FY22 budget and COVID relief:
The Senate is presently focused on considering the House-passed $1.9 trillion COVID relief stimulus package. The American Rescue Plan, as it’s called, was passed under their budget reconciliation process, which means that the Senate can pass the bill with as few as 50 votes.
The proposal includes nearly $40 billion to assist higher education as well as additional unemployment benefits and aid for state and local governments. The bill is expected to pass the Senate with some modifications, including the removal of the federal $15 minimum wage provision. When the Senate passes their version of the bill, it will go back to the House for what should be a final vote before heading to President Joe Biden’s desk as soon as next week.
The Hill and the Biden Administration have also begun discussions on a seperate infrastructure/highway and economic stimulus package focused on boosting job growth, likely to be taken up by the Congress later in the spring or summer. This bill may also include additional funding for key federal science agency needs or programs.
Lastly, the Biden Administration may submit a “skinny” version of their fiscal year 2022 budget request to Congress later in March, but a fully detailed request is not expected until April or May. That timeline would delay the annual appropriations process, although some subcommittees have now begun hearings.
Climate-focused congressional hearings:
Throughout the month of February, congressional committees held numerous hearings focused on climate change issues. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development all held climate change-related hearings, including on energy and climate innovation, global climate trends, and restoring federal climate leadership. The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee also held a hearing on building back the U.S. research enterprise after the impacts of COVID-19.
Committee membership updates:
The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee announced subcommittee structure and leadership for the new Congress. Colorado Sen. John Hickenlooper was one of the freshmen who gained a spot on this key authorizing committee. The Senate Appropriations Committee and House Science, Space, and Technology Committee announced its subcommittee leadership and rosters as well.
Cabinet nominee confirmations:
Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) was confirmed as Secretary of Energy by a somewhat bipartisan 64-35 vote on Feb. 25, and she is now expected to focus the department’s efforts to accelerate clean energy technologies, especially in the transportation sector. The Senate also voted this week to approve Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo’s (D) nomination to be the Secretary of Commerce. President Biden has still yet to name his picks to lead NASA and NOAA. For the time being, NASA is being led by Acting Secretary Steve Jurczyk. New National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Sethuraman Panchanathan is also expected to remain in his role, having just begun a six-year appointment. Lastly, Gavin Schmidt has been named as NASA's first senior climate adviser, a position created to help integrate the agency’s work into the Biden administration’s climate change agenda.