State of Congress as of Sep. 20, 2021

The following story was written by a student on the staff of The Jaguar Times as part of Hilliard Bradley High School’s Journalism Production course.

There is often a saying that ‘Nothing ever gets done in Congress’. However since Joe Biden has taken office, Congress has been active in trying to pass several ground-breaking bills. One of these being a $1.9 trillion stimulus package to combat Covid-19 as well as to jumpstart the economy. Several more have been introduced including an infrastructure bill and large scale domestic spending bill.

Senator Rob Portman speaks about the state of Congress (R-OH). Photo Credit: Anna Moneymaker for the New York Times.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill

Earlier this August, a $550 billion dollar bipartisan infrastructure package passed the senate in a 69-30 vote. Engineered by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), the purpose is to improve and repair America’s aging infrastructure. It includes major investments into transit infrastructure. The largest being a $110 billion dollar investment into repairing old roads, bridges, as well as building new infrastructure projects. Included in that is $11 billion for transportation safety programs and $1 billion aimed towards reconnecting black communities that have been cut in half by old infrastructure projects. Other parts aimed for transit include $66 billion for passenger and freight rail, $39 billion to improve public transit, and $7.5 billion to build a national network of charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.

Not only aimed towards transit, the bill also allocates $65 billion to upgrade and repair the existing electric grid, $65 billion to expand broadband. $55 billion is for water infrastructure, of which, $15 billion would be used to replace existing lead pipes, and $10 billion is to reduce and prevent water contamination. The bipartisan commission intends to pay for it by tapping into relief aid and many other sources without raising any taxes. However some experts predict that it has the potential to add up to 250 billion dollars to the deficit. Despite being passed by the Senate the bill has not reached the house yet, as Pelosi aims to pass a $3.5 trillion dollar bill aimed towards furthering their social and climate agenda. To ensure support of all democrats for such a bill, Pelosi has committed to vote on it in the house by Sep. 27. However, Democrat Progressives in the house are threatening to vote it down until the $3.5 trillion dollar package has passed the senate.

Afghanistan’s Political Implications

Biden’s decision to militarily withdraw from Afghanistan and the subsequent collapse of the Afghan government and military has led to a severe drop of his popularity. According to fivethirtyeight, on august 1st, his approval rating sat at 51.5% to a 43.4% disapproval rating. Fast forward a month to September 8th, his approval stands at 45% with and 49.1% disapproval rating. Historically speaking, the incumbent president's party does badly during the midterm elections and with this plummeting approval rating it’s looking like it will negatively impact him in the midterms. It’s also proved to be a controversial and dividing topic among congressional politicians, with republicans decrying Biden’s decision.

Biden’s Congressional Agenda

With the Democrat’s narrow majority, a $3.5 trillion dollar budget reconciliation bill, made possible by the bipartisan infrastructure bill, was passed by house democrats in a party line vote. After initially stalling in the house, due to concerns from moderate democrats about the future of the bipartisan infrastructure package, Pelosi secured their votes after she promised to bring the bill to the house by Sep. 27. The package would include 12 weeks of paid leave over 10 years, a $15 minimum wage for minors, a new universal preschool, significantly reduce the cost for college, and increase money given to historically black colleges, and an increase in child tax credits. It introduces several healthcare reforms, including the expansion of medicare and medicaid, reducing Obamacare enrollees’ taxes, as well as reducing drug prices. Lastly are several improvements to improve social infrastructure and provisions to combat climate change such as, improving veteran hospitals, improving Native American infrastructure, reducing carbon emission energy sources, increasing polluter fees, electrifying federal assets, agriculture conservation, and creating a new ‘Civilian Climate Corps’. In the Senate’s current 50-50 split, with the vice-president’s tie-breaking vote, one vote can spell the end for this package. One senator, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), a democrat from a state that went to Trump by 39 percentage points, has raised concerns over the overall cost and provisions within the bill. Many are concerned over the future of the bill, however Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer (D-NY), believes that he will be able to get all Democrats on board in passing the bill.

As congress takes these steps, many are concerned over the scope of Biden’s Agenda. But what do you think of what’s happening? Should Congress pass all of Biden’s agenda, or is congress spending too much money? Feel free to email us your thoughts.