Your Congress in Action is a series that highlights the Capitol Hill news that affects CRM firms the most. Be sure to subscribe to the ACRAsphere to ensure you don't miss an update.
Even though Congress has been out of town the last two weeks for its Easter Recess, Washington has been abuzz reviewing and analyzing President Biden’s $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan. The proposal, which Biden announced in late March, seeks to provide $650 billion for transportation infrastructure, $600 billion for housing and manufacturing, and $400 billion for home care for the elderly and the disabled and other investments. The plan would be paid for by raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy.
The plan engendered almost immediate opposition from Congressional Republicans, who charged that little of it was actually for traditional infrastructure and that it raised taxes too much. Some progressive Democrats, meanwhile, said the plan did not go far enough.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told her Democratic colleagues she wants the plan to pass the House by July 4. Although Democrats hold the majority in the House, it is a very slim one, made even slimmer last week with the passing of Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) from pancreatic cancer. With three other reliably Democratic seats empty because their holders joined the Biden administration, Democrats have a razor-thin 218-213 majority. To make matters more complicated, three Democrats announced they would not support the bill unless it allowed taxpayers to deduct more of their state and local taxes on their federal returns – a top priority for states and communities with higher tax burdens.
As challenging as the math is in the House, getting Biden’s plan through the Senate will be even more difficult. With a 50-50 split, Democrats will either have to find at least 10 Republicans to support ending a filibuster; end the filibuster entirely; or use reconciliation, the same procedure employed for the COVID relief package that requires only 50 votes.
Any chance of eliminating the filibuster all but evaporated last week when Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) reiterated his opposition to changing the rules in a Washington Post op-ed. Even getting 50 votes for the Biden plan may be impossible, as Manchin also expressed opposition to the tax increases in the bill. That leaves the third option: getting 10 Republicans to vote with Democrats to end a filibuster. To date, no Republicans have expressed support for the plan, but Biden said last week he is willing to negotiate with the GOP to find common ground.
Even if Biden and Senate Democrats find 10 Republicans to go with them, the compromises needed to secure that support will almost undoubtedly result in a much smaller bill. That, in turn, could make it harder to pass the plan in the House, where progressive Democrats want a larger package. Threading the needle between a narrowly divided Congress will not be easy.
Ironically, infrastructure is one of the areas where bipartisanship has traditionally been possible – and there are a lot of lawmakers on both sides who would like to see Congress pass legislation that fixed roads and bridges, makes the electrical grid more secure and provides increased access to broadband. And, as the country continues to struggle with pandemic-related economic woes, the job creation potential of such moves is significant. That goes for the CRM industry as well, which would undoubtedly benefit from increased investments in infrastructure.
That is, as long as lawmakers ensure that projects comply with the National Historic Preservation Act. A number of bills have been introduced in Congress in recent months that would exempt a host of infrastructure projects from Section 106 requirements in the name of “regulatory streamlining.” Although these bills have little chance of passing, ACRA continues to make clear to Capitol Hill that Section 106 consultations do not waste time and money, but help balance the twin goals of improving infrastructure while respecting our nation’s heritage.
Speaking of heritage, advocates for our National Parks received good news two weeks ago when the Interior Department announced it plans to invest $1.6 billion to the National Park System to address its maintenance backlog on a yearly basis. In particular, the funding will improve transportation and recreation infrastructure in public lands, which Interior has said will lead to roughly 18,800 jobs and contribute nearly $2 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product.
Meanwhile, the White House has taken steps to begin the process of funding the federal government in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. On Friday, the Biden administration submitted its appropriations request for most federal agencies and programs. Biden's proposal seeks $1.52 trillion in spending, a 16-percent increase over the current fiscal year, with significant increases for education, health research and fighting climate change. It would increase the Interior Department's budget by 16% over the current fiscal year.
For the CRM industry, ensuring full funding of the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF) remains a top priority. Many state budgets have been depleted by the pandemic, even as the demands on State and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices (S/THPOs) have never been greater.
ACRA is asking Congress to provide the full amount authorized by law for the fund, $150 million per year. Recognizing the immense economic and cultural value of historic preservation, Congress has increased funding for the HPF in recent years. Despite these increases, the investments have not kept up with rising demand as SHPO responsibilities have increased, new THPO offices are established, and competitive grant programs are created and expanded.
Even if Congress and the White House can’t agree in a bigger infrastructure bill, the work of the preservation and cultural resource community continues. If you want to help lobby your elected federal officials for this funding, and for other policies that support CRM, click here.