Update From Washington, D.C.
House Democrats Poised to Advance COVID-19 Relief Package; House Set to Consider Public Lands Package; DOT Solicits Grant Proposals for its Popular Infrastructure for Rebuilding America Program
February 25, 2021
House Democrats Poised to Advance COVID-19 Relief Package
The House is on track to advance President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, often referred to as the American Rescue Plan, by the end of the week. The full chamber could vote on the legislation (HR 1319) as soon as Friday, but consideration could spill into the weekend. For their part, House Democrats have spent the week updating the bill, adding three sections that had previously been left out, including funds for COVID-19-related foreign assistance, tribal government services and housing, and the National Science Foundation, among other things.
While the House is expected to approve HR 1319 along party lines, the measure could face several roadblocks in the Senate. For starters, Democratic leaders cannot afford to lose a single vote from their caucus. Additionally, the upper chamber is prohibited from approving measures through the reconciliation process that do not have a significant budgetary impact. The Senate parliamentarian will ultimately determine what, if any, portions of the bill violate this rule, but the most likely provision to hit the cutting room floor is a Democratic proposal that would gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
In addition, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently determined that the bill would exceed the $1.89 trillion spending cap set by the fiscal year 2021 budget resolution. As a result, Democrats will need to adjust the overall cost of the legislation; at this point, it remains unclear what programmatic areas will be trimmed back. It should be noted that while the House could technically approve a relief package that exceeds the topline limit, such a bill could not be approved by a simple majority in the Senate.
For their part, GOP lawmakers have continued to call into question the need for additional state and local fiscal aid. This has led to reports that Senate moderates may seek to redirect a portion of the state and local recovery funding to other purposes. CSAC is urging the California congressional delegation to support the full $350 billion in aid for state and local governments, as embodied in the American Rescue Plan.
House Set to Consider Public Lands Package
The House will consider a public lands package (HR 803) today that would, among other things, designate more than 1.2 million acres of federal land in the northwestern part of California and 244,000 acres in the State’s Central Coast as wilderness, conservation, or recreation areas. The legislation also would create a new, nearly 50,000-acre San Gabriel National Recreation Area as part of the National Park System and expand the current boundaries of the San Gabriel National Monument.
The designated areas would generally be withdrawn from mining and geothermal leasing, though it should be noted that the bill would not create buffer zones around any of the new wilderness areas and would not affect activities beyond the areas’ boundaries. In addition, activities to reduce and respond to threats posed by wildfire, insects, and disease would generally be permitted.
The legislation also would establish a California Public Lands Remediation Partnership to facilitate recovery of lands and waters damaged by illegal cannabis grows. The partnership, consisting of federal, state, tribal, and other stakeholders, would identify priority lands and make grants to support recovery projects.
As of this writing, the House has yet to vote on the measure, but the final tally is expected to break along traditional party lines. In a Statement of Administration Policy, the White House has indicated strong support for the measure, as it furthers the president’s climate, conservation, and clean energy goals. In citing opposition to the bill, Republicans contend that it would close off huge swaths of land from public access and restrict land managers’ ability to effectively prevent forest fires.
DOT Solicits Grant Proposals for its Popular Infrastructure for Rebuilding America Program
The U.S. Department of Transportation recently began soliciting grant applications for its Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) program, which will award $889 million in grants to major freight and highway projects. The department also announced that it could award as much as an additional $150 million in previously unspent funds for the popular program. It should be noted that at least a quarter of the funding will be reserved for projects in rural areas.
According to Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the department will prioritize projects that help address climate change and racial equity. DOT will evaluate projects on whether they were planned as part of a larger strategy to address climate change, or if they help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Priority projects could involve zero-emission vehicle infrastructure or multimodal options to help people drive less. The department will also consider racial equity and whether projects help underserved communities. Eligible projects could address barriers to opportunity, like dependence on automobiles, or previous inequities.
DOT also is launching a program for projects that do not win INFRA grants, allowing them to apply for funding via the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, which would cover 49 percent of a project’s costs.
More information on the grant program, including how to apply, can be accessed here.