Your Congress in Action: Vol. 22

02/01/2021 12:41 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

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.

In his first 10 days in office, President Biden has signed a blizzard of executive orders that undo Trump administration actions and seek to address current crises like the pandemic. But further action on major issues is increasingly running into partisan gridlock and heightened tensions on Capitol Hill.

A number of President Biden’s executive actions affect CRM and the federal government’s role in historic and cultural preservation. These include:

  • Directing the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to review the July 2020 rule that undercut the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which ACRA has strongly opposed
  • Advancing renewable energy on public lands and in offshore waters with the goal of doubling offshore wind by 2030 while “ensuring robust protection for our lands, waters, and biodiversity and creating good jobs”
  • Pausing new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or in offshore waters pending a review
  • Halting the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline and stopping construction of the border wall
  • Ordering a review of the revised monument boundaries set by the Trump administration for Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument
  • Reaffirming federal policies to require agencies to engage in “regular, meaningful, and robust consultation with Tribal officials in the development of Federal policies that have Tribal implications”
  • Requiring federal agencies to “establish and enforce scientific-integrity policies that ban improper political interference in the conduct of scientific research and in the collection of scientific or technological data”
  • Implementing a “Government-wide approach that reduces climate pollution in every sector of the economy; increases resilience to the impacts of climate change; protects public health; conserves our lands, waters, and biodiversity; delivers environmental justice; and spurs well-paying union jobs and economic growth.”
  • Creating a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council to recommend ways to address current and historic environmental injustice
  • Rescinding the Trump administration’s Schedule F proposal, which would have turned a large number of civil servant positions into political positions that could easily he hired and fired by the president
  • Ending the Trump administration’s "1776 Commission" that downplayed the role of racism and slavery in the nation’s history and criticized the civil rights movement.

While President Biden has used his executive authority as robustly and quickly as any president in recent history, there are things he cannot do without Congress. And while Democrats now control Capitol Hill, a combination of narrow majorities, Biden’s own desire for bipartisanship, the looming impeachment trial of his predecessor, and worsening tensions following the January 6 insurrection are creating a difficult environment for legislative progress.

Biden’s top priority is his $1.9 trillion COVID relief package, which includes, an additional $1400 in stimulus checks to most individuals, added small business support, emergency funding for states and localities, expanded unemployment insurance, and significant funding for COVID testing and vaccine distribution. Getting the plan through the Senate under normal rules would require at least 10 Republican Senators to join all 50 Democrats in stopping a filibuster. Without that, Democrats would need to use a process called reconciliation, which would enable them to advance a bill with just 50 votes, plus a tie-breaker from Vice President Harris, but would undermine Biden’s calls for bipartisan unity.

On Sunday, a group of 10 Republicans proposed a much smaller package totaling about $600 million. Embracing such a plan would ensure 10 GOP votes, but could cost votes from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party who would likely find the plan too meager. Finding a middle path between $1.9 trillion and $600 million that could secure enough Senate votes to stymie a filibuster is not impossible, but could drag negotiations on at a time when new variants of the coronavirus threaten to plunge the country even further into its health and economic crisis. This leaves President Biden and Democrats a choice: embrace bipartisanship at the expense of time and a more comprehensive COVID response; or muscle a bigger package through quickly, but at the cost of inflaming tensions between the parties.

Then again, it’s not clear that tensions between the parties – and in the case of the GOP, within the party – could be any worse. Washington is still confronting the fallout from the events of January 6th, when pro-Trump rioters invaded the Capitol while Congress was certifying the election results. As the FBI continues to investigate the attack, and the Department of Homeland Security warns of further domestic violence, Congress is dealing with the trauma and distrust that the insurrection brought into the open.

First, there is the unprecedented impeachment trial of a former President, which is slated to begin next week. Last week, 45 Republican Senators voted in favor of questioning the trial’s constitutionality, which has been taken as a sign that there will not be enough votes to convict the former President when the trial concludes.

On the House side, the attack has ripped open partisan and intra-partisan schisms. Democrats are livid about the behavior of some pro-Trump Republicans, most notably freshmen Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose resume includes being a supporter of the Qanon conspiracy movement and claiming that several school shootings were “false flags” by gun control advocates. While some Democrats are calling for her expulsion from Congress, former President Trump apparently praised her in a call over the weekend. Meanwhile, a number of Republicans have taken political aim at the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach President Trump.

This might not seem like a good environment for enacting policy. But there is always one thing that helps bring lawmakers back to the hard work of legislating: the voters. The next Congressional election is not far off. And as crises like COVID, the economy, climate and racial injustice continue to affect millions of Americans, sooner or later the grown-ups in Washington will roll up their sleeves and get to work.

All of us have the ability to push elected officials to advance good policy, and that certainly includes the CRM industry. You can learn more about how you can make a positive difference by joining ACRA on February 4 at 2:00pm EST for Legislation & Policy: What CRM Can Expect in 2021.

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