There’s been a lot in motion on Capitol Hill since our October round-up. Democrats strengthened their control of the Senate and Republicans gained control of the House. The subsequent lame-duck session following the elections has resulted in the landmark passage of The Respect for Marriage Act. Federal agencies have meanwhile begun their processes for implementing and disbursing the funds that they have received from the Inflation Reduction Act. Lastly, former Local Progress Board Co-Chair and incoming Congressman Greg Casar was chosen to serve as Whip for the Congressional Progressive Caucus, where he’ll serve in leadership with Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Ilhan Omar. Follow below for our takeaways from these developments:
The Inflation Reduction Act, passed in August 2022, will provide hundreds of billions of dollars to stimulate investment in clean energy technology and other emissions reductions strategies. The largest amount of funds available to local governments are clean energy tax credits through the direct pay or rebate provision as well as smaller amounts available as grants. The bill also includes threats to frontline communities such as funding for oil and gas leases and tax credits to extend fossil fuel facilities through carbon capture.
Many of the grants are currently being designed by federal agencies with public input and will be put out for local governments and other entities to apply for in Spring 2023 and beyond. This includes the Greenhouse Gas Reduction fund, a commitment to fund local “green banks” (by EPA, DOT, and HUD). Clean energy tax credits for investments in solar, wind and other clean energy will be available to local governments for the first time beginning January 1, 2023. All of the grant and tax credit programs strongly incentivize the creation of good jobs by applicants through prevailing wages and apprenticeship requirements.
President Joe Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act on December 13th. After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade with their Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision this summer, advocates in the LGTBQ community raised alarms about key marital rights rulings. This included the 2015 decision Obergefell v. Hodges, which required all states to license and recognize same-sex marriages.
For advocates, safeguarding same-sex marital rights required legislative action, not precedent that seemed flimsy in the wake of Dobbs. This advocacy provided the impetus for the Respect for Marriage Act, which has four primary features:
- Repeals the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act which defined marriage as a “a legal union between one man and one woman” and allowed states not to “give effect to any marriage between persons of the same sex.”
- Requires states to recognize marriages as long as they are valid in the state that they were performed.
- Fails to require states to allow same-sex couples to be married in every state, merely that all states must recognize valid same-sex marriages.
- Fails to require nonprofit religious organizations from providing “any services, facilities, or goods for the solemnization or celebration of marriage.”
As a result, the Respect for Marriage Act offers fewer protections for same-sex communities than the Obergefell decision, which is still good law. According to some legal analysts, if the Supreme Court overrules Obergefell, “even with the Respect for Marriage Act as a fallback, it would result in two classes of marriage in our country: one that is available in every state and another that may be entered into only in some states.”
With Senator Warnock’s decisive win in the Georgia Senate runoff, the control of the Senate is settled. The Senate stays in Democratic control, with Democrats strengthening their control from a 50-50 split with Vice President Harris as the tiebreaker to a 51-49 razor-thin majority. Shifting the Senate from an even split to a majority will have major implications, even with Senator Krysten Sinema’s disaffiliation with the Democratic Party. Her disaffilliation is not presumed to threaten the Democratic majority since she will still retain her Democratic committee assignments. Meanwhile, Republicans flipped the Democratically controlled House of Representatives, now controlling it on a similarly razor-thin majority of 220-213.
The Takeaway in the Senate:
While a 50-50 split may not seem that substantively different than a 51-49 majority given Vice President Harris’ ability to break ties, there are big implications for internal committees. In a 50-50 split Senate, internal committees must also be evenly split between the two parties. With a 51-49 majority, Democrats can also have the majority of members on Senate committees. This majority within committees enables Democrats to advance committee work (e.g. judicial nominations, advancing potential legislation, subpoena requests, etc.) without Republican cooperation.
The Takeaway in the House:
With Republicans now in control of the House, they’ve promised to use their investigative powers of the House to the fullest extent. They are likely to initiate investigations on a whole slew of topics (e.g. Hunter Biden, the crisis at the border, the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic, etc.). Beyond using their investigatory powers, it’s unclear if Republicans will be able to use their House-majority to advance their legislative agenda. Not only do they lack control of the Senate or White House, but Republicans also appear to be in disarray, with it being uncertain if they can overcome internal party conflicts to elect a new House Speaker.
The Republican ascendance in the House has also ushered in a change of guard for Democratic House leadership. The top three representatives in leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Steny Hoyer, and Rep. Jim Clyburn have been quickly replaced by a younger, but still moderate, trio of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Rep. Katherine Clark, and Rep. Pete Aguilar. While the new Democratic leadership has historic implications for representational politics, it seems unlikely that their new leadership will significantly diverge from previous leadership in their ideological vision.
Unions and labor advocates are pushing Congress to increase funds for the National Relations Board (NLRB) during their lame-duck session. The NLRB has not received increased funding since 2014 despite the central role it plays in the ever-increasing conflicts between employers and employees. NLRB staffing has decreased 30% since 2010.
The Biden Administration has once again extended the student loan repayment pause from January 1 to June 30 in the midst of continued lawsuits. This extended pause is intended to give time to the courts to resolve the issue.
The Biden administration is reinstating the Task Force on New Americans, which will be housed under the Domestic Policy Council. It is aimed at helping immigrants and refugees integrate. The focus will be workforce training, education and financial access as well as language learning and the health of immigrants who have green cards and other types of legal status.
The Senate is contemplating passing the PRESS Act, which has already passed in the House. The bill effectively blocks the federal government from using subpoenas, jail, or the threat of jail to force reporters to turn over sources, and it blocks tech companies from sharing sensitive information from journalists’ devices with the federal government.
A federal judge has ordered the Biden administration to stop using Title 42 by December 21. Title 42’s current iteration, exercised first under former President Trump in 2020, enabled the border officials to expel immigrants under the guise of public health.
One key provision in the Inflation Reduction Act is the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which provides $27 billion to support the proliferation of new and existing state green banks. As the economic and financial impacts of climate change grow, it is crucial that state governments maximize the impact of this large, one-time injection of federal capital. This memo outlines how to build a diverse, inclusive, and accountable green bank that fosters multi-agency coordination toward a range of investment needs.
This guidebook was developed by C40 and Climate Mayors to provide an initial orientation to the climate-related provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act and to spark reflection and engagement about the wide range of roles mayors and local leaders can play.
The report is about the impact on workers of the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. The onslaught of climate change makes the transition urgent. At the same time, there are questions about what it will look like: How can we ensure that the transition leads to high-quality jobs in emerging clean energy industries, that workers in fossil fuel industries are treated fairly, and that the benefits of the transition are equitable? While the report is primarily directed at State Attorney Generals, the learnings and strategies in the report are applicable to local governments as well.