus estimate is for a 0.10 reading, below December’s 0.27 figure. The recent data for the index suggest a slightly above-average growth rate for the economy after a powerful third-quarter rebound.
     • Dallas Fed Manufacturing Survey

Tuesday, Jan. 26
     • Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting begins
     • Case-Shiller Home Price Index
     • FHFA House Price Index
     • Consumer Confidence for December. Economists forecast a 91.6 reading, three points more than in December. Consumer confidence remains well below prepandemic levels.
     • Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index  

Wednesday, Jan. 27
     • MBA Mortgage Applications
     • Census Bureau durable goods report for December. New orders for manufactured durable goods are expected to rise 0.8% month over month to $246 billion.
     • State Street Investor Confidence Index
     • Survey of Business Uncertainty
     • FOMC announces its monetary-policy decision. The central bank is widely expected to keep the federal-funds rate unchanged with the Fed funds target rate range staying at 0-0.25%. But Wall Street is interested to learn if and when the Fed will consider paring its bond purchases, currently at $120 billion a month — $80 billion of Treasuries and $40 billion of Mortgage-Backed Securities. Some analysts think see the Fed starting to taper at the end of this year with a rate hike likely to be on the agenda for 2023.
     • Fed Chair press conference

Thursday, Jan. 28
     • Jobless Claims
     • Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) advance estimate for fourth-quarter gross domestic product. Consensus estimate is for the economy to have grown at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.3%, after a record pace of 33.4% in the third quarter. 
     • International Trade in Goods (Advance)
     • Retail Inventories (Advance)
     • Wholesale Inventories (Advance)
     • New Home Sales
     • Leading Indicators
     • Kansas City Fed Manufacturing Index
     • Fed Balance Sheet
     • Money Supply

Friday, Jan. 29
     • Employment Cost Index
     • BEA personal income and spending data for December. Economists forecast both personal income and expenditures to tick down 0.1% month over month. In November, income fell 1.1%; spending declined 0.4%. 
     • Chicago PMI
     • Consumer Sentiment    


Key USDA & international Ag & Energy Reports and Events 


Monday, Jan. 25

     Ag reports and events:

     • Export Inspections

     • Food Price Outlook
     • Cold Storage
     • Milk Production
     • Poultry Slaughter   
     • Monthly MARS report on EU crop conditions
     • Malaysia’s Jan. 1-25 palm oil exports
     • EU weekly grain, oilseed import and export data


     Energy reports and events:

     • Nigeria crude loading programs (March)
     • Russia Urals program (February)
     • Holiday: New Zealand, Egypt


Tuesday, Jan. 26

     Ag reports and events:

     • State Stories
     • Coffee


     Energy reports and events:

     • Angola final crude loading program and some other West African countries (March)
     • API US inventory report
     • ICE Brent crude options expire
     • Holiday: India, Australia


Wednesday, Jan. 27

     Ag reports and events:

     • Broiler Hatchery

     • Livestock and Meat Domestic Data
     • Peanut Stocks and Processing
     • National Coffee Association’s webinar on U.S. coffee outlook in 2021
     • Paris Grain Day virtual conference, day 1


     Energy reports and events:

     • EIA weekly U.S. oil inventory report

     • U.S. weekly ethanol inventories

Thursday, Jan. 28

     Ag reports and events:

     • Weekly Export Sales

     • Citrus: World Markets and Trade
     • Egg Products
     • Port of Rouen data on French grain exports
     • Paris Grain Day virtual conference, day 2


     Energy reports and events:

     • EIA natural gas storage change

     • North Sea crude loading programs (March)
     • Singapore onshore oil product stockpiles weekly update
     • Insights Global report on European refined product inventories in ARA region
     • Russia refinery outage data (weekly)
     • Holiday: Malaysia


Friday, Jan. 29

     Ag reports and events:

     • CFTC weekly commitments of traders report

     • Peanut Prices
     • Agricultural Prices
     • Cattle
     • Sheep and Goats


     Energy reports and events:

     • Baker Hughes weekly U.S. oil/gas rig counts

     • EPA Petroleum Supply Monthly
     • ICE Brent crude March futures expire



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