‘Twas the week before Christmas, when all through the House (and Senate), not a creature was stirring, because they’d all left town for the holidays.

As 2021 draws to a close, Congress took steps to prevent more disruptions to the economy, but left a major piece of President Biden’s agenda hanging by a thread.

In an effort to stave off a first-ever federal government default, President Biden signed a bill last Thursday raising the debt limit ceiling by $2.5 trillion, preventing a potential default until 2023. The Senate moved on Tuesday to pass legislation to increase the limit in a vote that fell along party lines, 50-49. The House had previously voted 221-209 to approve the bill, with just one Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), voting with Democrats.

However, the big news of the week came on Sunday, when Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) indicated that he will not support the Build Back Better reconciliation bill, dealing a potentially fatal blow to the almost $2 trillion climate and safety net proposal that is the centerpiece of President Biden’s agenda. Manchin cited the bill’s costs and potential impact on the federal budget deficit as the main reason to oppose it. Without Manchin’s 50th Democratic vote, the bill lacks a way forward in the Senate (it passed the House already).

The White House responded to Manchin’s announcement in unusually harsh terms, saying that Manchin had committed to the President as recently as a few days earlier that he was working to find a suitable compromise. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) indicated Monday morning that the Senate would nonetheless vote on the bill in January, even though it appears at the moment to lack the 50 votes needed to pass.

It is entirely possible that, come January, Democrats will coalesce around a much smaller bill that can win the support of Manchin and other conservative Democrats, but it hardly will be the transformative legislation that progressive Democrats had hoped for.

While the impact of the bill (or its failure) on cultural resources would be indirect, Washington has taken other steps with a more direct impact on CRM:

House Passes Bill to Protect Sacred Tribal Objects.  Earlier this month, the House passed the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act on a 364-57 vote. Endorsed by ACRA, the bill strengthens the United States’ ability to prevent the export and sale of sacred tribal artifacts.

Although the U.S. is a signatory to the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transport of Ownership of Cultural Property, it does not have a domestic law to protect tribal cultural heritage items. The STOP Act is intended to address this gap by increasing Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) penalties to aid in deterrence; explicitly prohibiting the export of tribal cultural heritage trafficked in violation of NAGPRA and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA); creating an export certification system; and other provisions.

The bill, introduced in the House by Reps. Teresa Leger Fernández (D-NM) and Don Young (R-AK), now goes to the Senate, where a companion bill already has been approved by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Army Corps Indicates Plans to Align its Rules with ACHP. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced that it plans to align its regulations on considering the impacts of its actions on historic properties to the ACHP’s regulations.

According to the Office of Management and Budget, the Corps has indicated its intention to draft a proposed rule on its historic preservation regulations. The Corps noted that since its rules were promulgated in 1990, “there have been amendments to the NHPA and revisions to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation’s (ACHP) regulations at 36 CFR part 800. In response, the Corps issued interim guidance until rulemaking could be completed in order to ensure full compliance with the NHPA and ACHP’s regulations. The Corps would propose to revise its regulations to conform to the ACHP 800 regulations.”

Tell Us What Issues Matter to You. As 2022 looms around the corner, there are likely to be more policy proposals that impact cultural resources management and the companies that engage in it. Whether it’s historic preservation policy, federal permitting, or business taxes that impact firms’ bottom lines, the industry benefits from having a voice in the process.

Every policy position ACRA takes springs from its members. That’s why ACRA has launched its first Call for Issues survey to help it know what issues matter the most to you and your work – and now we have given you more time to make your voice heard.

Let us know what issues are most important to you. Please take a moment to fill out the survey before December 22.