Causes Q&A: Your Questions Answered - March 2021
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by Ask Causes | 3.31.21
Before we get started, a big thank you to those of you who sent in questions through our post earlier this month. There were so many that we weren’t able to address all of them in this post, but we’ve noted those and may get to them in the next round of questions and answers.
Speaking of which, we’ll post a new general solicitation for questions at least once a month and may do bonus Q&A’s about specific bills. You’ll be able to find the mailbag post for questions along with the most recent posts with answers at this action center, and we’ll also post them in the main feed for your convenience.
Alright, let’s get to those questions!
When will Biden’s plan for healthcare be addressed in Congress? ― Larubia
- As of March 31st, the Biden administration hasn’t yet embarked on a full-fledged push for healthcare reform by Congress of a scale comparable to what it did for the $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” and what it is about to do for the upcoming multi-trillion infrastructure package.
- Elements of various healthcare proposals that President Joe Biden and other Democrats have supported may be incorporated into that infrastructure package, which the administration is planning to divide into “physical” and “social” infrastructure portions.
- Leading Democrats hope to pass the package by the summer, likely through the reconciliation process (which won’t require support from Republicans), but the legislative text hasn’t been introduced yet and will probably evolve substantially before Congress is done with it.
- There are some early indications as to what healthcare provisions Democrats may include in the bill. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is reportedly planning to include provisions lowering Medicare’s eligibility age from 65 to either 60 or 55; expanding it to cover dental, vision, and hearing care; and requiring prescription drug companies to negotiate pricing with Medicare. It remains to be seen whether or not those provisions are included in the package throughout the entirety of its consideration by Congress.
What is the status of H.R. 855? ― Skeeterman
- H.R. 855 is the Veterans Expedited TSA Screening (VETS) Safe Travel Act and was introduced by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) in early February with bipartisan support from 17 Republican and 10 Democratic cosponsors.
- The bill would allow severely or disabled veterans to access the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) PreCheck program at no cost to the veteran. PreCheck costs users $85 for a five-year enrollment period. PreCheck allows travelers to go through expedited TSA screenings without removing shoes, belts, 3-1-1 liquids, food, or light jackets (see the text of the bill here). While all travelers, including PreCheck members, are subject to screening and there’s no guarantee of expedited screening, in February 2021 TSA reports that 100% of TSA passengers waited less than 5 minutes.
- The VETS Safe Travel Act didn’t receive a committee hearing in either the House Veterans Affairs Committee or the Homeland Security Committee prior to spring recess, but given its bipartisan support, it may be considered in committee and on the House floor in the near future. We’ll summarize this bill before it gets a vote, so stay tuned!
What types of bills are subject to the filibuster? ― Pat
- The Senate’s legislative filibuster (aka the cloture motion) requires 60 votes to limit debate on most bills prior to a passage vote, although there are some exceptions.
- Most notably, legislation being considered under the budget reconciliation process (which requires policies to be related to spending, tax revenues, the deficit, and/or the debt limit) can be passed with a simple majority.
- Other legislation that is exempt from the 60 vote threshold includes regulatory overrides under the Congressional Review Act and resolutions related to military actions under the War Powers Resolution, both of which require simple majorities.
- There used to be a 60 vote threshold to limit debate on nominations as well, but senators used the “nuclear option” to change Senate precedent and lower that threshold to a simple majority. In 2013, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) used it to lower the cloture threshold to a simple majority for all non-Supreme Court nominations to judicial or executive branch positions; and in 2017, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) extended the lower cloture threshold to Supreme Court nominations.
I’m perplexed with how Congress is bringing bills to the floor without going through the committees first. I’m also curious as to how bipartisan bills are defined or if it even is? There seem to be differing opinions. ― Freethinker
- Great questions! While “regular order” in Congress entails bills going through the markup process in the committee of jurisdiction before they reach the floor, both chambers have ways to expedite the consideration of a bill.
- In the House, the speaker picks the nine majority members of the 13-member Rules Committee, which is responsible for determining the length of debate on a bill and whether amendments will be permitted, in addition to advancing bills that weren’t reported by a committee. That dynamic and partisan advantage allows the House majority party to bring legislation to the floor that they want, even if it wasn’t reported by committee, while precluding consideration of floor amendments.
- The Congressional Research Service notes that in the 2010s, about 30% of all bills considered by the House with special rules prohibiting amendments hadn’t been reported by a committee.
- The Senate allows senators to place a bill directly on the calendar for potential consideration when they introduce it through the Rule XIV process, thereby bypassing referral to committee. However, that doesn’t guarantee it will receive consideration on the floor, as the agenda is determined by the majority leader.
- In terms of how “bipartisan bills” are defined, it’s a very subjective (and often politicized) phrase that at minimum requires a bill to have a sponsor and cosponsor from both parties. Beyond that, it’s open to interpretation whether a bill has sufficient buy-in from either side of the aisle to be accurately called a “bipartisan bill.”
- For example, the House recently voted on a bill dubbed the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, which has 210 cosponsors including 207 Democrats and three Republicans, and passed on a mostly party-line vote of 227-203, with eight Republicans in favor and one Democrat opposed. So it could be accurately said the bill had bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition, but the degree of bipartisan consensus is far less than other legislation like the PPP Extension Act, which recently passed the House 415-3 and the Senate 92-7 on the way to becoming law.
How will the terrorist attack on the Capitol be handled? ― Pat
- The fallout from the January 6th riot at the Capitol is likely to be addressed through two tracks: through ongoing criminal prosecutions of people law enforcement identified and charged; and congressional oversight, either through committees or an independent commission.
- On the judicial track, there are hundreds of criminal cases currently in the courts that are tied to the Capitol attack. A federal prosecutor told CBS that as of late March there are over 400 ongoing criminal cases connected to the riot, and more could be opened as investigations continue.
- On the congressional track, there have been several committee hearings to date on the January 6th riot and there will likely be more to follow. Leaders from both parties have been discussing a commission modeled on the bipartisan 9/11 Commission to investigate the Capitol riot. Progress in reaching an agreement on the structure of the commission stalled after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called for Democrats to appoint seven commissioners and Republicans only four, a contrast to the 9/11 commission which had five Democrats and five Republicans
When will Biden replace Postmaster General Louis DeJoy? ― Larubia
- President Joe Biden does not have the legal authority to immediately fire Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.
- The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is an independent agency within the executive branch, and the Postmaster General is appointed by the nine-member Board of Governors, of which no more than five governors can belong to a single political party at a given time.
- The Postmaster General serves indefinitely at the pleasure of the Board of Governors. USPS Governors are appointed by the president and serve seven-year terms, which are staggered. There are currently three vacancies on the Board of Governors and Democrats have put forward nominees that will eventually be considered by the Senate. Their confirmation would give Democrats five members of the Board of Governors.
- Some Democrats have urged Biden to fire the entire Board of Governors in an effort to replace DeJoy, although it’s unclear whether that effort would succeed.
When will you provide links to the bills and proposed legislation so that we can read them? ― J
- If you’re viewing a bill page on your web browser there is a link to the bill’s legislative text on Congress.gov at the bottom of the info panel on the right of your screen. Also, because you asked, we’ll start including a link to the bill text in the “Media” subheader of the “More Information” section at the bottom of the bills we summarize.
- Legislation that has been introduced in Congress is viewable on our platform even if we haven’t authored a summary of it yet, although proposed legislation that hasn’t been formally introduced isn’t viewable through our platform unless we cover it in an article (in which case we typically include a link to the draft bill along with a description).
- A handy shortcut for finding a bill on our platform that you know the ID for is to change our bill page URL to match it (ex: causes.com/bills/hr1-117). The prefix of the legislative ID references which chamber it originated in and whether it was a standard bill (“hr” or “s”), a simple resolution (hres or “sres”), joint resolution (“hjres or “sjres”), or concurrent resolution (“hconres” or “sconres”); while the end of the ID indicates which Congress the bill is (or was) active in.
- Also, if you’re looking for the bills on Congress’s schedule in a given week, you may want to follow the This Week in Congress action center, which tracks the votes in the House and Senate on a given day each week. When possible, we try to summarize the bills to be considered under a rule as early as possible (since they tend to be more controversial and will receive recorded votes), but we also summarize bills of interest that are considered under the fast-track “suspension of the rules” process (which requires a two-thirds majority), in addition to major nominations in the Senate.
Is there an archive of bills and how my representatives voted? ― Patrick
- The best way to see what bills your lawmakers have voted on is to go to https://www.causes.com/me/reps while you’re logged in. When you click on one of your lawmakers, you’ll be able to toggle between viewing their most recent votes and bills they have introduced.
— Eric Revell