Schumer Set to Move on China Bill With Sprawling Agenda Ahead
(Bloomberg) -- Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the chamber will move quickly to address U.S. competitiveness with China as he laid out an ambitious schedule that also includes voting rights, gun control and President Joe Biden’s plan for a massive economic investment package.
With the exception of the China package, much of the agenda Schumer laid out Thursday ahead of a congressional break faces opposition from Republicans and could push the two parties toward a potentially epic clash over the Senate’s filibuster rule, which requires 60 votes to advance most legislation.
“Failure is not an option,” he said of Democrats’ top priorities. Asked whether he’ll move to modify or eliminate the filibuster, he said, “Everything is on the table.”
On China, Schumer has directed eight committees to craft legislation aimed at increasing competitiveness in science and technology and counter its influence on the world stage. The package could also include funding for efforts to promote semiconductor manufacturing and research in the U.S. The timeline he’s laid out would have a floor vote coming as soon as next month.
“In early April, multiple committees will have hearings and mark-ups on bipartisan legislation designed to bolster American competitiveness and counter the growing economic threats we face across the globe, especially from the Chinese Communist Party,” Schumer told fellow Democrats in a letter.
The effort has bipartisan support in theory, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, has expressed concern it could include unrelated items and has called for increasing defense spending to counter China.
The base legislation for the package, the Endless Frontiers Act that Schumer has introduced with Indiana Republican Todd Young, is scheduled for a markup in the Commerce Committee after the spring break.
Schumer named major areas of focus in the coming months: voting and civil rights, economic items including climate initiatives, and health and gun control.
In addition to a voting rights bill — one of the top priorities for Democrats and perhaps the most likely to prompt a showdown over the filibuster — Schumer also mentioned the Equality Act bill banning discrimination based on sexual orientation as a priority and one that’s already moving in committee. He said Democrats also want to move an immigration overhaul as well.
In each case, he said, Democrats are inviting Republicans to sit down and work with them, but questioned whether McConnell was interested in negotiating. Still, Schumer vowed that there would be votes on the Senate floor on many of these issues, including expanded background checks for firearms purchases.
Schumer said Congress returns from a spring recess Democrats also will try to overturn a Trump-era Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rule that he said gives employers an advantage over workers in discrimination claims, and later another one to restore Obama-era rules on methane emissions from oil and gas. Those measures can’t be filibustered and need just a simple majority vote.
Democrats still have plenty of disagreements among themselves to overcome, including on the filibuster, and they can’t lose a single vote in the 50-50 Senate.
At least two Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have opposed changing the 60-vote rule, and Manchin on Thursday proposed a slimmed-down voting rights bill that would jettison most of the Democrats’ bill in a bid for bipartisan support.
Manchin would keep some provisions, including 15 days of early voting in every state, including two weekend days, more money for systems upgrades and increased disclosure of political ads.
Democrats are also divided on other priorities, including a group of seven Democrats including Manchin and Sinema and one independent who voted against President Joe Biden’s proposal for a $15 an hour federal minimum wage.
A meeting with Schumer this week didn’t resolve the impasse over the minimum wage, but Schumer said he has hope they can reach a resolution on how to move forward, noting that every Democrat supports getting something done.
Manchin has also opposed House-passed background checks legislation. He authored a bipartisan bill with Republican Senator Pat Toomey in 2013 and is looking to revive that effort this year.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.