Congress sprints to deal with drug prices, same-sex marriages and more before recess

WASHINGTON — A rush of Covid-19 infections and inclement weather threaten to delay key elements of the Democrats’ agenda during an already hectic final push toward a month-long August hiatus.

Congress is trying to pass a drug pricing and health care funding bill, a computer chip package, a law protecting same-sex and interracial marriages and a host of other election-year priorities during a critical two-week period.

But it starts badly. East Coast storms prompted the Senate to postpone a vote Monday to push ahead with the sweeping chips bill, though it is likely to be passed.

“We sure have a lot of delayed flights,” Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., told NBC News.

And a fresh Covid outbreak on Capitol Hill is eclipsing Democrats’ hopes of passing legislation authorizing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, as all 50 of its members must be present and vote in the Senate chamber to support unanimous Republican opposition overcome.

computer chips

It hasn’t garnered the same attention as other issues like guns, abortion or war financing in Ukraine, but Congress is on track to score a major, bipartisan victory over boosting domestic production of computer chips amid a global shortage .

Democratic and Republican leaders, along with members of President Joe Biden’s cabinet, have argued that making these microchips at home — rather than relying on manufacturers in China and elsewhere — is vital to national security, especially when it comes to chips goes that are used for US weapons and military equipment.

By the middle of the week, the Senate is ready to pass the so-called “CHIPS-plus”, which the House of Representatives is expected to follow quickly. Biden has vowed to sign it into law.

Biden, who was recently diagnosed with Covid himself, held a virtual meeting with CEOs and union leaders on Monday to highlight the importance of the bill. It’s critical, Biden said, that “every part that we put into a weapon system or a helicopter, everything that we have, that we can be sure that nobody could tamper with, that it was made in America, built in America , stored in America.”

It’s a scaled-down package compared to the sweeping China Competitiveness Bill that negotiators in the House and Senate have been trying to reach an agreement on for months. But CHIPS-plus is no small matter: It includes $52 billion in subsidies for the semiconductor industry, and it authorizes tens of billions more for science programs and regional technology centers aimed at keeping America competitive with its rivals.

64 senators — including 16 Republicans — voted last week to move forward with the CHIPS package before it even finished what was in it, a major appeal that signaled Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., to pass the legislation expand rather than contract. Now that senators know what’s in the final package, it will face a series of test votes starting Tuesday, during which it will need the support of 60 senators to move on to final passage.

Prescription Drugs and Obamacare

Schumer’s top priority before the August break is passing a filibuster-proof bill that includes a set of policies to reduce prescription drug costs and a two-year funding extension under the Affordable Care Act to stave off insurance premium hikes this fall.

Democrats reached an agreement on drug pricing last month and, after meeting with the Senate lawmaker, made changes to it to ensure it conforms to obscure Senate rules. A Democratic adviser said the changes are minor and for clarity.

But in a 50-50 Senate, only a Democratic absence could derail the law, requiring a simple majority of the Senators present and voting. Two Democrats are currently on hiatus with Covid-19: Sens. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., and Tom Carper, D-Del.; Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn, who tested positive last week, returned to work Monday, according to her office. Possible GOP absences could give Democrats some leeway: Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Monday she also tested positive for Covid and would be quarantined at home.

Democrats had hoped to pass a much broader bill that would include provisions to combat climate change and raise taxes for the wealthy and corporations, but these will all but surely be ruled out due to opposition from Manchin, a key swap vote.

Passing the law will also require a lengthy “vote-a-rama” process, during which Republicans will likely attempt to offer poison-pill amendments aimed at sinking the law or politically damaging Democrats.

Same-sex marriage

Schumer has said he wants to find enough Republican votes to pass legislation to codify federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages.

But it is not clear that he will get there. There are currently only four confirmed GOP votes: Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. In addition, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said she supports same-sex marriage but has not taken an official position on the legislation.

Where the other five Republican votes came from is unclear. Portman said Monday he didn’t know if the GOP could submit 10 Senate votes to break a filibuster. He said it was “possible”.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has said he would vote no. Also on Monday, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, declined to say which direction she’s leaning on the bill, telling NBC News she’s still getting “comments” from “both sides” on the issue of same-sex marriage.

“I’ll only be hearing from Iowans now,” she said. “You come first.”

Wicker said he doubts he will vote for the marriage bill.

Everything else

There’s a lot more on Congress’ long laundry list.

The senators also want to ratify a treaty that would allow both Sweden and Finland to join NATO amid ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe.

They also want to vote again on a revised version of the PACT bill that would provide medical care to veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals from burn pits while serving in the military. Schumer said Monday the PACT bill should be passed by the end of the week.

On the other side of the Capitol, according to Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

The lower chamber also appears poised to pass a “Tiger King” bill that would ban private ownership of big cats like lions and tigers and end the cub petting industry.

And on Wednesday, the House Rules Committee will consider an assault weapons ban bill, a necessary step before Hoyer can introduce the bill.

Democratic leaders are still trying to garner enough votes to pass it, but they want to show more aggressive anti-gun measures after a spate of mass shootings at a grocery store in New York, a Texas elementary school and a July 4th parade in Illinois. But Senate Republicans have shown no interest in revisiting guns after passing bipartisan legislation earlier this summer targeting background checks on teenage buyers and red flags.

And after completing a series of eight public hearings, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack will move on to the next phase of its year-long investigation: writing its report.

A preliminary report will be available in September, said Chair Bennie Thompson, likely to be accompanied by further public hearings. A final report will appear later in the year.

“Our job as a committee, our job of the House, is to find out the truth and set it out fully, the day and the events that preceded the day, and then make recommendations for possible changes in the law that could make us safer.” Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., a Jan. 6 panel member, said Monday on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports. Congress sprints to deal with drug prices, same-sex marriages and more before recess

Fry Electronics Team

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