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Congress' 2022 to-do list: Revived social spending bill, voting rights, Capitol riot probe

By Jake Thomas
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Congress' 2022 to-do list: Revived social spending bill, voting rights, Capitol riot probe
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, speaks during a news conference on the Protecting Our Democracy Act at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC on Thursday, December 9, 2021. Congress faces many politically difficult challenges in 2022. Photo by Sarah Silbiger/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 1 (UPI) -- The new year brings many old challenges for members of Congress who will face a tightening timeline for work on a revived social spending bill, voting rights, a probe into the Capitol riot and others.

Both the House and Senate in the coming weeks will reconvene for the first time in 2022. One of the most pressing challenges facing Congress is one of the most basic.

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President Joe Biden last month signed legislation funding the government through Feb. 18. Although the funding mechanism was approved, some Republican lawmakers had hoped to use a government shutdown as leverage to oppose Biden's vaccine mandates for private employers.

As the November 2022 midterm elections draw nearer, Democrats are expected to face a more politicized environment as they seek to shepherd their legislative priorities through the narrowly divided Congress.

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Build Back Better 2.0?

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., potentially doomed a key priority of congressional Democrats' agenda when he said last month he couldn't vote for the $2 trillion Build Back Better bill. The sweeping bill contained funding for social programs and climate initiatives. Democrats had hoped to pass it through the evenly divided Senate by using the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process.

Even with the West Virginia moderate's defection, Democrats haven't given up hope of passing a scaled-back version of the bill.

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"We will continue to fight to pass the legislation," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a news conference following Manchin's announcement. "It must happen and we will do it as soon as we can. There are conversations that are ongoing, but we cannot walk away from this commitment."

Negotiations to revive the package are underway. Just days after his announcement, Manchin signaled to the White House he was open to a tax hike on billionaire's wealth to pay for the legislation, according to The Washington Post.

But a clear picture of Build Back Better 2.0 has yet to emerge and congressional leaders have a difficult needle to thread.

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Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat who leads the roughly 100-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, said during a press conference last month that "it is abundantly clear that we cannot trust what Sen. Manchin says."

She added, "No one should think that we are going to be satisfied with an even smaller package that leaves people behind or refuses to tackle critical issues like climate change."

"Failure is not an option here," Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement in response to Manchin.

He said his committee has put forward more revenue options to pay for programs intended to reduce health care costs, clean energy jobs and other priorities.

Build Back Better would have authorized Medicare to negotiate drug prices. Saying that drug companies had been "mugging Americans at the pharmacy window for too long," Wyden said Democrats must deliver on their promise to lower Americans' health care costs.

Wyden also pointed out that families have received their final child tax credit payment authorized by Congress earlier this year. Build Back Better would have extended the credit by another year.

Voting on voting rights

Democrats could be headed toward a similar intra-party struggle over voting rights and Senate rules.

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With 2022 midterm elections on their way, Democrats will take up legislation that advocates say are needed to counter restrictive voting measures adopted by GOP-controlled legislatures. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a letter that the chamber could take action early in January, reports The Hill.

The House in August passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Among its provisions, the bill would restore Justice Department oversight of jurisdictions with histories of voter discrimination seeking to change their election rules.

Despite having enough votes to pass the bill in the Senate, Democrats have been unable to move it in the face of a Republican-led filibuster. Sixty votes are required to overcome a filibuster, and a group of Democrats are crafting potential updates to the Senate's arcane rules.

"We're looking at reforms to restore the Senate," Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., told The Hill. "It's not just filibuster reforms."

The ideas include a return to a talking filibuster where an opponent of a bill could delay the bill as long as they hold the Senate floor, the paper reports. Another idea would create an exception for voting rights or election legislation. Yet another option would change the number of votes from 60 "yes" votes needed to halt a filibuster to 41 "no" votes to sustain it.

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Saying "there's nothing domestically more important than voting rights," Biden told ABC News he would lobby hard for the changes.

However, Manchin has said he's opposed to changing the filibuster saying it makes senators work together. Manchin reiterated his stance during a recent appearance on Fox News Sunday but said he is "working on trying to make the Senate work better."

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, another Democratic moderate from Arizona, said in a Washington Post op-ed she opposed eliminating the filibuster because it could lead to "repeated radical reversals in federal policy, cementing uncertainty, deepening divisions and further eroding Americans' confidence in our government."

Jan. 6 probe

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection will continue its legal wrangling over records and witnesses as it races to complete its work in time for the 2022 midterm elections.

The committee is looking into the circumstances surrounding the deadly incident where rioters supporting then-President Donald Trump attempted to prevent Congress from certifying the 2020 election. Trump has gone to court seeking to block access to presidential records. Members of Trump's inner circle, including former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, have resisted cooperating with the probe.

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Congressional Republicans have opposed the probe. After Senate Republicans last year filibustered legislation to create an independent commission, the House voted largely along party lines to create the committee.

The committee is expected to face an uncertain future if Republicans retake the House in the 2022 midterms.

With the election looming, Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat who chairs the committee, told Politico that he hopes to wrap up work by "early spring."

Rep. Liz Cheney, the committee's vice-chair, said the panel would hold multiple weeks of public hearings in 2022 to set "out for the American people in vivid color exactly what happened on Jan. 6," according to Politico. The Wyoming Republican also said the hearings would examine the White House and Trump's handling of the attack on the Capitol.

Tech legislation

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has expressed optimism about passing legislation seeking to rein in large tech companies.

Rep. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat who chairs an antitrust subcommittee, told CNBC that he was optimistic that a package of bills intended to promote competition in digital markets would pass. The bills were introduced in response to a congressional investigation that found tech giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google held monopoly power.

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"When people study the bills and are briefed by my staff, there is tremendous support for the entire package," Cicilline said.

But Paul Gallant, managing director of Cowen's Washington Research Group, told CNBC that with Republicans likely to take over Congress in the fall, "2022 is do or die for tech antitrust legislation."

The bills passed the House Judiciary Committee in June with bipartisan support.

Rep. Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican and ranking member of the antitrust subcommittee, told Axios in November that the industry "knows such bills will create competition in the marketplace."

In the Senate, a bill sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, would block online platforms, such as Amazon or Google from favoring their own services and products over competitors, reports MarketWatch.

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