Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has pledged to vote on the marriage equality bill at some point, but has been circumspect about the timing. He said in August “we will have a vote on this. Not giving you a timeline,” and pointed to the impending confirmation of Circuit Court judges.
There are a host of questions facing congressional leaders in addition to the vote on marriage equality, such as capping insulin costs, how to approve the energy permit reform demanded by Sen. Joe Manchin ( DW.Va.) and what strategy to use to finance the government. . There is also the question of whether the Senate will reduce its October session.
Collins would like to see the pre-election review of voter count law reform, an effort to prevent another Jan. 6. access to guns, climate and taxes, microchip manufacturing and benefits for veterans.
Still, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) has pushed for votes on marriage equality and insulin costs, even as Republicans block them.
“It just shows they’re very popular, the American public overwhelmingly supports them. And it will show the public if we can’t get there, how far we have to go to get there,” Kaine said.
Here are the five big questions for the fall session of Congress:
The most difficult political question for Schumer is whether to hold a vote on legislation passed by the House codifying marriage protections. He has held himself back so far; aides say it’s because he wants it passed rather than force the GOP to vote hard.
A spokeswoman for Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the bill’s top Democratic sponsor, said she would meet with her GOP colleagues when the Senate returns from its August recess to “compare notes on their efforts to outreach to build support for Senate Republicans.”
Supporters of the bill say they are confident it will get the 10 Republican votes needed to bust a filibuster. So far, three Republican senators have publicly said they would vote for it: Collins, Rob Portman of Ohio and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) spoke positively about the push and said she would review the bill.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said in July he saw “no reason” to oppose the bill, but is now pushing for a religious freedom amendment before declaring his support. Notably, Johnson is up for re-election.
Baldwin and Collins are working on an amendment to clarify that the bill will not affect religious freedom or the protection of conscience.
“We’re in pretty good shape,” Collins said.
Democrats included a cap on insulin prices for Medicare in their August legislation, but the $35 cap for private insurance has not been met. Collins said the episode makes it more difficult to pass his broader bill on insulin prices with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.).
Shaheen said that while the new health insurance law inserted into the Inflation Reduction Act is important, “these provisions are just the beginning.”
“I think we can build on this progress in the weeks to come. I will do everything in my power to get legislation through the Senate to finally bring relief to the millions of Americans who depend on access to lifesaving insulin,” Shaheen said.
Politics is also a top priority for Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), who faces a competitive re-election campaign. And like same-sex marriage, voting could be difficult for Republicans. In August, seven Republicans voted with Democrats to cap insulin costs.
Party leaders have just four weeks to avoid an impending government shutdown on October 1. The House will likely vote its first week in session — the week of Sept. 13 — on a short-term funding bill that takes lawmakers beyond the election. That would push all the real decision-making back until the lame session, probably around mid-December.
That doesn’t mean a short-term deal will be easy. Lawmakers are grappling with Manchin’s permit applications — which could easily be thrown into the fight for funding — as well as a key FDA user fee program, which accounts for nearly half of the budget agency annual. If the two sides fail to reach an agreement, thousands of FDA employees risk being laid off. The Biden administration also wants money to fight the coronavirus and monkeypox, as well as money for Ukraine and disaster relief.
Anything else could be added to the lame post-election duck, when Democrats and Republicans will have to strike a multi-trillion-dollar spending deal. Some high-level lawmakers are feeling positive momentum.
“We’ve got a lot of good stuff for us to get a deal on,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), pointing to a likely shift in control of Congress on at least one side. “Our management really wants this done.”
Democratic leaders struck a deal with Manchin this summer to authorize the reform before the end of September. Behind the scenes, Senate Democrats are circulating a summary that outlines how the bill will also help clean energy projects.
For now, aides expect it to be included in a government short-term funding bill. But changes to those rules, which oversee permits for various energy projects, are already facing problems in the House.
Natural Resources House Speaker Raúl Grijalva staunchly opposes any effort to tie Manchin’s permitting efforts to an unavoidable piece of legislation, such as the Spending Bill or the Bill on defense policy this fall. He is preparing to send a letter calling on party leaders to hold a separate stand-alone vote instead, which has the signatures of 47 Democrats so far and counting.
Grijalva has made it clear that he and his colleagues feel no obligation to the deal reached by the Senate. “I hate to be blunt about this: the IRA has been passed and signed into law.” And he said tying any language to government funding would be tantamount to forcing House Democrats to vote “with a gun to their head.”
Asked if he would be prepared to block government funding, Grijalva said he was focusing on one step at a time, but cautioned: “If it’s forced on unavoidable legislation, then this bridge will have to be crossed. ”
He and other Democrats would prefer to see it proposed as a standalone bill, though it’s unclear whether that could pass. Kaine said the members are “very willing” to accept it, “but let’s have a chance to shape it and decide whether or not it meets our standards.”
The Senate is scheduled to sit for two weeks in October, but Schumer may cancel part of the session to allow incumbents to campaign at home in Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire and Colorado. House Democrats are also looking to limit their time on Capitol Hill during peak campaign season.
That could push back a host of issues in December, from reaching a bipartisan spending deal to reforming the voter count law to the National Defense Authorization Act. And if Democrats lose the Senate, they will be under immense pressure to confirm as many justices for life as possible.