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Indy DC Download: Immigration reform, child tax credit stuck in Senate as bill stalls

Humberto Sanchez
Humberto Sanchez
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Good morning, and welcome to the Indy DC Download newsletter, a weekly look at what's going on in the nation's capitol as it relates to Nevada.

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Senate Democrats will miss a self-imposed Christmas deadline to pass their $1.9 trillion social spending package after failing to agree amongst themselves what to include in the bill. 

The Senate adjourned early Saturday morning after finishing a raft of nominations, the move leaves in limbo popular policies in the package — known as the Build Back Better (BBB) Act — including a one-year extension of the expiring enhanced child tax credit and the possibility of including an immigration provision.

President Joe Biden Thursday announced that the bill would not be ready for Senate consideration anytime soon. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had previously said he wanted the Senate to approve the bill before Christmas. 

Biden’s comments follow a series of discussions he’s held with the fiscally conservative Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who has sought to bring the measure’s price tag to about $1.7 trillion — complicating efforts to wrap the bill up as they struggle with how to do that.

“My team and I are having ongoing discussions with Senator Manchin; that work will continue next week,” Biden said in a press release. “It takes time to finalize these agreements, prepare the legislative changes, and finish all the parliamentary and procedural steps needed to enable a Senate vote. We will advance this work together over the days and weeks ahead; Leader Schumer and I are determined to see the bill successfully on the floor as early as possible.”

All Democrats in Nevada's congressional delegation have voiced their support for passing the measure. On Tuesday, Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) highlighted elder and disabled care-related provisions in the package, such as $150 million in funding for the National Family Caregiver Support Program. It would provide grants to states and territories to help family and informal caregivers care for older adults in their homes for as long as possible.

“Caring for aging loved ones is costing Nevada’s hardworking families and preventing them from fully participating in our workforce and economy,” Rosen said in a tweet. “They—we—need the #BuildBackBetter Act.”

On a telephone town hall Thursday hosted by Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV), Barry Gold, of Nevada AARP, touted the provision in the bill to allow Medicare to negotiate on prescription drug prices, a proposed $2,000 cap on Medicare Part D prescription drugs beginning in 2024 and a $35-a-month cap on insulin, which he called a “game changer.” A vial of the insulin known as Humalog costs $275 and patients typically need multiple vials a month

The pause in the effort to pass the BBB this year comes after the Senate sent Biden the $770 billion annual defense policy. Known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), it included $80 million to acquire four new MQ-9 drones supported and operated out of Creech Air Force Base.

The lack of action on the Democrats’ agenda bill also came as the Senate Commerce Committee approved legislation recently introduced by Rosen (D-NV) and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) to help the nation’s travel and tourism industry recover following the pandemic.

Child tax credit

House and Senate Democrats lamented the delay on BBB, and most pointed to the uncertain fate of the child tax credit, which expires at the end of the year.

In a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) said that more than 594,000 children in Nevada and their families qualify for money. She also said she has heard from constituents about how the funds have helped with school supplies, household expenses and travel to visit relatives not seen since before the pandemic.

“Our hard working families want us to keep this critical support going for them,” Cortez Masto said. “This is not the time to make it harder for people to keep a roof over their heads or get their kids the essentials they need. So let's make sure Nevadans can keep that money that they've earned and extend these middle class tax cuts to Nevadans and all families across the country.”

The child tax credit was created in 1997 and designed to help ease the financial burden on families with children. Congress temporarily increased the amount of the credit this year to $3,600 for children under the age of six and $3,000 per child for children between the ages of 6 and 17. The increase was part of the American Rescue Plan passed in March.

The change also made the tax credit payments available to families on a monthly basis. Eligible families across the country received six monthly checks — $300 for kids under the age of 6 and $250 for kids 6 through 17. The last check was paid on Dec. 15.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said Friday that the panel, which oversees tax policy in the chamber, is exploring ways to advance an extension. But passing the provision in the BBB appears to be the likeliest path to continue the program. Cortez Masto is also a member of the committee.

“I'm operating on the assumption of whatever it takes, pursuing every possible avenue because kids here at home shouldn't be forced to deal with this, go without food, shoes and all the rest,” Wyden told reporters.  

Wyden added that the committee, of which Cortez Masto is a member, is preparing its portion of the bill and will continue work over the break.

Immigration

The Senate parliamentarian Thursday ruled, for the third time, that the proposal in the Senate Democrats' BBB bill to provide relief to undocumented migrants living in the country violates Senate budget rules.

As Democratic leaders weighed their options, the ruling drew a sharp response from Cortez Masto (D-NV), who said in an interview Thursday evening that she was “disappointed” and “strongly” disagrees with the decision. 

“Immigration reform is important,” Cortez Masto said. “The economic value and the impact by just doing what we were trying to do here, is not just important for Nevada but across the country. So I'm not done fighting.”

Her comments follow the release of a poll from the immigrant-rights PAC Make the Road Action, which found that a majority of Nevada voters indicated they would be more likely to vote for a candidate for Congress who supports including a path to citizenship in the BBB. Fifty-two percent said they were more likely and 31 percent said they were less likely to vote for such a candidate, according to the poll. 

Among likely voters in Nevada, 67 percent support a pathway to citizenship while 28 percent oppose, the poll said. 

Cortez Masto is up for reelection in November and Republicans consider her vulnerable given that President Donald Trump only lost the state by 2 percentage points.

The Senate parliamentarian ruled that the package's immigration provision — to provide a work permit and protection from deportation for eligible undocumented migrants — runs afoul of the Senate’s budget rule known as the Byrd rule. The rule requires that any change in policy proposed under the so-called budget reconciliation process cannot outweigh the change’s impact on the budget.

Congressional Democrats are using reconciliation, which allows legislation meeting certain criteria to pass on a simple majority in the Senate, to avoid a filibuster, which requires 60 votes to overturn. 

Cortez Masto said that she believes that the BBB package is the best vehicle for action, given that there is not sufficient Republican support for a measure to pass the Senate. 

“These are our essential workers,” she continued, adding that she supports a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers, TPS holders, as well as farm workers and other essential employees.

DREAMers are undocumented people brought to the country as children and Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, is a program that allows people from countries plagued by wars or disasters to stay in the U.S temporarily. 

Cortez Masto said the Senate should consider all parliamentary tools. 

“We are looking at our options within the Senate rules because, like I've said, this isn't the first time I've disagreed with the parliamentarian’s advice,” Cortez Masto continued. “And I think, for purposes of what is so important on a policy issue, that will have a positive impact for so many across the country — and we need to do this — it is important that we take a look at every option, every opportunity.’

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) echoed that sentiment.

“We will continue to look at every possible option,” Pelosi said in a press release.

One possibility would be to ignore the parliamentarian. That would require the presiding officer in the Senate, who sits at the top of the dais in the chamber and recognizes senators to speak, to ignore the parliamentarian's nonbinding advice. It would take 60 votes to overturn the ruling. 

But it's rare for the Senate to ignore the parliamentarian, so the move would have to be cleared with all other Democrats, including Manchin, who has raised concerns about departing from typical Senate procedures regarding the parliamentarian.  

The provision spiked by the parliamentarian would allow undocumented people who meet specific criteria, including being in the country before 2011, to receive protection from deportation and work authorization, known as parole. They would be able to apply for parole for five years. That could then be extended through September 2031. 

According to the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress, the proposal could help more than 7 million people around the nation and upwards of 130,000 people in Nevada.

Senate Democrats initially sought to provide a path to legal permanent residency for about 7 million people around the nation, including nearly 113,000 in Nevada, at a cost of about $140 billion over 10 years.

The parliamentarian rejected the plan on Sept. 19, arguing that the policy change outweighs the budgetary impact. 

On Sept. 29, the parliamentarian rejected the Democrats’ second proposal. Democrats sought to change the date of a 1929 law, known as the registry. The registry allows for undocumented people who have been in the country since 1972 to apply for lawful permanent resident status. The date has been changed four times since 1929. The last date change took place in 1986.   

That proposal was estimated to cost about $140 billion over 10 years and affect about 6.8 million people, including nearly 129,000 in Nevada

Again, the parliamentarian ruled that the proposal outweighed the budget effect.

NDAA

The Senate approved the NDAA on a 88 to 11 vote, a week after the House approved the $770 package, which would boost pay by 2.7 percent and provide 12 weeks of parental leave for all service members, including for foster and adoptive parents.

“This year’s defense bill provides vital support for our service members and their families, from a much-needed pay raise to mental health and child care resources that will improve the quality of life for military members across the country,” Cortez Masto said.

The bill includes language Cortez Masto helped secure to allow National Guard and Reserve members to access mental health services, irrespective of whether they have been deployed. 

Cortez Masto also helped include a provision to expand the National Guard’s authority to fight wildfires, including the use of remotely piloted aircraft to track fire progress and perform search and rescue efforts. 

She also won inclusion of language to authorize a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the quality and nutrition of food available at military installations for American service members. The legislation also calls for the GAO to make recommendations on improving access to high-quality food options provided by the Department of Defense for our men and women in uniform.

Rosen, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, touted a provision to provide aid to junior enlisted troops who are forced out of military-provided housing due to shortages and incur costs before they are eligible to receive Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). 

The issue came up when Rosen recently visited Nellis and Creech Air Force Bases, where airmen talked to her about this challenge and the need to change how BAH formulas are calculated. The bill also would require the Department of Defense to brief Congress on how they determine BAH formulas and address discrepancies. The BAH often does not cover the costs. 

Another Rosen provision would establish a new grant program at the Department of Homeland Security to enhance cooperative research and development between the U.S. and Israel on cybersecurity. 

And she included language in the bill to establish a National Cyber Exercise Program at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. 

Tourism

The Senate Commerce Committee approved the Omnibus Travel and Tourism Act, which was recently introduced by Wicker, ranking member of the panel, and Rosen, who is chair of the committee’s Tourism, Trade, and Export Promotion Subcommittee.

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) at a Senate Commerce Committee markup of her omnibus tourism package Dec. 15, 2021. (Suzannah Hoover/The Nevada Independent)

“Our bipartisan omnibus Travel and Tourism Act, or the tour bus, as I like to call it, will create jobs and further support recovery of the travel and tourism industry,” Rosen said after the committee’s approval of the measure.

The bill would create a new position at the Department of Commerce dedicated to tourism and would direct the department to study how the pandemic affected the industry and recommend policy changes.  

“More than perhaps any other state, travel and tourism are essential to Nevada's economy and this legislative package is going to support and ramp up our state's recovery,” Rosen told reporters on a call Wednesday.

Cortez Masto is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Miscellany

Two judicial nominees for U.S. district court in Nevada appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

Clark County District Court Judge Cristina Silva and UNLV law professor Anne Traum were nominated by Biden last month.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) said he would not vote for Traum after the conservative Kennedy said Traum did not satisfactorily answer his question about whether a crime should ever be forgiven for the purposes of social justice. 

After Kennedy’s question, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the chairman of the committee, told the nominees not to take the questions personally and that the minority’s questions on the panel always tend to have a partisan tinge, even when Democrats were not in control.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) asked Traum about a 2013 article she wrote about mass incarceration that argued that judges should take the matter into account at sentencing.

Traum said it was an article written for academic purposes and she would follow the law with regard to sentencing.

“If confirmed, I would be following the statute working my way through the enumerated factors that the statute lists that a judge is supposed to consider at sentencing,” Traum said. 

Cortez Masto and Rosen both introduced the two at the hearing.

Meanwhile, Nevada-based GOP operatives Dustin Stockton and his fiancée, Jennifer Lawerence, were questioned behind closed doors by the congressional committee investigating the causes of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Stockton, who helped organize the rally before the riot, appeared on several networks to discuss his disillusionment with former President Donald Trump.

"The people who committed violence, the people who attacked police officers or defaced the capitol are responsible for their own actions, first and foremost," Stockton told CNN. "But the buck's got to stop at President Trump. He knew better and there's no excuse for him sending people down into that situation without having the logistics, the security ... to control the crowd."

In addition to speaking to the panel, Stockton provided documents but did not provide details about who he communicated with in the Trump administration. 

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S.3350 – A bill to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish the Zero Suicide Initiative pilot program of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.3398 – A bill to amend the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant program to promote career awareness in accounting as part of a well-rounded STEM educational experience.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R.6311 – To provide emergency assistance to States, territories, Tribal nations, and local areas affected by substance use disorder, including the use of opioids and stimulants, and to make financial assistance available to States, territories, Tribal nations, local areas, public or private nonprofit entities, and certain health providers, to provide for the development, organization, coordination, and operation of more effective and cost efficient systems for the delivery of essential services to individuals with substance use disorder and their families.

H.R.6283 – To amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to apply the ban on contributions and expenditures by foreign nationals under such Act to foreign-controlled, foreign-influenced, and foreign-owned domestic business entities, and for other purposes.

H.R.6270 – To direct the Secretary of Transportation to establish a pilot program to provide grants related to advanced air mobility infrastructure, and for other purposes.

REP. SUSIE LEE

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R.6723 – To direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish the Zero Suicide Initiative pilot program of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R.6261 – To authorize the Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture to support African American history education programs, and for other purposes.

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