Your Congress in Action: Vol. 29

05/24/2021 11:36 AM | 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.


Partisanship continues to slow down action on major policy items in Washington, even as the country begins to feel a sense of optimism that the worst of the pandemic is behind us.

Nowhere is the tension between the two parties more evident than in the repercussions from the Jan. 6th insurrection. Last week, the House approved a bill to create an independent commission to investigate the causes of the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Although 35 Republicans joined all Democrats to vote for the bill, most Republicans opposed it - despite the fact that the deal was negotiated with Homeland Security Committee ranking Republican Rep. John Katko (R-NY). Its prospects in the Senate are dim following Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell's announcement he will oppose it.

Inter-party fighting is also affecting the debate over infrastructure. President Biden met with top Congressional leaders from both parties at the White House for the first time in his presidency two weeks ago to seek common ground on his infrastructure bill. While both sides said they are committed to work in a bipartisan fashion, Senate Republican leader McConnell reiterated his opposition to any rollbacks of the 2017 Trump tax cuts, which Biden has proposed as a way to pay for the plan.

Although the White House said last week they would be open to a bill that spent $1.7 trillion on infrastructure – below their initial $2.3 trillion proposal – that is still far from the $600-$800 billion amount Republicans have said they would support. And late last week, a spokesperson for Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV), who is leading negotiations for Republicans, said the sides were even further apart than when President Biden met with Hill leaders.

Democrats appeared to be leaning towards breaking the plan into two parts: "traditional" infrastructure, like roads and bridges, which could pass with GOP support, and the other provisions, like home care and climate funding, for which they would use the reconciliation process that requires just 50 votes in the Senate.

Meanwhile, House Republican leaders are planning to introduce an infrastructure proposal of their own. The plan, led by House Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member Sam Graves (R-MO), would focus on “traditional” infrastructure like highways and bridges, and would spend around $400 billion over five years. Notably, this plan might include changes to the environmental review process, although details are not yet known.

As it meets with members of the key committees on Capitol Hill, ACRA continues to urge Congress to balance new infrastructure with the need to consider its impacts on our country’s cultural and historic heritage.

President Biden has previously said he hopes to strike a deal on an infrastructure bill by Memorial Day, but with only a week to go, that deadline seems optimistic. The same holds for other top White House priorities like voting reform and police reform.

Meanwhile, debate continues over other issues that impact the cultural resources management industry:

  • The Biden administration is preparing regulatory improvements that will help speed up the environmental review process for large-scale renewable energy projects, particularly offshore wind, according to Daily Energy Insider. The details are not yet known, but ACRA is working to make sure that the plan does not curtail the National Historic Preservation Act.
  • President Biden will release his fiscal year 2022 budget this Friday, outlining his priorities for federal spending in the coming year. This will serve as the unofficial start of the annual appropriations process, where Congress determines the spending levels for various programs beginning in September. Of particular interest to the CRM industry is the Historic Preservation Fund, which helps support state and tribal historic preservation offices, as well as other preservation activities. Although the HPF, which can receive up to $150 million per year from oil and gas royalties, Congress has never provided that full amount. Due to the lobbying efforts of ACRA and others, Congress did provide $144 million last year, the highest level ever, but ACRA is pushing Congress to appropriate the full $150 million.
  • Speaking of oil and gas leasing, pressure is growing on the administration to end its pause on new leases. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) urged the Biden administration to resume offshore oil and gas leasing within months during a hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources two weeks ago. However, the Interior Department has not said whether sales will resume.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the nomination of Tommy Beaudreau to be Deputy Secretary of the Interior on an 18-1 vote. It now goes to the full Senate. Beaudreau previously served as the first director of the newly formed Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management in the Obama administration following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, and then served as chief of staff to then-Secretary Sally Jewell. Beaudreau is President Biden's second pick for the deputy secretary slot, after he withdrew the nomination of Elizabeth Klein over objections from Manchin and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that she was too hostile to fossil fuels. Although Beaudreau is likely to be confirmed by the full Senate, his past ties to the fossil fuel industry have raised concerns among some environmental groups.

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