U.S. Senate Power-Sharing Agreement, Nominations, COVID-Relief Package
Last week, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reached a power-sharing agreement to establish Senate rules and procedure for the 117th Congress.
The agreement comes after Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) reaffirmed their opposition to eliminating the filibuster, thus maintaining the Senate’s 60-vote threshold for most legislation to advance.
Senate leaders previously discussed adopting the 2001 framework employed by former Senators Trent Lott (R-MS) and Tom Daschle (D-SD), the last time the Senate had a 50-50 split.
This framework would give both parties equal seats on committees, allow both leaders to take legislation to the floor, and allow legislation to advance to the floor if the committee vote is a tie.
The power-sharing agreement will also allow new Senators, including Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), and Alex Padilla (D-CA) to join committees.
President Biden’s top legislative priority remains securing a $1.9 trillion COVID-relief package. Most Republican Senators, including key swing votes such as Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mitt Romney (R-UT), voiced concern with the spending level as well as inclusion of a $15 federal minimum wage and suggested more targeted relief.
A newly formed bipartisan group of Senators (the “Senate Sweet Sixteen”) met this past weekend to propose a path forward.
The Biden Administration favors passage of COVID relief legislation through “regular order,” but the Administration is facing pressure from progressive Democrats to use a process known as budget reconciliation to enact policy with a simple majority vote.
The reconciliation process is tricky, however, as it is not clear how many relief provisions would qualify under the reconciliation process and passage relies on every Democratic vote in the Senate.
Importantly, late Wednesday evening, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) announced he will quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure. With just 50 Democratic Senators, Warner’s quarantine may complicate using budget reconciliation to pass COVID relief in the near term.
Democratic leaders previously said the Senate should pass the relief bill before the Impeachment trial against former President Trump begins February 9.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a confirmation hearing for former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, President Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Energy.
Granholm stressed the importance of clean energy innovation, arguing it would create 10 million new jobs as well as implementing President Biden’s climate change strategy.
Senators from fossil-fuel producing states, including Chairman Joe Manchin (D-WV), Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY), Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) pressed Granholm on oil and gas industry jobs.
Granholm said that fossil fuels were necessary for a clean energy transition, saying “If we are going to get to net carbon zero emissions by 2050, we cannot do it without coal, oil, gas being part of the mix.”
Also, the Senate Commerce Committee approved Pete Buttigieg’s nomination for Secretary of Transportation by a 21-3 vote on Wednesday.
Those who voted against his nomination reported their concern regarding Buttigieg’s position on the gas tax.
Last week Buttigieg indicated support for increasing the gas tax but walked back his comments through a spokesperson a few hours later, saying he was against raising the tax.
A final vote for Buttigieg has not yet been announced, but he is expected to be easily confirmed.