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Senate infrastructure week arrives as House August recess begins

Congress did not act on potential eviction crisis

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., is seen in the Capitol on Monday, August 2, 2021.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., is seen in the Capitol on Monday, August 2, 2021. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

After years of “infrastructure week” serving as a punch line around Washington, the Senate convenes Monday to begin amending a sweeping bipartisan package designed to rebuild America, with the backing of President Joe Biden.

But neither Congress nor the administration took concrete steps to avert a crisis that is looming with the expiration of a moratorium on evictions that expired July 31.

The Senate’s 2021 calendar has always shown this first week of August as a scheduled week for legislative business, with the traditional August recess expected to get under way in a week. The departure of senators for the recess may ultimately be delayed a bit because it will take time to process the 2,702-page infrastructure package and any amendment votes, as well as to overcome likely procedural hurdles.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer made clear Sunday night he anticipates both passing the bipartisan infrastructure legislation and adopting a fiscal 2022 budget resolution to lay the groundwork for the rest of the Biden administration’s infrastructure and family support agenda before the chamber breaks for recess.

“Given how bipartisan the bill is, and how much work has already been put in to get the details right, I believe the Senate can quickly process relevant amendments and pass this bill in a matter of days,” the Democrat from New York said on the Senate floor. “Then, I will move the Senate along the second track of our infrastructure effort and take up the budget resolution. A bipartisan infrastructure bill is definitely necessary — but to many of us, it is not sufficient. That is why, soon after this bill passes the Senate, Democrats will press forward with a budget resolution to allow the Senate to make further, historic vitally important investments in American jobs, American families and efforts to reverse climate change.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, a member of the bipartisan group behind the “hard” infrastructure bill that would provide nearly $1 trillion over five years, including $550 billion in new spending, countered critics who have argued Republican shouldn’t play ball since Democrats intend to move an additional package on their own.

“I know that members of both parties have mischaracterized our efforts as somehow linked to ‘paving the way’ to the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion wish list. If you don’t think our Democrat friends are going to push for that monstrosity, with or without this bill, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell to you. They are going to push for that anyway,” Romney said in a Sunday night floor speech. “This is a separate piece of legislation. I love this one. I hate that one. These are two very different things.”

Assuming the Senate advances both measures, especially the budget blueprint and the accompanying reconciliation instructions that would allow Democrats in the House and Senate to move legislation without any GOP votes, it may then be time for House members to return to Capitol Hill (either in person or virtually, since they can still vote by proxy because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic).

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer had said Thursday that he may call the House back in August to adopt a budget resolution, though the exact timing would be uncertain because it’s unclear how quickly the Senate will act on adopting the budget.

“I’ve told members that’s an option,” the Maryland Democrat said. “We don’t want to have the budget sitting out there for a very long period of time.”

Bracing for evictions

Despite a weekend of protests by some House Democrats, led by Missouri Rep. Cori Bush and others who opted to sleep outside the Capitol, there is no indication the chamber will come back into session earlier than that to try to address the end of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-imposed moratorium on evictions. The moratorium was designed to help make sure people could stay in their homes and avoid crowding shelters and other facilities as the coronavirus was spreading and safe, effective vaccines were not yet available.

House Democratic leaders have argued that since the Senate would not be expected to take up any legislation seeking to extend the moratorium, the venue for action now is the Biden administration, despite the indication from Associate Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh that the Supreme Court would not be on board with another extension under the auspices of CDC’s public health emergency powers.

Hoyer joined Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina and Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark of Massachusetts in issuing a statement reiterating that position Sunday night.

“Action is needed, and it must come from the Administration. That is why House leadership is calling on the Administration to immediately extend the moratorium. As the CDC doubles down on mask-wearing and vaccination efforts, science and reason demand that they must also extend the moratorium in light of the delta variant,” the House Democratic leaders said. “Doing so is a moral imperative to keep people from being put out on the street which also contributes to the public health emergency.”

Advocates of Congress or the White House acting on the eviction moratorium say the matter should have more urgency, in part because of the extent to which rental assistance dollars for tenants and landlords have not been distributed.

“The reason why we are here, and why we came last night, is because we want to affirm that we are one human family, and that our destinies are tied, and eviction is a policy choice,” Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley said in a weekend interview with CNN. “The fact that we failed to act, not out of an inability to do something to stave off this crisis, a national tent city, an eviction tsunami, it was an unwillingness.”

Pressley said she agreed with House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters, D-Calif., that House Democrats should have made more of a fight before the end of July deadline. House leadership opted against putting a Waters bill to extend the moratorium at the federal level up for a vote, citing disagreements within the Democratic caucus that seemed to revolve around concerns about federal aid that states had not yet provided to help prevent evictions.

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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