House to vote on COVID-19 relief package
The House of Representatives voted on President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. The House bill includes language to raise the federal minimum wage to $15/hour by 2025, but Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled that including that language in the Senate bill would violate the Senate rule that protects the bill from filibuster.
Earmarks are back
We’re seeing reports that House and Senate Democrats have agreed to ground rules to bring earmarks back to Congress this year, which would allow members to designate specific local projects from pots of federal cash during the appropriations process. The deal struck between House Appropriations Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) would cap earmarks at 1% and require subcommittees to review them. The House Freedom Caucus and Republican Study Committee issued statements opposing earmarks earlier this week, but Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) has said that they’re part of Congress’s job.
FHFA extends forbearance, foreclosure and eviction moratoria
The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced last Tuesday that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will extend their moratoria on single-family foreclosures and real estate owned (REO) evictions until June 30, from the earlier date of March 31. Borrowers with a Fannie or Freddie mortgage may also be eligible for another three-month extension of COVID-19 forbearance, allowing a total forbearance period of up to 18 months.
SBA announces exclusive 14-day window for PPP loans for tiny businesses and nonprofits
The Small Business Administration opened a 14-day window last Wednesday to give exclusive access to the new round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 20 employees. SBA is also revising its funding formula to provide more financial support to sole proprietors, independent contractors, and self-employed individuals; eliminating an exclusionary restriction on PPP access for small-business owners with non-fraud felony convictions; eliminating student loan debt delinquency as a disqualifier for PPP participation; and allowing lawful non-citizen residents to use their Taxpayer Identification Numbers to apply for PPP loans.
Jerome Powell is not afraid of inflation
Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell appeared before the Senate Banking Committee and the House Financial Services Committee to talk about the state of the economy. He said that the course of the economy would depend on the course of the virus, but if COVID-19 vaccines continue to accelerate and the number of new cases and hospitalizations continues to drop, GDP growth may reach six or seven percent by the end of this year. Powell warned that recovery so far has been uneven and far from complete, and that “those least able to shoulder the burden have been hardest hit.” As usual, Powell refused to be drawn into conversations about fiscal policy, or to take a position on President Biden’s $1.9 billion American Rescue Plan. He said that they expect inflation indicators to rise even without the rescue plan, but upward pressure on prices should be temporary, and he does not think increases will be large or persistent. The economy has faced disinflationary pressures for about 25 years, Powell said, and they have the tools to deal with unwanted inflation if it emerges.
SEC to enhance focus on climate-related disclosures
Acting Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission Allison Herrera Lee told the agency’s Division of Corporate Finance last week to enhance its focus on climate-related disclosure in public company filings. The SEC issued guidance on climate-related disclosures in 2010, and Lee asked the staff to review the extent to which disclosures address the topics identified in the guidance and assess companies’ compliance with their disclosure obligations under federal law. “Now more than ever, investors are considering climate-related issues when making their investment decisions,” Lee said, and it is the SEC’s job to make sure meaningful information is available to them.
House panel debates ESG disclosure requirements
Members of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Investor Protection, Entrepreneurship, and Capital Markets argued about the value and desirability of corporate disclosures on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues at a hearing last week. The Subcommittee is considering seven bills on a wide range of disclosure requirements, and members disagreed sharply about the propriety of asking for-profit businesses to make public disclosures about anything not directly related to profit and loss. More and more companies are voluntarily disclosing ESG information, but the lack of federal or global standards for these disclosures makes it difficult for investors to compare performance.
House Oversight starts work on USPS reform
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform held its first hearing on US Postal Service reform last week, with testimony from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, USPS Board of Governors Chairman Ron Bloom, USPS Inspector General Tammy Whitcomb, and representatives of postal unions and the private sector. Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and ranking member Rep. James Comer (R-KY) are working on bipartisan legislation that would address the USPS’s extreme financial deficit by eliminating the requirement that the USPS pre-fund its retiree health plan, integrating USPS retirees into Medicare, and eliminating the requirement that the USPS pre-fund its pension plan. Postmaster General DeJoy said that he and USPS staff had been working on a ten-year strategy that should be published sometime next month. Commitments in that strategic plan will include preservation of a six- or seven-day-a-week mail delivery; stabilizing and strengthening the USPS workforce, especially for those not yet in career positions; and investing in network infrastructure, including vehicles, technology, and package sorting equipment.
Becerra vows urgency on COVID vaccinations while Republicans question his qualifications
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra appeared before the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee last Tuesday for a hearing on his nomination to be Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Becerra said that strong federal leadership would be needed to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and promised that “science will come first” when making policy decisions. His other priorities included strengthening Medicare and Medicaid, reducing the costs of health care and prescription drugs, and holding everyone within the health care system accountable. He also wants to strengthen Head Start and expand access to child care, he said. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), the Committee’s ranking member, said he was not sure that Becerra, an attorney and long-time member of the US House of Representatives, had the healthcare expertise or experience the position requires, or the appropriate respect for the private sector’s role in healthcare delivery and innovations.
Federal spending is a must for wastewater infrastructure, witnesses tell House panel
Years of deferred investment in infrastructure have left the nation’s wastewater infrastructure in dire shape, witnesses told the House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment at a hearing last Tuesday. Subcommittee Chairwoman Grace Napolitano (D-CA) said that they would work to pass a water infrastructure financing bill that not only reauthorizes the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF), but also provides greater assistance to rural and tribal communities with energy efficient, green infrastructure projects. The House passed SRF reauthorization in the last Congress, but the Senate did not consider the bill. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that communities nationwide need $271 billion in investments over the next 20 years to bring their wastewater treatment systems up to a state of good repair. The share of federal spending in these projects has dropped dramatically since the 1980s, and local officials worry that they cannot finance needed repairs without raising sewer and water rates to unaffordable levels.
Confirmations, Nominations, Departures
- The Senate confirmed Jennifer Granholm as Secretary of Energy by a vote of 64-35. Granholm has been sworn in, and has posted her priorities to the DOE website.
- The Senate confirmed Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture on Tuesday by a vote of 92-7.
- The Senate confirmed Linda Thomas-Greenfield as Ambassador to the United Nations on Tuesday by a vote of 78-20.
- President Biden nominated Kiran Arjandas Ahuja to be Director of the Office of Personnel Management.
- President Biden nominated Anton Hajjar, Amber McReynolds, and Ron Stroman to the three vacant positions on the US Postal Service’s Board of Governors.
The Week Ahead in Washington
- March 2 at 10:00 a.m. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs holds a hearing on the nominations of Gary Gensler to be Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Rohit Chopra to be Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
- March 2 at 10:00 a.m. House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation holds a hearing on “COVID-19’S Effects on US Aviation and the Flight Path to Recovery.”
- March 2 at 10:30 a.m. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health holds a hearing on “The Future of Telehealth: How COVID-19 is Changing the Delivery of Virtual Care.”
- March 4 at 10:15 a.m. Senate Banking Committee holds a hearing on “Wall Street vs. Workers: How the Financial System Hurts Workers and Widens the Racial Wealth Gap.”
The Ellis Insight
Jim Ellis reports on political news
Alabama: Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) stated publicly that he will not enter the open US Senate race in 2022, instead declaring his intention to seek re-election for the office he currently holds. On the other hand, Birmingham-area Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D), who has run unopposed in the last four consecutive elections, confirmed that she is considering entering the open 2022 Senate contest. The Republicans expect a crowded field to succeed retiring Sen. Richard Shelby (R), while no Democrat has yet officially come forward to declare a candidacy.
Florida: Three-term US Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Winter Park) announced that she is “seriously considering” running for the Senate and embarking on a “listening tour” throughout the state. The interesting part of her statement, however, reveals that she is looking at both the 2022 election against Sen. Marco Rubio (R) and the 2024 contest against Sen. Rick Scott (R).
Furthermore, her announcement made no mention of the Governor’s race, though she had been prominently mentioned as a possible candidate. This is likely because Florida’s only Democratic statewide elected official, Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Nikki Fried, is making serious moves to enter the Governor’s campaign.
Georgia: It appeared that former Sen. David Perdue (R) was preparing to challenge Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) in 2022 when last November’s special election winner stands for a full six-year term. Saying it is a personal and not a political decision, Mr. Perdue indicated that he will not re-enter the political arena. The former Senator leaves a wide-open Republican nomination battle in his wake, which could include former Sen. Kelly Loeffler, ex-Representative and 2020 Senate candidate Doug Collins, Attorney General Chris Carr, and former US Ambassador Randy Evans, among others.
Ms. Loeffler announced that she is forming a Georgia organization to increase voter registration and grassroots activities for right of center voters. She indicates that the organization’s goal is to counter Democrat Stacey Abrams Fair Fight group that took the lead in registering African Americans and left of center voting prospects.
New Hampshire: The University of New Hampshire pollsters released their latest Granite State Poll (2/18-22; 1,861 UNH panel members; 1,676 NH likely general election voters; online; weighted) testing Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) against both Gov. Chris Sununu (R) and former Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R). The numbers gave Gov. Sununu, serving his third two-year term as the state’s chief executive, a 48-46% edge over Sen. Hassan, but the incumbent posts a 48-43% lead over Ms. Ayotte, whom she defeated by a percentage point back in 2016.
Additionally, retired Army General Don Bolduc, who lost the 2020 Senate Republican primary to businessman Corky Messner, 51-43%, says he will again run in 2022 irrespective of who else runs, including Gov. Sununu.
Should the Governor decide to launch a Senate campaign, such a race could quickly become the Republicans’ top national conversion opportunity. It is doubtful that Mr. Sununu and Ms. Ayotte would oppose each other. Should Gov. Sununu run for the Senate, it is more likely that Ms. Ayotte would enter the open Governor’s race.
Pennsylvania: State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia) announced last week that he will enter the open Democratic primary for the seat from which Sen. Pat Toomey (R) is retiring. Mr. Kenyatta becomes the second official Democratic candidate after Lt. Gov. John Fetterman who has also made public his intention to compete for the seat.
LA-2: There are 15 candidates on the jungle primary ballot attempting to succeed resigned Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-New Orleans) in the March 20th special election, but one contender, state Sen. Troy Carter (D-New Orleans), who already has former Rep. Richmond’s endorsement, attracted an interesting supporter last week. Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng added her name to Sen. Carter’s endorsement list. What makes her unique is that she a Republican, meaning cross-party confirmation.
While Ms. Sheng may not help Sen. Carter in a typical Democratic primary, the jungle primary where all voters participate, is a different story. This could be a particularly significant support development if Sen. Carter advances to a runoff election with another Democrat, which is a likely scenario.
NC-11: 2020 Democratic congressional nominee Moe Davis, a retired US Air Force Colonel who lost to freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-Hendersonville) 54-42% and announced late last month that he is seeking a re-match, now has company in the future Democratic primary. Yesterday, Iraq War veteran and state Representative nominee Josh Remillard announced that he plans to run for Congress in 2022, as well. The 2020 race became competitive, but Rep. Cawthorn ended with a substantial win and far better than analysts had predicted.
OH-16: Former White House aide and Trump campaign operative Max Miller announced that he will oppose Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Rocky River/Wadsworth) in next year’s Republican congressional primary. Mr. Gonzalez, a five-year NFL football player for the Indianapolis Colts after a star career at Ohio State University, is serving his second congressional term and one of ten House Republicans to vote for then-President Trump’s second impeachment. With a spate of these members already getting announced opponents, it would not be surprising to see all of them battle in Republican nomination contests next year.
TX-6: Susan Wright, widow of recently deceased Texas US Rep. Ron Wright (R-Arlington), as expected announced this week that she will run to succeed her late husband. She begins the race as the favorite to win. Two Democrats also made their candidacies official: businesswoman and non-profit organization founder Lydia Bean and real estate developer Matt Hinterlong, joining previously declared candidates Jana Lynne Sanchez, the 2018 Democratic congressional nominee, and local school district official Shawn Lassiter.
Several other Republicans are also running. Freshman state Rep. Jake Ellzey (R-Waxahachie) announced that he has filed a congressional committee with the Federal Election Commission, and former Trump Administration Small Business Association official Sery Kim (R) also confirmed her candidacy. Previously, businessman and Iraq War veteran Mike Egan, and movie producer Monty Markland had declared their intentions to run.
Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has scheduled the jungle primary for May 1st. If no candidate receives majority support, the Governor will then schedule the runoff election once the top two finishers become known.
UT-4: Former Rep. Ben McAdams (D) confirmed last week that he is considering seeking a re-match with freshman Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Salt Lake City). In November, Mr. McAdams lost to his Republican opponent in a close 48-47% margin, meaning a vote deficit of only 3,765 votes from more than 376,000 ballots cast. The former Congressman was quoted as saying that Rep. Owens should have a chance to succeed before any campaign decisions are made, and “as a Utahn and American, I want him to be successful.”
Florida: Orlando area state Senator Randolph Bracy (D) is testing the waters about entering the 2022 Governor’s race. Mr. Bracy was first elected to the state Senate in 2016 after serving two terms in the Florida House of Representatives.
Should he enter the race, the state legislator will possibly face primary competition from State Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida’s only Democratic statewide official, US Rep. Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg) who previously served one term as Governor when a member of the Republican Party, and state Sen. Annette Taddeo (D-Miami). Ms. Taddeo was Mr. Crist’s running mate when he ran unsuccessfully for Governor under the Democratic ballot line against then-incumbent Rick Scott (R) in 2014.
Illinois: State Sen. Darren Bailey (R-Louisville/ southeastern Illinois), an outspoken opponent of the Illinois pandemic shutdown requirements, announced that he will enter the Republican gubernatorial primary next year. The chances of any Republican ousting Gov. J.B Pritzker (D) are slim, and while Sen. Bailey may have the opportunity of doing well in the GOP primary, he appears to face a very uphill climb in the general election.
New York: It has been reported that Rep. Tom Reed (R-Corning) is seriously considering initiating a campaign for Governor next year. Now, other delegation names have popped up, including Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville), neither of whom are closing the door on such a race. With Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) having problems on the nursing home and MeToo front, the 2022 NY Governor’s race could yield a much different campaign than what we’ve seen in the recent past.
Virginia: Virginia is unique in that the nominating system for each party can internally change at will. Republicans have been in a major fight over whether to hold a nominating convention or a straight primary for the 2021 elections. Now, they have decided on a compromise. A “drive-through” convention to nominate its candidate for Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General will be held at Liberty University on Saturday, May 8th, if the school authorities agree. Delegates from around the state are expected to drive to Lynchburg and drop off their ballots.
For a minority party that is losing support in a state, this type of system appears a disincentive toward encouraging new supporters to participate. The eventual nominee will begin in a clear underdog position to the likely Democratic nominee, former Governor and Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe. The major Republican candidates are former State House Speaker Kirk Cox, businessmen Pete Snyder, Paul Davis, and Glenn Youngkin, along with state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Midlothian).
Wisconsin: Several names of potential 2022 gubernatorial candidates are being bandied about in Badger State Republican circles, meaning the GOP will likely have a strong opponent for Gov. Tony Evers (D) who will presumably seek a second term next year. Among the potential entries are former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, ex-Republican National Committee chairman and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Green Bay), and former Rep. Sean Duffy.
It is also presumed, should Sen. Ron Johnson (R) decide not to seek re-election, that many of these individuals would decide to enter an open Senate campaign instead of challenging an incumbent Democratic Governor.
Cincinnati: Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D) is ineligible to seek re-election in the May 4th non-partisan primary, and nine contenders had filed to run. The list was reduced to eight this week, however, as City Councilman Wendell Young was disqualified because he submitted an inadequate number of valid petition signatures.
New York City: Former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D), who many believed would enter the race to succeed term-limited Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), said that she will not. The field of candidates is already large, ten announced contenders, with at least four in strong position.
At this point, former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan appear to comprise the top tier of candidates. The Democratic primary, which is thought to be tantamount to winning the office in the November general election, is scheduled for June 22nd.