Government Affairs Roundup
“Your Timely Roundup of Local, State, and Federal Updates”
Things have not been quiet in Washington D.C. as the clash between the House and Senate is an old Hill standby, but the chambers’ divergent handling of the calendar lately does give us some important signs for the future. In the Senate, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is steering a $550 billion physical infrastructure deal alongside a still-forthcoming $3.5 trillion social spending plan. It’s the same “two-track” approach Democratic leaders have talked about for weeks, but so far Schumer is employing a time management strategy that shows he understands the potential for unpredictable surprises to upend his best-laid plans. He’s running out the clock and warning of a shorter August recess as Republicans prepare for him to “grind them down.” Schumer could afford to take his time because he had a White House so interested in a deal that it extended the first, failed round of failed cross-aisle infrastructure talks way back in May.
Meanwhile, the White House — and all of Washington — knew a month in advance that any CDC extension of the federal evictions moratorium past its July 31 expiration could run into trouble at the Supreme Court when Brett Kavanaugh indicated he would oppose such an extension. Yet House Democrats were still left short of time on Friday after their leaders broke into a last-lap sprint to preserve the evictions moratorium. The dash fell short, as the party failed to find the votes within its own ranks for a move that could have kept millions of people in their homes.
The White House didn’t ask Congress to step in until days before the moratorium’s expiration, House Dems said. Still, their inability to manage the ticking clock leaves them with several progressives camped out on the Capitol steps to push their party to act. “We cannot in good faith blame the Republican Party when House Democrats have the majority,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), one of those progressives who visited the steps, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday of the eviction’s fiasco.
In fact, even if House Democrats had been able to pass a bill extending the moratorium, it would likely have gotten blocked by the Senate GOP. Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged that reality in a Sunday night statement alongside other party leaders, but by then Democrats had run out of the luxury of time to refine their message.
This tale of two chambers and two issues is instructive as we look ahead to an even more frenetic September in Congress. Schumer has managed the Senate skillfully, but the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the social spending plan are still shy of the president’s desk. That’s on top of a debt limit in need of lifting and a government in need of funding by October.
A short timetable might prove effective in getting enough senators to back a deal written by their colleagues, but it doesn’t smooth ruffled feathers among House lawmakers — especially not when internal messaging isn’t aligned. Crises like this summer’s expiring evictions moratorium are bound to pop up out of left field. Even plans as firm as the Senate’s appear this week need to be able to withstand shocking twists, whether it’s a last-minute White House request to help renters or a coronavirus case across the aisle.
Read below for more interesting pieces of news, but check out some important reminders first:
Participation has picked up a little, but still we need more voices to share what you’re experiencing out there running your business. More importantly, our elected officials need to hear what conditions are and to date, we’re only about a third of the way to desired results/feedback. We’re asking all to please click on the link below for an important survey regarding the current state of business in a mid-year 2021 check in. This feedback is extremely important so that we can use this in conversations going forward on what type of programs and assistance would be best as all continue to recover from the pandemic.
Add Monday, August 16 to your calendars as we host our quarterly “Legislative Coffee” with U.S. Representatives Bill Foster, Lauren Underwood, and Marie Newman. We’ll cover topics such as the budget, infrastructure, taxes, the recent executive order, and more. We’ll begin at 8 am and discuss through 9:30 at the Joliet City Hall Council Chambers. We hope you can join us and thank CITGO for being our coffee series sponsor. Here is the rsvp & info link: http://jolietchamber.chambermaster.com/events/details/2021-legislative-coffee-series-august-16th-with-u-s-representatives-foster-underwood-newman-6082
*Government Affairs Roundup brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital*
White House Says CDC Can’t Renew Eviction Ban
The White House asserted on Monday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not have the legal authority to issue another eviction ban after Democratic leaders urged the Biden administration to take unilateral action.
In a statement, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that CDC officials “have been unable to find legal authority for a new, targeted eviction moratorium” after the administration floated a one-month emergency extension. “Our team is redoubling efforts to identify all available legal authorities to provide necessary protections,” Psaki said. “In the meantime, the President will continue to do everything in his power to help renters from eviction.”
How Illinois Hopes to Avoid a Summer Eviction Surge
A federal freeze on most evictions that was enacted last year expired Saturday after the Biden administration extended the original date by a month. The moratorium put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September had been the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. Many of them lost jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic and have fallen months behind on their rent.
Landlords successfully challenged the order in court, arguing that they also had bills to pay. They pointed out that tenants could access nearly $47 billion in federal money set aside to help pay rent and related expenses. Advocates for tenants said the distribution of the money had been slow and that more time was needed to distribute it and repay landlords. Without an extension, they feared a spike in evictions and lawsuits seeking to oust tenants who were behind on their
Even with the delay, about 3.6 million people in the U.S. as of July 5said they would face eviction within the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The survey measures the social and economic effects of the pandemic every two weeks through online responses from a representative sample of U.S. households.
Here’s the situation in Illinois:
What’s the status of eviction moratoriums in the state? The state’s own moratorium on evictions will expire at the end of August, more than 17 months after Gov. JB Pritzker issued it. Eviction filings can resume at the start of the month, but enforcement can’t resume until September.
Pritzker extended the order several times during the pandemic. After landlords of small properties complained that it was hurting them financially, the Democrat modified his order in November to require tenants to vouch that they met certain conditions.
What’s being done to help people facing eviction?
The state expects to provide $1.1 billion in relief to renters and landlords, plus $400 million that will be available in some cities. Pritzker’s office estimated that the money could help more than 120,000 people.
Individuals can apply for up to $25,000 that would be paid directly to landlords. A separate $280 million program focuses on utility costs. According to the Illinois Housing Development Authority, the agency has received almost 95,000 applications for rent assistance seeking a total of more than $900 million. As of Wednesday, it had paid about $180 million to 20,480 households, prioritizing people who were unemployed or had very low incomes.
A state law created this year also seals the records of any evictions between March 2020 and March 2022, aiming to prevent pandemic-related financial woes from deepening a
renter’s ability to get future housing.
Teri Ross, executive director of Illinois Legal Aid Online, also encouraged people who are behind in their rent payments to contact community groups that have received money from federal relief packages to offer aid or legal services.
How are the courts handling eviction hearings?
It varied in recent months based on the renter’s location. Ross said counties in the Chicago area have not allowed landlords to file lawsuits seeking to boot tenants for being late on their rent. Elsewhere, counties that did accept eviction filings largely didn’t act on them. Eviction orders entered before the pandemic began and those based on health and safety concerns were allowed to proceed.
In September, all Illinois courts can resume eviction proceedings and enforcement. The Illinois Housing Development Authority is providing training on rent relief and other assistance to judges around the state. The agency’s director, Kristin Faust, said the goal is to encourage landlords and tenants to enter mediation rather than move toward eviction.
Housing advocates said some counties already have embraced that approach and hope it will help some renters stay in their homes while giving their landlords financial relief. But they still expect a flood of people to be evicted from rental homes this fall.
How affordable is housing in the state’s major rental markets?
As of May, the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the Chicago area was 2.7% higher than the year before, at $1,900, according to a June 16 report from Realtor.com. That was higher
than the national median cost of $1,770.
The median cost of studio and one-bedroom units in the Chicago area dropped during the past year but still topped the nationwide median cost. The median rent of a Chicago one-bedroom was $1,650, compared with the national figure of $1,466. A Chicago-area studio apartment, meanwhile, cost $1,345 a month, compared with $1,294 nationally.
Those prices are far out of reach for many renters in the city and surrounding suburbs, said Karla Chrobak, a supervising attorney with CARPLS Legal Aid, an organization that provides free legal help in Cook County. Chrobak said clients seeking the group’s help already struggled to find affordable housing before the pandemic, making the prospect of being evicted now “terrifying.”
Are evictions expected to create a surge in homelessness?
Ross said community organizations around the state “are in fear of seeing mass evictions.”
“I hope that we see communities working together, landlords and tenants,” she said. “Keeping communities stable is largely dependent on keeping people housed consistently –not precariously.”
One indication of the scope of the problem is recent census data showing that 109,211 Illinois residents were concerned they could be evicted within the next two months. Faust, director of the state agency managing rent relief, hopes shared efforts to keep tenants in their homes will help Illinois avoid mass evictions.
“We’re going through a shared trauma here and we’re going to deal with it together and we’re going to address it together,” she said.
McConnell Warns Democrats Against ‘Artificial Timeline’ for Infrastructure Deal
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sent a warning shot on Monday over the bipartisan infrastructure deal, saying that Democrats shouldn’t create an “artificial timeline” and that Republicans want to offer potential changes. McConnell, speaking from the Senate floor, called the roughly $1 trillion bipartisan deal a “good and important jumping off point” but that it shouldn’t be the Senate’s “last word.”
“[It] needs to be a robust and bipartisan process out here on the floor,” he said. “Senators on both sides expect and deserve opportunities to have a say and put their own state’s imprints on this major bill,” he added.
McConnell’s comments come after the bipartisan group finalized its bill on Sunday night. The bill is substantially smaller than President Biden’s plan, but includes funds for things like roads, bridges, transit, water and broadband.
Because the bill took weeks to draft, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and some of the GOP negotiators want to pass the bill this week, potentially before a sizable number of senators are expected to go to a service on Friday for the late Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.).
“The Senate can and should consider more amendments … I would encourage senators from both sides of the aisle to submit potential amendments,” Schumer said on Monday
The Senate is expected to leave for a summer break as soon as Aug. 9, though that could slip because of the infrastructure debate. Schumer warned on Monday that “the longer it takes to finish the bill, the longer we’ll be here.” But McConnell, speaking after Schumer, responded that the Senate’s debate “must not be choked off by an artificial timeline that our Democratic colleagues may have penciled out for political purposes.”
To wrap up debate on the bill Schumer will need the support of at least 10 GOP senators in addition to his whole caucus. So far 17 GOP senators, including McConnell, have helped advance the bill. But several told The Hill that they were undecided on if they were a “yes” moving forward. “I can’t say until I see the statutory language. In fact, I can tell you that I told the whip organization that I’ll vote to move to the bill, but I’m not going to tell you how I’m going to vote for the bill yet,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
Debt Ceiling Dilemma
After a two-year suspension, the U.S. debt ceiling became operative again over the weekend and lawmakers on Capitol Hill haven’t yet outlined a plan to avoid default later this year. The debt cap was put on hold for two years in August 2019, as part of a budget deal in Congress. Congressional leaders have yet to outline a plan to either increase the limit or suspend it again.
The debt limit — the total amount that the federal government is authorized to borrow — was set at $22 trillion in 2019. It will adjust to the current level of debt — which had risen to $28.5 trillion as of the end of June — when the suspension ends, putting pressure on Congress to find a solution that will allow the government to keep borrowing.
Without action, the U.S. is on a path to default as early as October. That outcome has been avoided in debt-ceiling crises since the 1980s, although the federal government has sometimes been forced to shut down until a deal could be reached.
The Treasury Department already started taking special measures on Friday to shore up cash. At noon that day, officials stopped selling State and Local Government Series securities, which help local authorities to invest bond proceeds. Other options for the Treasury include suspending new investment in funds for retired public-sector workers.
Before leaving for the August recess, Democrats last week said they would address the debt-ceiling problem, without giving details. House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth and Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democratic leader in the upper chamber, said there’s no concrete plan to approach the debt ceiling through budget reconciliation. That would bypass Republicans, but leave President Joe Biden’s party with sole ownership of a potentially unpopular move.
Other alternatives include negotiations with Republicans to increase the ceiling in return for agreeing to some of their favored budget items or tying a rise in the ceiling to other bills that need to pass.
D.C. Nuke Bailout Won’t Save Illinois Plants
A $6 billion program to bail out unprofitable nuclear plants is part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill the U.S. Senate will consider this week, but it won’t save two nukes Exelon has said it plans to close this fall. Even if the federal bailout becomes law, it doesn’t offer enough financial security to keep the Byron and Dresden plants operating, the company said today.
Some state lawmakers recently expressed hope that the proposed federal rescue might buy them more time to resolve a months-long impasse over broad energy legislation aimed at eliminating carbon emissions from Illinois power plants within 25 years. Exelon popped that balloon.
“While we remain encouraged by growing support in Congress to preserve nuclear energy to help combat climate change, the provisions currently under consideration in the Senate infrastructure bill do not provide the policy and funding certainty we need and could take months or even years to come to fruition, if at all,” the company said in a statement. “Meanwhile, our Byron and Dresden nuclear plants must be refueled this fall—Byron in September and Dresden in November. If we refuel both stations to delay their retirement, we will be committed to running the plants for up to an additional two years, during which we could face revenue shortfalls in the hundreds of millions of dollars. We can’t risk taking those losses with no guarantee of a legislative solution.”
At the same time, a labor coalition turned up pressure on lawmakers to get more involved in resolving the outstanding issues. The coalition, which has been negotiating with environmental groups over details of how quickly the state bill would mandate Illinois’ power-generation decarbonize, sent a letter to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and legislative leaders today declaring the talks at a dead end.
“We sadly write to inform you today that as a result of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition’s failure to negotiate in good faith, we have reached what we believe is an impasse in reaching an agreed-upon clean energy bill due to seemingly intractable differences on the issues of decarbonization and prevailing wage standards,” the letter read.
“As our state’s leaders, we implore you to step in and work to find a way to get a deal done. There is too much on the line,” it added.
At the federal level, the nuke bailout language in the infrastructure bill would permit operators of unprofitable nukes to apply to the Energy Department for credits that would make up the revenue difference between being in the red and in the black. The measure authorizes $6 billion over four years.
One problem with that approach from Exelon’s viewpoint is that the money would be subject to yearly appropriations. Authorization of funding is one step; appropriators must act each year to actually provide the money. That creates too much uncertainty for the company, which must bid three years ahead of time with regional power-grid overseers to set the price ratepayers shell out each year for power generators’ promise to produce during high-demand days. In addition, it would be well over a year before money under the program would flow because the Energy Department would have to write rules implementing it and then would have to collect and verify bids.
Instead, Exelon and other nuke operators want a production tax credit for at-risk nukes, which would establish a set price over multiple years. Pending in Washington would provide that and could be part of a larger tax bill Democrats are pursuing separately from the bipartisan infrastructure talks. Democrats in the House have made passage of the bipartisan Senate bill dependent on moving the costlier tax bill later this year. The combination of a program Exelon believes unworkable with uncertainty over whether anything will emerge from Congress is enough for the company to go ahead with closing the two plants, it said.
For Illinois lawmakers, passage of a taxpayer-funded bailout in Washington would serve the dual purpose of preserving the nuclear plants, both of which together employ well over 1,000 union workers, and not relying on hiking electricity rates to do it. Language in the stalled state bill would provide Exelon an estimated $700 million-plus over five years to keep the plants open but would reduce the electric-bill surcharge—or even require partial rebates—if federal money comes to the rescue.
“The proposed Illinois clean energy legislation is the only solution that can pass in time to provide the certainty we need, while also protecting consumers by ensuring that any funds directed to nuclear from future federal legislation are passed through to customers,” Exelon said.
Exelon reports second-quarter earnings on Wednesday, and CEO Chris Crane likely will have more to say on the subject when he holds his quarterly conference call with analysts.
Update: The union coalition’s letter touched off a firestorm, with responding letters not just from the Clean Jobs Coalition, but from Gov. J.B. Pritzker as well. Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, provided a statement. Perhaps most revealing was the below-the-radar tug of war between Pritzker and Harmon, which has helped keep the issue dragging on.
Governor Pritzker in his lengthy letter essentially took the side of environmentalists, blaming the impasse on the unions. “The bottom line is that pointing fingers at the Clean Jobs Coalition, whose members have already made significant compromises on decarbonization and equity provisions, is unproductive, especially after Climate Jobs Illinois (the union group) has refused to send an additional written proposal that was promised to them for weeks,” Pritzker wrote. He echoed the enviros’ contention that the union groups are seeking to keep natural gas and coal-fired power plants “open in perpetuity.”
“I have negotiated in good faith as pro-coal forces have shifted the goalposts throughout this process,” he wrote. He called on the Legislature to pass his bill with the concessions his administration made at the end of May.
The Clean Jobs Coalition in its letter was blunt: “In June, the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition received a proposal from labor that was a step backward. CJI’s proposal created unlimited carbon emission loopholes, allowing any polluting fossil fuel plant to stay open in the state as long as it wanted, and completely exempting gas plants from any pollution reductions for the next two decades.”
Harmon in a statement said he was “disappointed” to learn that the two sides couldn’t agree. “Moving forward here, the Senate intends to keep discussions going with stakeholders in an effort to produce legislation that can get at least 36 votes in the Senate and 71 in the House in order to take effect in the immediate future,” he said.
Harmon’s statement was far more terse than Pritzker’s, but the Senate president since late May has been far more sympathetic than the governor with organized labor’s arguments that shutting down gas plants too early could imperil reliability and needlessly cost jobs. No talks between labor and the environmentalists are scheduled. They’ve thrown the mess back to Harmon, Pritzker and House Speaker Welch.
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry