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Congressional Agenda

January 20, 2022

Since the President’s major victories on COVID relief and infrastructure in Congress last year, he has attempted to muscle through the passage of his signature care and climate package as well as a voting rights package. These bills have run up against hard obstacles in Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, the two most conservative Democrats in the Senate. The President’s pushes on both measures come amidst a growing sense of urgency. The care and climate package, known as the Build Back Better act, is increasingly imperative in the context of spreading of climate hazards, like wildfires and hurricanes, as well as a widespread lack of affordable health care and child care exacerbated by the pandemic.

The duo of Senators, Manchin, and Sinema, also opposed altering the filibuster, a legislative firewall that prevents any legislation from passing without 60 votes, effectively dealing a death blow to voting rights legislation such as the Freedom to Vote Act, the main legislation that the President is trying to pass related to voting rights. Senators Manchin, Sinema, and Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, have led discussions about a potential bipartisan voting rights package centered around reform of the Electoral Count Act, which former President Trump used last year in his falsely-based attempts to try to overturn the election, culminating with the January 6th insurrection. 

The package could also include provisions from the Democrats’ bill, though the negotiations are still in the early stages. However, Democrats have been clear that, regardless of the specifics, they need to see some progress on the front of voting rights, because events like the insurrection showed the stakes of refusing to aid processes like the right to a fair vote, and that failing to do anything would ultimately be playing into the hands of those who want to erode democracy, both domestically and foreign. As for the Build Back Better act, Senator Manchin dealt it a blow in late December, when he announced that he could not support the bill in its current form. Since then, negotiations have halted as the Senate discussed voting rights, though they are expected to restart soon, centered around achieving reforms that Manchin has already explicitly supported, like expanding the Affordable Care act, establishing universal childcare and pre-k, and an already negotiated major climate package. Many Democrats would likely push for immigration measures to be added into any package, though their fate would be uncertain in the face of Manchin’s uncertainty and parliamentary obstacles. Moreover, there has been a growing drumbeat that action on immigration be attempted, particularly among Hispanic Democrats in congress, given that many saw the issue as a prime motivator for the Democratic base, much of which is Hispanic, in states like Arizona, which narrowly flipped to President Biden’s column last year. Senator Ben Ray Lujan, a Democrat from New Mexico who has been heavily involved in these discussions, said that the fight for such provisions, like protections for undocumented immigrants, will continue this spring.

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