Reconciling Reconciliation

Democrats in Congress are working on pushing through President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package through what’s known as the budget reconciliation process. Allow us to break it down. 

What the heck is reconciliation?

Budget reconciliation allows Congress to pass legislation that impacts tax, direct spending or the debt limit with fewer hurdles than a typical bill might encounter. This kind of bill can pass with simple majorities in both houses, meaning less opportunity for Republicans to block it without a 60-vote hurdle for Senate passage. 

Why would Democrats pursue it?

Passing legislation with 60 votes in the Senate has been increasingly challenging for both parties because of narrow partisan control. Because Democrats have control of the House and the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris as a tiebreaker, the Democrats can pass COVID relief through reconciliation with Democratic votes and without Republican filibuster. But there is a tradeoff for the Democrats who control Congress when they take this route — there are limits to what they can include.

Who gets to decide what can be included? 

Often referred to as the chamber’s “referee,” the nonpartisan, unelected Parliamentarian — currently Elizabeth MacDonough, the first woman to serve in the role — interprets the Senate’s rules. She determines whether each reconciliation bill provision and amendment complies with the Senate’s reconciliation rules. She made news last week when she ruled the Democrats’ bid to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour did not fall within them. 

Where does reconciliation stand now?

House Democrats passed the COVID package early Saturday morning. After another Senate vote-a-rama, Senate Democrats hope to pass it by week’s end. If successful, the bill would then go back to the House for further action. Democrats remain confident Congress will approve the bill before unemployment benefits expire in mid-March.

Democrats may model Republicans, who passed two budgets with reconciliation instructions in the first year of Trump’s presidency. Democrats are using the FY21 budget resolution for the COVID package and could then try to pass an FY22 budget to advance the president’s agenda.

Partnering for Public Health

Nearly a year ago, businesses tested by unprecedented challenges became unlikely public health partners as they implemented new policies and practices to protect employees, consumers and the community at large from COVID-19.

A new report by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Health and Productivity Studies (IHPS) shows how important public-private partnerships will be in protecting public health moving forward. 

Funded by the de Beaumont Foundation, the report outlines how businesses can help promote public health in the wake of the pandemic based on interviews with forty public health leaders and corporate executives.

The seven short- and long-term recommendations include:

  1. “Put out the fire” of COVID-19. Use your channels to amplify recommendations from credible sources. Identify a single spokesperson for addressing COVID-related issues.
  1. Improve employees’ health and wellbeing. Take advantage of existing health tools and resources— such as the CDC Worksite Health ScoreCard and the CDC Workplace Health Resource Center— to create effective workplace health programming. Appoint a C-Suite level executive to coordinate the company’s COVID-19 response and future health challenges.  
  1. Promote healthy communities. Rebuild trust in public health institutions and promote their value beyond COVID-19. Consider advocating for evidence-based public health policies that make communities healthier.
  1. Become a force multiplier. Support lagging public health infrastructure through employee volunteerism. Partner with public health institutions to create consortia to address public health threats. 
  1. Actively facilitate public-private partnerships. Support the appointment of a local Chief Health Strategist to convene business and public health leaders around health issues of local concern. Create space for public health voices within the business community and vice versa.
  1. Track and monitor progress toward key outcomes. Advocate for dashboards that hold public and private partners accountable for improving health and economic outcomes, such as the National Health Security Preparedness Index.

  2. Advocate for a revitalized public health establishment.

How Business Can Build a “Green Recovery”

Now that the Biden administration has rejoined the Paris Agreement, attention is turning to a November climate summit that could have far-reaching impacts on the global economy – and offer companies the chance to position themselves as environmental leaders in the process. 

The COP26 summit, the 26th yearly session of the decision-making body of the United Nations’ climate change convention, will bring world leaders to Glasgow, Scotland to agree on a new ambitious agreement and guide a “green recovery” from COVID.

Business will be crucial to shaping the debate and delivering these commitments. Companies that participate will shape the future of their industries, while those that fail to support climate action risk a stakeholder backlash.

Steps companies can take in the lead-up to COP26 include: 

  • Announcing a climate strategy, commitment to Science-Based Targets or joining Race to Zero.
  • Building awareness of commitments and actions and creating a stronger digital presence.
  • Strengthening relationships with key policy makers, advocacy groups and the COP team. 
  • Using milestones to structure campaigns and build customer, employee and investor engagement. 
  • Forming partnerships that help shape the debate. 

FGH will be supporting clients in the run-up to COP26 and on the ground from our hub at the Four Winds Pavilion. Learn more here.

New Hope for Addressing Health Inequities?

President Biden has appointed the first Black woman to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)— longtime Democratic health expert Chiquita Brooks-LaSure— at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has deeply impacted communities of color and deepened racial disparities in health care coverage. 

If confirmed, Brooks-LaSure— who has more than 20 years of health policy expertise and has served in several senior roles at CMS— would be in the second-most powerful position within the Department of Health and Human Services.  

Brooks-LaSure’s appointment comes in the wake of five million Black and Hispanic Americans losing their employer-sponsored health plans in 2020. That has led many to seek public payer programs like Medicaid or Medicare or alternative options for insurance coverage.

In the first half of 2020, the average life expectancy in the United States dropped by a full year. Broken down by race, life expectancy decreased 1.9 years for Hispanic Americans while Black Americans suffered the sharpest decline of 2.7 years.

Since the start of the pandemic, Black and Hispanic populations have died from COVID-19 at nearly twice the rate of non-Hispanic white people. 

Systemic inequalities in health care, general delays in seeking or receiving medical care and a rise in drug overdose deaths have led to overall health disparities.

FGH’s Aryana Khalid, former CMS Chief of Staff, and Adam Goldstein, former CMS Special Assistant— who worked with Brooks-LaSure during the Obama Administration — recall her passion to improve the health and well-being of all beneficiaries, a deep knowledge of CMS programs, and the leadership acumen to get things done.

As Goes Texas

After a surreal week in Texas, it’s clear we need to expect the unexpected when it comes to our infrastructure as extreme weather events – from wildfires to hurricanes – intensify.

Last week a combination of unprecedented cold, wintry weather and rolling blackouts crippled Texas. Several days of freezing weather and power outages led to 70 deaths and counting across the region. The lasting fallout includes clean up from all the burst pipes and other issues that may rival Hurricane Harvey’s price tag.

So what happened?

First, a shaky polar vortex (which some scientists blame on climate change) brought a record-breaking deep freeze to Texas.

Then, several factors contributed to a failure of Texas’s grid:

  • The cold that made households ratchet up the thermostat also caused mechanical failures in unweatherized equipment. Some wind turbines and nuclear plants had issues, yes, but the biggest culprits were crippled natural gas wellheads and processing plants. At one point, 30 gigawattsor nearly half the state’s natural gas capacitywent offline as demand for electricity and heat soared.
  • Texas’s unique electricity market – ERCOT – operates as an “energy-only” market where customers only pay for energy generated. Others use “capacity markets”— essentially paying for more generation than is needed – as insurance for huge demand events like the deep freeze.

Biden Steps Into Global Spotlight

President Biden has promoted what he calls a “foreign policy for the middle class,” which aims to link U.S. domestic and foreign policy. But whether he can recoup America’s role on the world stage remains to be seen. 

The U.S. faces a trust gap with traditional allies, who fear America could swiftly change course on commitments in the future. Biden’s longstanding personal relationships with world leaders help bolster his credibility, as does his belief in democracies’ collective influence to set global rules and norms.

Last week, Biden participated in a virtual meeting of Group of Seven (G7) leaders and the Munich Security Conference, where he called for a reinvigorated democratic alliance to address global challenges, despite heightened divisions within Europe. In its closing joint statement, the G7 used Biden’s campaign theme, vowing to “work together to beat COVID-19 and build back better.

Biden’s priorities vis a vis specific countries include: 

  • China: Biden aims to use global partnerships to address challenges posed by China. He and other senior officials have stated the U.S. will confront China’s economic abuses and is conducting a thorough review of current policies before taking action on tariffs, trade and sanctions. The administration is expected to coordinate with China on global issues such as climate change and COVID-19 but will continue to respond to China’s human rights abuses and attempts to shape the international system to advance its national interests.
  • Russia: Biden will seek to prevent Russia’s attacks on democracy and its suppression of democratic dissent while also advancing a strategic agenda that includes arms control and nonproliferation.
  • Middle East: Biden has already changed course dramatically by appointing a Special Envoy to end the war in Yemen, pausing some arms sales, and reassessing troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. Addressing Iran’s nuclear ambitions will also be a high priority.

What We’re Watching: One Month In

FGH’s Liz Allen, former advisor to President Biden and Vice President Harris, shares some observations as the Biden Administration gets up and running. 

Expect the cabinet to be more visible in this administration

  • President Biden views agency heads as governing partners with broad opportunity to reach the American people.  The Biden cabinet is the most diverse in history.
  • Biden’s cabinet reflects respect for experience combined with a desire to break institutional norms, such as appointing Janet Yellen the first female Treasury Secretary in U.S. history.  

Unity, not unanimity.

  • President Biden ran on a platform of unifying the country. That message is being weaponized by the right and questioned by the media. 
  • The White House says: “The president ran on unifying the country, not on creating one political party.” 
  • Look for unity to be framed as a broadly-supported agenda, not necessarily bipartisan votes in Congress. 

Who Run the World? Girls.

  • Dr. Jill Biden is the first First Lady to work full-time, keeping her job as a community college professor. And she has shown early interest in policy issues such as immigration, family reunification, and cancer research, besides continuing her platform on education and military families. 
  • Vice President Kamala Harris is being positioned as a full governing partner to the president, without a discrete portfolio at this time. 

  • Women in media: the chief network White House correspondents from ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN are all women for the first time, and they’re working with an all-women senior White House communications team.