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Senate hits the gas on Biden agenda bill as House Democrats plan abortion votes

It's shaping up to be a packed July on Capitol Hill, with more Jan. 6 hearings this week as lawmakers return from a two-week recess.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., attends a news conference at the Capitol on June 22, 2022.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., at a news conference at the Capitol on June 22.Ting Shen / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Democrats are bracing for an action-packed July when Congress returns from recess this week, with President Joe Biden's legislative agenda facing a crucial stretch and the House Jan. 6 committee's high-profile public hearings approaching a finale.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has stepped up negotiations with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., about a filibuster-proof bill to pass major economic policies with only Democratic votes.

They agreed on a series of provisions over the two-week break, including steps to lower prescription drug prices and raise taxes on some high earners, with plans to use the revenue to extend the life of Medicare, congressional sources familiar with the talks said.

The Democrats will continue to negotiate other policies in the bill, including energy and climate change funding, as well as additional tax revenue. They may also add money to lower premiums under the Affordable Care Act, which Manchin has been noncommittal about.

Democrats are looking at $500 billion in spending and $1 trillion in revenue, two sources with knowledge of the negotiations said, with the goal of putting half the savings toward deficit reduction, a top Manchin priority.

While Schumer and Manchin, a pivotal vote in the 50-50 Senate, have already agreed on certain provisions, they haven't reached a deal yet on the package, and it remains to be seen whether they will. With Congress scheduled to leave for a monthlong recess in August, the party's best chance to pass a bill before the midterm elections this fall is to strike a deal in the coming weeks.

The bill is unlikely to include other elements in the House-passed Build Back Better Act, which stalled indefinitely in the Senate last year, like cash payments to parents, child care, universal pre-K and paid leave.

Manchin, who rejected that bill, has said those issues, facing firm Republicans opposition, should go through the regular 60-vote process, through which they're all but guaranteed to fail.

Other topics, like immigration reform, stand even less chance of being included. Manchin has insisted that the new bill be narrow and focused.

The Democrats' big month got off to a rough start when Schumer revealed Sunday that he tested positive for Covid and plans to work remotely this week. His communications director Justin Goodman said he "will continue with his robust schedule and remain in near constant contact with his colleagues."

The so-called reconciliation legislation could be on a collision course with the bipartisan U.S.-China competition bill after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., threatened to sink the latter if Democrats move forward with the Biden agenda package — which he has characterized as a "partisan" bill.

McConnell warned Democrats not to consider "ramming through gigantic tax hikes on party lines" in the current economy. U.S. consumers have been rocked by levels of inflation not experienced in more than four decades.

Schumer and Manchin don't appear intimidated. They rolled out an agreement to raise taxes on some high earners last week after McConnell's threat. As the House and the Senate hold negotiations to hammer out a final version of the sweeping China competitiveness bill, it remains to be seen whether other Republicans who support the measure, aimed at countering Beijing's economic and geopolitical influence, will back McConnell’s threat to abandon it.

To pressure lawmakers to get behind the legislation, Schumer has scheduled a classified briefing for all senators Wednesday. The meeting will center on “the global innovation and technology race and the bipartisan innovation bill which is vital for America’s long-term national security,” a Schumer spokesperson said.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that McConnell's move to pit a drug pricing bill against the U.S.-China legislation was a "false choice," and she criticized him for "playing politics with our national security."

House plans abortion votes

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is planning more votes to protect abortion rights after the Supreme Court's decision to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which she has called "appalling."

After the House returns from recess Tuesday, lawmakers "will again pass the Women’s Health Protection Act: landmark legislation enshrining the protections of Roe v. Wade into federal law," she told colleagues in a letter. "We will also pass legislation addressing the GOP’s disturbing threats to restrict Americans’ freedom to travel — reaffirming the Constitutional right to seek care freely and voluntarily throughout the country."

The Senate voted this year to block the Democratic bill to codify abortion rights into federal law ahead of the Supreme Court's ruling, which has upended the state of abortion rights and prompted more than a half-dozen states to rush to ban the procedure completely and others to impose new restrictions.

Democrats, lacking the votes to pass abortion rights legislation in the Senate, have struggled to mount a response to the conservative court's ruling. They have sought to harness the public backlash to galvanize voters for Democratic candidates in the midterm elections, which are less than four months away.

Jan. 6 hearings

As the House Jan. 6 committee approaches the finale of the public hearings phase in its historic and lengthy investigation, the next two televised events, scheduled for this week, are expected to draw a lot of attention on Capitol Hill. On Tuesday, committee members are set to address the assembling of the mob and the role played by extremist groups, as well as U.S. officials, including former President Donald Trump and White House aides.

A former spokesperson for the far-right Oath Keepers organization will appear as a witness, a source familiar with the hearing plans said.

The committee heard testimony from former White House counsel Pat Cipollone in a marathon interview Friday. Tim Mulvey, a spokesperson for the panel, said later that Cipollone provided "critical testimony" about major topics, "reinforcing key points regarding Donald Trump’s misconduct and providing highly relevant new information that will play a central role in its upcoming hearings."

Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., a member of the committee, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: "The overall message that we have been gathering out of all of these witnesses is that the president knew he had lost the election or that his advisers had told him he had lost the election and that he was casting about for ways in which he could retain power and remain the president, despite the fact that the democratic will of the American people was to have President Biden be the next elected."

And over the weekend, the committee came closer to hearing from former White House strategist Steve Bannon, a high-profile witness who has tried to dodge a subpoena to provide information.

The findings of the Jan. 6 investigation may influence what — if any — legislation Congress considers to tighten the electoral system and stop future presidents or candidates from trying to exploit loopholes to seize power if they lose. A Senate group negotiating a package on the issue was on the verge of a deal last month, but it hit pause after attention was turned to a gun safety bill.