Congress returns to spending battles as inflation looms
Each of the debates promises to draw Capitol Hill’s attention to the vexing state of the US economy: unemployment is low, but employers’ labor needs remain high; wages rose while prices rose sharply. National inflation gauges single-handedly hit their highest levels in four decades this month, a spike that left lawmakers hearing a listening ear from voters in their states and districts during the recess.
“They’re concerned about the rising cost of living, and that’s it, from rising gas prices to groceries,” Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D) said, adding that shortages on Store shelves recently in his Orange County, Fla., neighborhood seemed reminiscent of hurricane season.
Much of the economic turmoil stems from a pandemic that remains impossible to predict – and the still-unfolding aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But the dynamic nonetheless provides fertile ground for further high-stakes political wrangling between Democrats and Republicans, just over six months before Americans head to the polls in the 2022 midterm elections.
“My feeling is that this is a watershed moment,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said about the fate of the Democrats’ spending program. “That’s going to be the time when people have to look at each other eye to eye and decide if we’re going to move forward.”
Prices rose 8.5% in March compared to 2021, driven by energy costs
Setting the stage for the week ahead, Democrats and Republicans took to the airwaves on Sunday, clashing on competing news shows over the extent of inflation and the role Washington should play in combating it.
Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) stressed that it “is the responsibility of Congress, of the president, to go out there and make the changes that we have to bring to lower those prices for families.” She accused Republicans of spending their time trying to “fight the culture wars,” even as she warned Democrats of the consequences if they fail to do so. advance their own economic agenda.”If we don’t stand up and deliver,” Warren said, “then I believe the Democrats are going to lose.”
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), meanwhile, said rising prices would be a key factor for Republicans to reclaim the house in November. “I predict we’ll probably get at least 40 seats because this president has been so unpopular on inflation” and other issues, McCaul said on “Fox News Sunday.”
For now, the immediate task in the Senate involves the future composition of the country’s central bank. The chamber should vote this week on four candidates for the Federal Reserve: Jerome H. Powell, the current president; Philip Jefferson, professor at Davidson College; Lael Brainard, a Fed governor selected for his second most powerful spot; and Michigan State University professor Lisa Cook, who would become the first African-American woman to serve on the board.
The four candidates should win, thanks to the decisive majority of the Democrats. The process is expected to begin “starting Monday night,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the head of the chamber banking committee, adding that the exact timing would depend on “how much” Republicans try to slow down the debate. .
A previous candidate, Sarah Bloom Raskin, withdrew her nomination amid opposition from Republicans as well as from the Democrats’ own ranks. Sen. Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.), a coal country moderate, had blamed Raskin in part for his view that climate change threatens the U.S. financial system.
Still, the votes are likely to spark another round of fights over the White House’s economic policies — and the Federal Reserve’s commitment to raising interest rates as a way to curb inflation. Manchin, for his part, accused the central bank and the Biden administration this month of not “moving fast enough,” as he called for “more aggressive action from a Federal Reserve.” who waited too long to act”.
Biden’s Fed opts to advance to full Senate after candidate withdraws nomination
Republicans, meanwhile, are preparing their own rhetorical barrage. While GOP lawmakers back Powell and Jefferson — and don’t have the power to block Brainard and Cook — the upcoming votes present them with an opportunity to hit the Biden administration again for the pace at which costs are rising.
“Inflation has been rising steadily since the day Biden took office, and that’s the hardest tax on working families,” said Sen. Tim Scott (RS.C.), member of the banking committee, said in a tweet Friday. “It seems the very people the Biden administration policies purport to help are paying the highest price.”
Along with the Fed, Senate Democrats are also scrambling to approve a roughly $10 billion package that would replenish major federal coronavirus relief programs. The measure passed the House but stalled in the Senate, where partisan warfare continues to deeply undermine government efforts to provide Americans with access to vaccines, tests and treatments.
The standoff stems from a Republican-led broadside in a fight unrelated to immigration. GOP lawmakers strongly disagree with Biden’s recent plans to lift a pandemic-era order that had curtailed migrants’ ability to seek asylum in the United States.
In response, Republicans have sought to use the coronavirus aid as leverage: They thwarted the rapid passage of money to try to force Senate Democrats to hold an uncomfortable vote on an amendment targeting Biden’s border policies. It essentially scuttled congressional leaders’ hopes of approving the pandemic relief package shortly before they departed on vacation.
Two weeks later, the fight has become more complicated as Democrats increasingly disagree with Biden’s plans themselves. Some of the dissenting voices, including the senses. Mark Kelly (Arizona) and Raphael G. Warnock (Ga.), are also among the party’s most vulnerable in this year’s election.
Meanwhile, the White House has issued increasingly dire ratings about the country’s ability to respond to the pandemic, especially as the number of cases is trending up again nationwide.
Even the $10 billion compromise that lawmakers failed to approve marked a significant departure from the roughly $22.5 billion originally requested by the administration, a request Shalanda Young, director of the Office of Management and budget, described at the time as a down payment for what the government would eventually need.
“We keep banging the drums about the covid money,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday, tapping the podium for added effect.
Separately, a White House official added in a statement that the Biden administration “will be focused on working with lawmakers” to ensure passage of pandemic relief as well as an additional tranche of funds for help Ukraine. Biden previewed the formal request with reporters last week, noting that the escalating conflict has cut deeply into the roughly $14 billion Congress passed in emergency aid earlier this spring.
Some lawmakers have additional priorities, including a nascent, bipartisan effort in the Senate to try to lower the price of insulin, which Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) had previously committed to put in place in the coming weeks.
Another generation of members is working on a measure to boost science, technology and research in the United States. The chamber is set to take the next steps of the bill, which includes about $50 billion to help produce more powerful computer chips in the United States, later this week.
“The chip shortage is enough to tell you that we need to start investing in the United States to catch up,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), one of its lead authors.
Democrats scramble to resurrect ‘pieces’ of Biden-backed $2 trillion spending plan
For Democrats, however, the growing workload means they must balance routine governance issues with their broader political aspirations. At the heart of their task is a renewed attempt to push through a sprawling overhaul of national health, education, climate and tax laws — a spending package once known as Build Back Better.
In recent weeks, top Biden aides have reignited talks with their chief antagonist, Manchin, whose earlier opposition to the size and scope of the party’s roughly $2 trillion plan scuttled it l ‘last year. His demands have dashed Democrats’ hopes to cut drug costs, overhaul the tax code, expand health insurance, reinvest in child care and bolster other backstop programs. of security – promises that helped the party take control of Congress in the first place.
Democrats now hope to finalize their work on a new version of the long-deadline measure by July 4. Manchin demanded a lower price — and deeper deficit reduction — in return for his inescapable vote.
But Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), a leading voice on the proposal’s climate provisions, said she’s participated in conversations in which lawmakers recognize they have far less time than it seems – and that they had to negotiate a deal around Memorial instead. Day, which marks the end of the upcoming work period.
“It doesn’t get any easier the longer we wait,” she said.
For now, the uncertainty has fueled fresh speculation that Manchin could once again upend his own party’s political ambitions. And that has puzzled other Democrats, at a time when concerns are running high that voters could penalize lawmakers if they don’t speak out before the election.
“I think we need to do more to win their vote in November,” said Rep. Katie Porter (D-California), a senior member of the left-leaning Congressional Progressive Caucus. “I think we are demonstrating very clearly that the economy we are fighting for is an economy that will help families have more money in their pockets.”