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Politics Covid relief wasn't the only pressing issue facing Congress. Here are 6 others

15:28  11 march  2021
15:28  11 march  2021 Source:   cnn.com

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Democrats' slim majorities in both the House and Senate are testing President Joe Biden's ability to get his priorities through Congress, as lawmakers turn their attention to legislative work beyond relief from the Covid-19 pandemic.

a large building: Clouds pass overt the Capitol Dome as the Senate resumes debate on overriding the veto of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on December 31, 2020 in Washington, DC. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is filibustering the NDAA, calling for a Senate vote on giving Americans $2,000 in direct payments for COVID-19 relief. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Getty Images) © Joshua Roberts/Getty Images Clouds pass overt the Capitol Dome as the Senate resumes debate on overriding the veto of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on December 31, 2020 in Washington, DC. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is filibustering the NDAA, calling for a Senate vote on giving Americans $2,000 in direct payments for COVID-19 relief. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)

Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus package, was voted out of the House Wednesday and onto Biden's desk, after a difficult passage in the Senate, while Democrats are also still working to confirm his nominees for key administrative posts.

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But Covid relief isn't the only issue facing Congress as Biden seeks to advance his agenda.

As a 36-year veteran of the Senate and former vice president, Biden has maintained that he will work with both sides of the aisle. Although the President has already taken a flurry of executive actions, some priorities need to be cemented with legislation to avoid possible reversal by his successors.

Here are some key legislative issues Congress and Biden are likely to confront in the days ahead:

Minimum wage

Despite some state and local governments increasing their minimum wages, the legislative drive to increase the wage has stalled in Congress, where Democrats were in the minority in either the House or Senate, or both, from 2010 until this year.

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Now, with narrow majorities in both chambers and Biden in the White House, Democrats are renewing the push. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' proposal to get a federal $15 minimum wage increase from $7.25 back into Biden's Covid relief bill failed last week, with eight Democrats siding with Republicans to vote down the amendment. The Senate Parliamentarian had ruled the hike could not be included in the measure under the strict rules of budget reconciliation.

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, one of the eight Democrats who voted against Sanders' amendment, said in a statement that she is open to having a separate debate in Congress over the minimum wage, just not through this reconciliation process being used to pass Covid relief.

But the defeat shed light on the hurdles progressives will face in passing a $15 minimum wage legislation and a new path forward is unclear. An unlikely option is to introduce a separate bill and try to get enough senators on board to clear the 60-vote threshold, but Democrats are not fully united behind the proposal. An even more difficult option would be to eliminate the filibuster, which would lower the 60-vote threshold, and therefore require fewer votes to pass the minimum wage legislation.

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White House Senior Adviser Cedric Richmond said during a CBSN interview on Monday that the White House will keep pushing for the $15 minimum wage increase and that Biden believes he can work with both sides to get work done, preferring not to change filibuster rules.

Infrastructure

Talks for bipartisan legislation on improving roads, railway systems and other infrastructure needs could be back on the table, especially due to the climate crisis and after winter storms crippled Southern states and Texas.

Infrastructure has been viewed as a bipartisan opportunity by both sides, but the issue faltered during the Trump administration. Talks around an infrastructure plan with Trump and Republicans broke down in 2019 and the repeated claims by the White House that the coming week would be "infrastructure week" became a running joke for Democrats and Republicans alike. The former President tweeted at the beginning of the pandemic that he was open to an infrastructure package to boost the economy, but the House passed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill in July with only three Republicans supporting it and the measure stalled in the then-GOP controlled Senate.

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Still, infrastructure is widely seen as the most likely area where the two parties could strike a deal.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters Sunday that the next legislative objective would be to pass Biden's "Build Back Better" plan, calling it a "massive infrastructure bill."

Rep. John Yarmuth, chairman of the House Budget Committee, said Tuesday that Democrats will use every option available to them to pass the upcoming infrastructure bill, but the hope is they will be able to build a bipartisan package that can be passed without using reconciliation. That would mean the legislation would need to garner at least 10 Republican votes in the Senate.

After a meeting with a bipartisan group of senators and Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg last month, Sen. Jim Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, told reporters it was a "very good" meeting and that there are mutual interests among both sides as long as no one tries to take the bill "hostage."

Immigration

Biden took sweeping executive action on immigration shortly after being sworn in, moving swiftly to undo many Trump administration policies. But he told reporters at the time, "There's a long way to go" on the issue, and acknowledged that legislation was needed for a lot of his priorities.

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Immigrant advocacy groups are urging the Biden administration to move quickly, and the White House announced last month an immigration bill that would provide an eight-year path to citizenship for millions of immigrants already in the country and provide a faster track for undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children. Biden's proposed bill, if passed, also would remove the word "alien" from US immigration laws, replacing it with the term "noncitizen."

The legislative effort comes as there are multiple standalone bills in Congress aimed at revising smaller pieces of the country's immigration system -- and the administration has said they'd leave it up to Congress whether it passes a standalone bill or break it up into multiple pieces. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, for example, have reintroduced their DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.

Biden's legislation faces an uphill climb in a narrowly divided Congress, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has just a small margin and Senate Democrats do not have the 60 Democratic votes needed to pass the measure with just their party's support.

The administration is also grappling with a surge of unaccompanied migrant children at the US-Mexico border that are being held in US Border Patrol facilities. Richmond said during an interview on MSNBC Tuesday that he is hopeful Republicans will work with Democrats on addressing immigration, but the administration "will not let obstruction get in the way of values and progress and this is something we're going to have to work on."

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Gun safety

Biden campaigned on strengthening gun safety measures, and on the third anniversary of the deadly Parkland shooting earlier this month, Biden called on Congress to enact "commonsense gun law reforms," including widespread firearm sales background checks and a ban on assault weapons.

Congress has long struggled with addressing gun violence in America, even in the wake of mass shootings going back to Columbine in 1999. But Democrats reintroduced the Background Check Expansion Act, gun control legislation which would expand background checks for all firearm sales or transfers in the country. The likelihood of actually passing the bill remains small and it would need significant Republican support to overcome a legislative filibuster.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who is sponsoring the Senate version of the plan, told CNN in a phone interview last week, "Obviously this isn't going to be easy and we're gonna need the White House's help to get it across the finish line, but I truly believe this is the year to get it done."

And Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson, who reintroduced the House version of this legislation, told CNN in an interview he hopes this legislation would actually reach Biden's desk.

"I'm hopeful. Sen. Murphy, I'm working closely with him. He's working real hard over (in the Senate)," Thompson said.

On Thursday, the House will vote on legislation aimed to expand background checks on all commercial gun sales, including the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021 and the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021.

Reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act

Congress took another step on Monday toward reauthorizing the legislation Biden cosponsored as a senator in 1994 and expired in 2018.

Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat, introduced the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021 along with fellow Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York and Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, the only Republican supporting the bill so far and who also co-sponsored the House-passed bill in 2019.

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Reauthorizing the VAWA had stalled in both chambers since it expired, with Republicans and Democrats introducing their own versions of a reauthorization bill during the previous Congress. Both sides have accused each other of playing politics with it and the sensitive issue of domestic abuse.

The new bill builds upon the previous versions of the VAWA by providing grants and support to various groups that work on issues relating to sexual assault, domestic violence and prevention, expanding protections, among other things.

A provision that would close the "boyfriend loophole," prohibiting dating partners convicted of assault or stalking from purchasing firearms, has been a sticking point between Democrats and Republicans. The new bill would prohibit those convicted of misdemeanor stalking from buying a firearm and makes it illegal for a person to transfer or sell a firearm or ammunition to a person they believe has been convicted of misdemeanor stalking.

Biden, who campaigned on enacting reauthorization of the VAWA, applauded reintroduction of the bill in a statement Monday night, urging Congress to "come together in a bipartisan manner to ensure swift passage" in both chambers. Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Dianne Feinstein of California, both members of the Judiciary Committee, said in a joint statement that they support the House version of the bill and look forward to working with Durbin to "advance this important legislation."

Health care

The President pledged to make health care more affordable and available for all Americans. Last month, he signed an executive order that gives uninsured Americans who want to buy Affordable Care Act coverage another three months to do so, opening the federal Obamacare exchange for a special enrollment period, which he tied to the pandemic.

But although he can implement some of his health care plans with the stroke a pen, other issues he campaigned on -- like instituting a government-backed public option and increasing federal premium subsidies -- will take congressional action. That will be a challenge since Biden can't afford to lose a single Democrat in the Senate -- and few in the House, after his party lost seats in the chamber.

But among his top priorities is first saving the Affordable Care Act, on which his health care promises rely.

While Trump and congressional Republicans didn't succeed in repealing the health care law, Republicans have still tried to weaken and dismantle it. The Biden administration recently asked the Supreme Court to uphold the law and not deem it unconstitutional, reversing the Trump administration's position. The case, originally brought by GOP attorneys general and later joined by the Trump administration, was argued on November 10 and is currently before the justices, with a decision expected by July.

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