WASHINGTON WATCH: October 26, 2021
THE LONG GAME: Pelosi says deal is nearly finalized; House to take up domestic
violence bill, honors for fallen troops
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) expressed confidence that Democrats were near a final agreement on their social spending bill. “We have 90 percent of the bill agreed to and written. We just have some of the last decisions to be made,” she told CNN on Sunday. While it is significantly smaller than the $3.5 trillion package originally sought by President Biden, Pelosi said the bill would be “transformative.” Several recent compromises were made to appeal to moderates, including cutting a proposed 12 weeks of paid family leave down to four weeks. Still unresolved are tax provisions to help pay for the bill, as well as a proposal to expand Medicare benefits. Although legislative language is still not finalized, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said that leaders hoped to bring the bill to the floor this week, along with the bipartisan infrastructure package. The White House is especially eager for a vote to occur before Biden is scheduled to leave for an overseas trip, including a U.N. climate summit in Glasgow this Sunday.
The House is also expected to take up H.R. 2119, Family Violence Prevention and Services Improvement Act (FVPSA), this week. The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA), expands support for programs focused on protecting survivors and preventing family and domestic violence, increasing the funding authorization level to $270 million. Also on the House calendar are several suspension bills, including legislation to posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal to U.S. service members who died in a suicide bombing outside the Kabul airport in Afghanistan on August 26.
Washington Watch is published weekly when Congress is in session. Published monthly during extended recess or adjournment.
Spotlight on Puerto Rico
Judge denies request for delay on debt adjustment hearings, debt deal at risk of collapsing
In a hearing held Monday, called after debt adjustment proceedings came to a stalemate, Judge Laura Taylor Swain denied a request by the Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) seeking a delay in the confirmation hearings for the Debt Adjustment Plan. The original November 8 starting date remains in place, forcing all parties to come to an agreement before then and leaving open the possibility of a confidential mediation led by the court.
Although P.C. 1003, the bill which would have allowed Puerto Rico’s Debt Adjustment Plan to move forward, passed the Puerto Rico House of Representatives on October 19, it did not pass the Puerto Rico Senate. This snag has sent the entire debt negotiation process into disarray, and the possibility of its ultimate collapse now looms in the horizon. Four of the five bondholder groups that negotiated with the FOMB indicated that they would take action if the Debt Adjustment Plan is not finalized, perhaps even asking for a court dismissal of the bankruptcy proceedings. This scenario, in which the agreements reached with bondholders fall through, was precisely what the FOMB hoped to avoid when it waited for the Senate to pass the bill. “Failure to pass this legislation means that Puerto Rico remains mired in a cloud of bankruptcy, stifling its ability to grow and attract needed investment,” the FOMB wrote in an October 21 statement.
SSI parity for Puerto Rico left in the hands of the Supreme Court
Despite then-candidate Joe Biden’s promises regarding equal treatment for Puerto Rico, the president’s Justice Department has chosen to defend the existing law denying Puerto Rico residents’ access to Supplemental Security Income (SSI)-- even after two lower courts ruled that said law was discriminatory. United States v. Vaello-Madero is currently headed to the Supreme Court, where it is slated to be heard on November 9. While jurisprudence favors allowing Puerto Ricans to gain access to SSI, that may not be enough to sway a Supreme Court majority.
However, in a new article in Slate, Neil Weare argues that altering the law surrounding SSI would seem to be a natural fit for Democrats’ Build Back Better push even if changes to SSI are nowhere in the bill. Weare also wants to connect with individuals in Puerto Rico who might be eligible for SSI to help put a face on these issues.
Puerto Rico coronavirus statistics for October 25
According to the Puerto Rico Health Department, 321,465 people are believed to have been infected with COVID-19, an increase of 789 since October 18. The death toll is currently 3,221, with 14 of those registered since October 18. Currently, there are an estimated 2,848,293 people in Puerto Rico who are eligible for the vaccine, and 88.8% of that amount has been partially vaccinated, while 80.7% has been fully vaccinated. Those percentages, however, will naturally drop once vaccines become approved for children 5 to 11 years old, which will raise the number of eligible people.
FDA approval of a version of the Pfizer vaccine for children—expected to occur in the first week of November— will present the next big challenge in Puerto Rico’s vaccination efforts, since it will add an estimated additional 227,000 people to the list of people to vaccinate. The Puerto Rico Health Department is currently preparing for that day, ensuring that vaccine providers can treat children and that proper protocols for vaccinating them are followed.
Governor Pierluisi assigns $76 million to PREPA to help cover maintenance costs
Governor Pedro Pierluisi announced on Sunday that he would assign $76 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), in order to mitigate the effects of the pandemic via fuel purchases and infrastructure maintenance. “The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it, on one hand, an increase in residential power usage, and, on the other, a decrease in economic activity... This all caused greater pressure on a power-generation grid that was already old, fragile, and delicate,” said the governor in a statement.
View From The White House
As an alternative to the traditional refugee settlement program, the White House announced on Monday a new program enabling groups of private individuals to sponsor Afghan refugees and help them resettle in the U.S.
President Biden announced on Friday that Neera Tanden, whose nomination to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget was pulled earlier this year, would become the new White House Staff Secretary, overseeing the flow of information among senior executive branch personnel.
In a White House study released last week, titled the “Report on the Impact of Climate Change on Migration,” the Biden Administration estimated that tens of millions of people are likely to become displaced over the next 20 to 30 years because of environmental changes and warming temperatures across the globe.
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