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Senators seek to clear procedural hurdles on unfinished business

Bipartisan semiconductor, veterans bills have the votes, but any senator can object to quick passage

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and other top Democrats are looking for a way to speed things up.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and other top Democrats are looking for a way to speed things up. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate leaders are looking to clear legislation that would expand veterans health and disability benefits after passing a semiconductor manufacturing incentives and science package, but getting both bipartisan priorities done next week will require cooperation from all 100 senators. 

Democratic leaders are trying to secure a time agreement to speed through procedural votes and pass the semiconductor measure, also known as the “chips-plus” bill, by Tuesday, said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., a leadership team member. 

“We’ve got the votes. Now we’re running the clock out. Any one person can object,” Stabenow said of a potential unanimous consent agreement to speed up the clock on various procedural votes that still need to occur before final passage. “I’m hopeful that we’ll have a final vote by Tuesday. It’s not locked in.”

Senate Republican Whip John Thune of South Dakota predicted final passage would occur Wednesday.

[‘Chips-plus’ bill passage could slip to next week in Senate]

A time agreement on the chips bill was not reached before the Senate adjourned Thursday, so the Senate is scheduled to vote to invoke cloture and cut off debate on a motion to pass the House-passed legislative vehicle, with the Senate’s substitute amendment attached, on Monday at 5:30 p.m.

It is still possible for leaders to secure a time agreement early next week to speed up final passage but without one that vote would occur Wednesday.

The “chips-plus” package includes $54 billion in grants over five years for semiconductor manufacturing and research, along with 5G wireless deployment; a tax credit covering 25 percent of spending on new semiconductor manufacturing plants through 2026; and numerous science-focused provisions, among them funding authorization for the National Science Foundation.

While there are enough Republicans supporting the bill to ensure the Senate can clear a filibuster, some of the measure’s opponents have said they may not consent to speeding up votes. 

But at least one Republican who supported a procedural motion Tuesday to get on the bill is seeking an amendment and is not sure whether he will vote for final passage if he does not get it.

Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., said he wants a vote on an amendment that would fast track the permitting process for companies trying to build semiconductor manufacturing facilities.

“That makes all of this investment actually happen because it takes what is roughly a five-year permitting timeline down to roughly 18 months,” he said. “Given the pace of technology development in the semiconductor space, it’s far too rapid for a five-year permitting timeline. And when I called CEOs of chip manufacturing companies around the world they all told me this was one of the biggest hurdles.”

Democrats have offered no signals that they would be willing to entertain amendments to the carefully negotiated bill. But they may allow votes on amendments they know won’t get enough support to be adopted if it helps secure a unanimous consent agreement to get to final passage more quickly.

Veterans bill

After passing the semiconductor and science package, the Senate is expected to try to clear the veterans bill, which would make it easier for veterans with certain types of cancer and respiratory illnesses to obtain VA benefits by presuming they were exposed to burn pits or other toxic substances during their service in Afghanistan, Iraq or Persian Gulf countries. 

The Senate has to vote on the measure for a second time after the House removed a tax provision the Senate was not allowed to include under the Constitution’s origination clause. The House passed the revised measure last week in a 342-88 bipartisan vote, and Senate passage would clear the measure for President Joe Biden’s signature.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., took procedural steps Thursday to tee up the House-passed text for Senate floor consideration, with Schumer filling the amendment tree to block further changes. 

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., said he expects the Senate to clear the veterans measure after it completes consideration of the chips bill, but the Senate will “probably have to go through the [procedural] hurdles.” 

Tester had tried to get unanimous consent for an “engrossment correction” before the July Fourth recess to resolve the blue slip problem created by the tax provision. But Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., one of 14 Senate Republicans who voted against the bill, objected because he did not like that the bill would shift a significant chunk of veterans’ health funding, which is currently subject to discretionary spending caps, to the mandatory side of the spending ledger.  

[Veterans toxic exposure bill stalls as lawmakers head home]

Tester said he expects Toomey to object again and waste time. “But that’s OK. I like Patrick. I do. And I think it’s the wrong effort, but what the hell,” he said.

Toomey said Thursday he is still concerned about the funding shift and is “likely” to object to any unanimous consent request to let the veterans bill sail through, but that no one has presented him with any proposal yet so “these are procedural hypotheticals.” 

Compressed calendar

The chamber faces a compressed calendar for completing work on a handful of time-sensitive bills before its summer recess is scheduled to begin Aug. 5. Senate leaders can always push that date back as needed, but there will be little appetite to stay later from the rank and file who have planned vacations, overseas work trips, and district and campaign events around the existing schedule. 

In addition to the semiconductor and veteran bills, the Senate is planning to vote before the recess on a slimmed-down “Build Back Better” budget reconciliation package that would extend more generous health insurance subsidies for two years and allow Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to lower prescription drug costs on certain drugs. 

The timing of the reconciliation package will depend on how quickly the Senate parliamentarian’s review of the legislative language concludes.

The “Byrd bath” on the prescription drug pricing language, in which both parties will present their case to the parliamentarian on whether provisions comply with the budget reconciliation rules, was scheduled for Thursday afternoon. But it’s not yet clear how long after that the parliamentarian will take to issue her opinion or when the same process would occur for the health insurance subsidy language. 

The Senate is working to clear the deck on the other bills next week to prepare for potential floor action on the reconciliation bill the first week of August. That measure could take some time to process because of the “vote-a-rama” process in which senators can offer unlimited amendments, which Republicans are expected to take advantage of to score political messaging points. 

The House is set to leave for recess on July 29, but Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said Thursday lawmakers in that chamber could come back to vote in late August on the reconciliation measure.

There also is talk of the Senate taking up treaty protocols to ratify Finland and Sweden’s application to join NATO before the recess, but it is unclear where that would fall in the sequencing.

Laura Weiss and Tia Yang contributed to this report.

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