After HR 1 vote, Democrats ready to move quickly on other top 10 bills
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by CQ Roll Call | 3.8.19
This piece was authored by CQ Roll Call, and its content solely reflects the published views of CQ Roll Call and its journalists.
House Democrats will be in high spirits Friday after they pass the top item on their policy agenda — a package of voting, campaign finance and ethics overhauls dubbed HR 1 — but they’re not going to stop to celebrate for too long.
The new Democratic majority has been quickly, but steadily and deliberately, rolling out legislation to fulfill their 2018 midterm campaign promises and reintroducing bills that languished during the past eight years when Republicans controlled the House.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi gets to designate the top 10 bill numbers, according to House rules, and her selections won’t surprise anyone who paid attention during the 2018 campaign.
The top three bills represent the three planks of the Democrats’ “For the People” agenda: lowering health care costs and prescription drug prices, driving economic growth through rebuilding America’s infrastructure, and cleaning up corruption in Washington.
The other seven are longtime Democratic priorities, most of them updated versions of bills the party has introduced for years in the minority or in some cases passed previously when they last held the majority from 2007 to 2011.
Four of the top 10 bills have already been introduced, while the other six are reserved for legislation that will be introduced in the coming weeks and months. HR 1, which virtually every member of Pelosi’s caucus is co-sponsoring, will be the second top measure Democrats pass. Last week, they passed HR 8, a bill to expand background checks on gun purchases to include online and gun show sales.
“We said these things during the campaign, and we are getting it done,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday at her weekly press conference. “And we are telling the public about the paths that we are on to get them turned into law, to make a difference in the lives of the American people.”
Many, if not all, of the Democrats’ top priorities will not make it into law this session with Republicans in control of the Senate and the White House. But as Pelosi acknowledged during a recent interview with Rolling Stone, it’s all about setting the stage for the 2020 presidential elections in which Democrats are hoping to win full control of Washington.
“During a presidential year, we’ll be the lounge act, that’s the main event,” she told the magazine. “Everything that we’re talking about has to be elevated to the presidential level.”
Also watch: Pelosi focuses on HR1 and the anti-Semitism resolution in weekly presser
Here’s a look at the Democrats’ top 10 bills, as designated by Pelosi, and their current status in the House:
HR 1, government overhaul
The marquee bill of the agenda, a massive government overhaul to update voting rights, campaign finance and ethics laws, is what Democrats say is the gateway bill to the rest of their For the People agenda. It is expected to pass Friday with the support of all 235 voting members of the Democratic Caucus.
“The public belief that we can do that depends on our passing legislation to amplify the voices of the American people and reduce the voice of dark, special interest money that has influenced decisions in Congress before,” Pelosi said.
“It is about confidence. It is about ending skepticism,” she added.
With the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declining to take up HR 1 and President Donald Trump threatening to veto it if it somehow reached his desk, Friday’s vote is the end of the road for the government overhaul package.
However, Democrats have said they may later pass some portions of HR 1 as separate bills — since it was compiled from a wide array of Democratic bills to begin with — in hopes that some can get bipartisan support and potentially be signed into law.
HR 2, infrastructure
Democrats are taking a much different tact in designating their second top bill. Pelosi has reserved HR 2 for an infrastructure package — one of the few items on their agenda that actually has the potential to draw broad bipartisan support.
Democratic leaders have not said much about what HR 2 would look like and whether they would try to make it bipartisan or use it to set the Democratic opening position for a larger infrastructure negotiation with the Senate and the White House.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio didn’t even know the bill number had been reserved for infrastructure when Roll Call approached him about it this week.
Pelosi is said to favor a large package, while House Minority Leader Steny H. Hoyer told reporters this week that infrastructure funding could be passed in multiple bills.
“It’s up to the leadership what the breadth of an infrastructure bill is,” DeFazio said, acknowledging that there are differences of opinion. “I know what my [committee’s] components are.”
The Transportation and Infrastructure panel will be dealing with a few components of funding, he said, including: surface transportation — roads, bridges, highways transit; harbor maintenance; the passenger facility charge to deal with overcrowded airports; and wastewater if there’s funding still available.
HR 3, prescription drugs
Pelosi has reserved HR 3 for the other plank in the For the People agenda — lowering prescription drug prices.
This bill is expected to be another large package incorporating measures from the Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means and Judiciary committees, all of which have some jurisdiction over the matter.
Pelosi aide Wendell Primus outlined the approach at a health care conference in February. He said the goal was to create a package of bills that could produce savings from lower prices paid by government health programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. The savings would be used to pay for lowering the out-of-pocket maximum paid by seniors in Medicare’s prescription drug benefit, Part D, or to pay for legislation meant to strengthen the 2010 health care law.
Exactly what bills would be included is still up in the air. The most likely centerpiece will be the so-called CREATES Act, a bipartisan measure that has been introduced for three consecutive Congresses and has key members from both chambers and both parties as sponsors. That bill would help deter brand drugmakers from blocking the sale of samples to potential competitors who want to offer lower-cost generic products.
Like with the infrastructure package, House Democrats will have to decide whether to craft this package in a bipartisan manner or let it serve as their opening bid for broader negotiations.
One sign of which way they’re leaning would be if they include a measure that requires the government to negotiate directly with drugmakers in Medicare Part D. While Democrats broadly support it, having passed such legislation in 2007 when they were in the majority, Senate Republicans oppose the practice.
HR 4, voting rights
The Voting Rights Advancement Act was introduced last week as HR 4. Democrats originally planned to include the bill as part of HR 1 but realized that they would need to take more time to draft and advance the measure to comply with requirements the Supreme Court laid out in its 2013 Shelby County v. Holder ruling.
HR 1 says Congress should respond to that decision — which declared part of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional — by updating the formula that determines which state and local governments need federal preclearance before they can implement changes to their voting laws.
The Voting Rights Act, originally passed in 1965, was last updated over a decade ago in a bipartisan manner under President George W. Bush.
Democrats would like their latest update to be bipartisan as well, but HR 4 as of now does not have any Republican co-sponsors. It does have broad Democratic support, however, with 207 members of the caucus already signed on to the measure, sponsored by Alabama Rep. Terri A. Sewell.
Since the 2013 Supreme Court ruling, “many states have enacted more restrictive voting laws that have led us in the wrong direction,” Sewell said in a statement. “The Voting Rights Advancement Act helps protect and advance the legacy of those brave foot soldiers of the civil rights movement by restoring key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and empowering the Justice Department to stop voter suppression tactics before they go into place.”
HR 5, LBGTQ equality
Democrats will be reintroducing the Equality Act next week as HR 5. The lead sponsor, Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, said he and Pelosi didn’t really have a discussion about designating it as one of the top bills — it was just understood that it was a priority.
“The Equality Act prohibits discrimination against the LBGTQ community — housing, employment, public accommodations, jury service, federal funding and education,” said Cicilline, who chairs the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. “It’s a fully comprehensive civil rights bill that will once and for all prohibit discrimination against the LBGTQ community in all areas of life, and it has earned tremendous support from the caucus.”
Cicilline, who is openly gay, said he expects HR 5 will be introduced with the support of some 230 members of the Democratic Caucus — more than enough to pass the House.
“The reason it’s a priority for Democrats is we recognize that a core value, one of the founding principles of this country, is that discrimination is wrong and that discrimination against any community is something we cannot tolerate,” he said.
Pelosi, who often says “public sentiment is everything,” said she is hopeful that the grassroots interest in HR 5 will help prevent the measure from being hitting a dead end after it leaves the House.
“I’m very pleased because we have a great deal of outside support for it, which I hope will help us pass it in the Senate,” she said. “We most certainly will pass it overwhelmingly in the House.”
HR 6, Dream Act
Also next week, on March 12, Democrats will reintroduce, as HR 6, a longtime party priority measure to provide a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers.
The Dream and Promise Act of 2019 will include changes from prior versions of the measure sponsored by California Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard to include protections for Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure recipients.
Millions of Dreamers would benefit from the legislation, including the roughly 800,000 who have had legal protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Trump has tried to end DACA, but federal courts have blocked him.
Federal courts also prevented Trump from terminating TPS for individuals from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan. Given the court ruling, the administration has decided to extend TPS for those countries into January 2020.
DED protections for individuals from Liberia are scheduled to expire on March 31.
With all of the various court decisions and Trump’s clear desire to end the programs, Democrats feel an urgency to act and provide permanent protections for Dreamers and TPS and DED recipients.
But it’s unlikely they’ll find much, if any, Republican support for their updated version of the Dream Act. The six House Republicans who co-sponsored the 2017 version of the bill all lost their re-election bids or retired last fall.
HR 7, paycheck fairness
One of the first bills Democrats reintroduced this year was the Paycheck Fairness Act, sponsored by Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro. HR 7 would aim to provide equal pay for men and women who do the same jobs by amending the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide remedies for employees who face gender discrimination.
“This is not a partisan issue,” DeLauro said. “We do the same job, we get the same pay.”
Pelosi and DeLauro are longtime colleagues and close friends who’ve been working on women’s rights and economic issues together for decades.
“She knows the strength of my feelings on the issue,” DeLauro said when asked how Pelosi decided to prioritize her bill. “She said to me it will be in the top 10.”
HR 7 has already been reported out of the Education and Labor Committee. Hoyer has said it will be on the floor the week of March 25.
The bill should pass easily, with 238 Democrats already signed on as co-sponsors. New Jersey Rep. Christopher H. Smith is the only Republican co-sponsor, but DeLauro said she hopes more GOP members will vote for it.
“If we have a good strong vote, that puts pressure on the Senate to do something,” she said. “There will also be the grassroots effort, the external pressure on the institution, the external pressure on the Senate.”
DeLauro has been introducing the Paycheck Fairness Act since 1997. It received a House vote in each of the last two Congresses that Democrats held the majority.
In 2008, it passed 247-178, with 14 Republicans supporting it. And in 2010, it passed 256-163, with 10 Republicans backing it. Of the Republicans who voted “yes” both years, only Smith and Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart are still in Congress.
If the Senate doesn’t take up the measure this session, or can’t pass it, and if Democrats win full control of Congress and the White House in 2010, DeLauro said she’ll push for the Paycheck Fairness Act to be the first bill a newly elected Democratic president signs next Congress.
HR 8, background checks
The first of the top bills House Democrats passed was HR 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019. On Feb. 27, the House voted 240-190 to send the measure to the Senate.
Eight Republicans joined Democrats in passing the measure, while two Democrats voted against it.
Pelosi has called the vote “historic,” since Republicans did not let Democrats hold a hearing, let alone a vote, on any gun control measures over the past eight years.
Senate Republicans have signaled they will not take up HR 8, however, so this is another issue Democrats will use the 2020 campaigns to build momentum for.
HR 9, climate
Pelosi has reserved HR 9 for a climate bill but has not provided any hints about what would be in the legislation. An aide said this is likely to be a starter measure, rather than a sweeping solution to the climate crisis.
Progressive Democrats are pushing their own climate agenda, called the Green New Deal, that calls for ambitious goals such as achieving net-zero global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
“I can’t say we’re going to take that and pass it because we have to go through our checks and balances of it with our committee chairs and the rest,” Pelosi said at a Howard University lecture series last week when asked about the nonbinding Green New Deal resolution.
The speaker has formed a select committee to study climate change solutions, but she said development of legislative responses to the crisis will be a Congress-wide effort, with various committees of jurisdiction taking lead roles.
Given all the players in the climate space, it’s unclear exactly what will end up in HR 9. This will likely be one of the more divisive items on the agenda that Democrats have to deal with — not because they don’t all support addressing climate change but because there are diverse views on how much of a role government should play.
HR 10, ‘something special’
Pelosi has yet to announce what she has in mind for HR 10. At the Howard University event, she said it would be a surprise, reserved for “something special.”
On Thursday, she clarified that it’s an intentional delayed reveal rather than a measure that Democrats would not be expected to introduce.
“I have plenty of ideas of what I’m going to do with it, but it’s not a surprise,” Pelosi said. “It’s just holding it as we unfold the others so you’re not saying to me every day, ‘When is it coming to the floor?’”
Andrew Siddons contributed to this report.
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