Update On The New Congressional Session

The 117th Congress began on January 3, followed by Democratic victories in the January 5 Georgia U.S.. Senate runoffs. Democrats will control the White House, Senate, and House for the first time since 2011.

The 50-50 Senate makeup, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris casting tie-breaking votes, means that neither party will be able to afford defections.

Moderates such as Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Mitt Romney (R-UT) could be determinative on key issues, including the filibuster and all legislation requiring bipartisan support.

Congress will be largely dormant through inauguration, with the Senate not expected to begin introducing bills until January 21.

The Senate has yet to finalize Committee makeup, but Committee leadership has been agreed to: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) will chair the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) will chair the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives passed the Rules package (H.R. 8), which establishes House rules and procedures for the 117th Congress earlier this week.

Included in the package are amendments to the standing rules of the 116th Congress, as well as “separate orders,” which are procedural rules specific to the 117th Congress.

While many of the separate orders address Congressional logistic issues created by the ongoing pandemic, a new provision creates an exemption from deficit controls for legislation related to the coronavirus pandemic or climate change.

In other words, the Budget Committee chair can declare legislation related to the pandemic and climate change as without cost, meaning those bills would not be in violation of the PAYGO rule – the rule that prevents new legislation from adding to the federal deficit or detracting from the surplus, unless the cost is offset elsewhere in some manner.

The new exemptions are so broad that it is possible they could decrease the overall budget impacts of a future infrastructure package, specifically related to new spending and tax incentives for clean energy programs and financing, water and wastewater infrastructure, and more.

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