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The Senate has hit the road after a weekend session that ended with Senate Democrats, with the help of Vice President Kamala Harris’ vote, sending Democrats’ climate, tax, and health care bill to the House. The House is placing their summer recess on hold and will reconvene to clear the measure and send it to President Joe Biden for his signature.
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Senate Democrats pass budget package
Democrats pushed their election-year economic package to Senate passage, a hard-fought compromise less ambitious than President Joe Biden’s original domestic vision but one that still meets deep-rooted party goals of slowing global warming, moderating pharmaceutical costs and taxing immense corporations.
The estimated $740 billion package heads next to the House, where lawmakers are poised to deliver on Biden’s priorities, a stunning turnaround of what had seemed a lost and doomed effort that suddenly roared back to political life. Cheers broke out as Senate Democrats held united, 51-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote after an all-night session.
“Today, Senate Democrats sided with American families over special interests,” President Joe Biden said in a statement from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. “I ran for President promising to make government work for working families again, and that is what this bill does — period.”
Biden, who had his share of long nights during his three decades as a senator, called into the Senate cloakroom during the vote on speakerphone to personally thank the staff for their hard work. The president urged the House to pass the bill as soon as possible. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said her chamber would “move swiftly to send this bill to the president’s desk.” House votes are expected Friday.
“It’s been a long, tough and winding road, but at last, at last we have arrived,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., ahead of final votes. “The Senate is making history. I am confident the Inflation Reduction Act will endure as one of the defining legislative feats of the 21st century,” he said.
Senators engaged in a round-the-clock marathon of voting that began Saturday and stretched late into Sunday afternoon. Democrats swatted down some three dozen Republican amendments designed to torpedo the legislation. Confronting unanimous GOP opposition, Democratic unity in the 50-50 chamber held, keeping the party on track for a morale-boosting victory three months from elections when congressional control is at stake.
The bill ran into trouble midday over objections to the new 15% corporate minimum tax that private equity firms and other industries disliked, forcing last-minute changes.
Despite the momentary setback, the “Inflation Reduction Act” gives Democrats a campaign-season showcase for action on coveted goals. It includes the largest-ever federal effort on climate change — close to $400 billion — caps out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors on Medicare to $2,000 a year and extends expiring subsidies that help 13 million people afford health insurance. By raising corporate taxes and reaping savings from the long-sought goal of allowing the government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare, the whole package is paid for, with some $300 billion extra revenue for deficit reduction.
Barely more than one-tenth the size of Biden’s initial 10-year, $3.5 trillion Build Back Better initiative, the new package abandons earlier proposals for universal preschool, paid family leave and expanded childcare aid. That plan collapsed after conservative Sen. Joe. Manchin, D-W.Va., opposed it, saying it was too costly and would fuel inflation.
Nonpartisan analysts have said the 755-page “Inflation Reduction Act” would have a minor effect on surging consumer prices. Republicans said the new measure would undermine an economy that policymakers are struggling to keep from plummeting into recession. They said the bill’s business taxes would hurt job creation and force prices skyward, making it harder for people to cope with the nation’s worst inflation since the 1980s.
Before debate began, the bill’s prescription drug price curbs were diluted by the Senate’s nonpartisan parliamentarian who said a provision should fall that would impose costly penalties on drug makers whose price increases for private insurers exceed inflation.
It was the bill’s chief protection for the 180 million people with private health coverage they get through work or purchase themselves. Under special procedures that will let Democrats pass their bill by simple majority without the usual 60-vote margin, its provisions must be focused more on dollar-and-cents budget numbers than policy changes. But the thrust of Democrats’ pharmaceutical price language remained. That included letting Medicare negotiate what it pays for drugs for its 64 million elderly recipients, penalizing manufacturers for exceeding inflation for pharmaceuticals sold to Medicare and limiting beneficiaries out-of-pocket drug costs to $2,000 annually.
The bill also caps Medicare patients’ costs for insulin, the expensive diabetes medication, at $35 monthly. Democrats wanted to extend the $35 cap to private insurers but it ran afoul of Senate rules. Most Republicans voted to strip it from the package, though in a sign of the political potency of health costs seven GOP senators joined Democrats trying to preserve it.
The measure’s final costs were being recalculated to reflect late changes, but overall it would raise more than $700 billion over a decade. The money would come from a 15% minimum tax on a handful of corporations with yearly profits above $1 billion, a 1% tax on companies that repurchase their own stock, bolstered IRS tax collections and government savings from lower drug costs.
Sinema forced Democrats to drop a plan to prevent wealthy hedge fund managers from paying less than individual income tax rates for their earnings. She also joined with other Western senators to win $4 billion to combat the region’s drought. Several Democratic senators joined the GOP-led effort to exclude some firms from the new corporate minimum tax.
The package keeps to Biden’s pledge not to raise taxes on those earning less than $400,000 a year. It was on the energy and environment side that compromise was most evident between progressives and Manchin, a champion of fossil fuels and his state’s coal industry.
Clean energy would be fostered with tax credits for buying electric vehicles and manufacturing solar panels and wind turbines. There would be home energy rebates, funds for constructing factories building clean energy technology and money to promote climate-friendly farm practices and reduce pollution in minority communities.
Manchin won billions to help power plants lower carbon emissions plus language requiring more government auctions for oil drilling on federal land and waters. Party leaders also promised to push separate legislation this fall to accelerate permits for energy projects, which Manchin wants to include a nearly completed natural gas pipeline in his state.
Economy adds whopping 528K jobs for July, shatters expectations
The U.S. added 528,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 3.5 in July, according to data released Friday by the Labor Department. Economists expected the U.S. to have added roughly 250,000 jobs in July and keep the jobless rate at 3.6 percent, according to consensus estimates released before the report.
High inflation, Federal Reserve interest rates hikes, and a global economic slowdown were all likely to bring job growth down toward pre-pandemic levels. But the U.S added more than twice as many jobs in July, defying predictions of a labor market slowdown and showing the resilience of a historically strong labor market.
Small Business Fights Against Complicated Data Privacy Regulations
Complying with H.R. 8152, the American Data Privacy and Protection Act, would be a significant and costly challenge for small business owners. Small business owners care deeply about the privacy of their customers as well as their own personal privacy as consumers. But with limited resources it would be extremely difficult for small business owners to comply with the proposed complicated mandates.
“Unlike large businesses, small business owners do not have a compliance department or a team of attorneys to help them deal with complicated new regulations,” said Kuhlman. “Most owners handle new paperwork and compliance burdens themselves. This legislation will require all small business owners to establish complicated new privacy safeguards and protocols, tasks they are ill-equipped to perform.”
Half a century and six U.S. judges later, court oversight of state hiring ends
Governor Pritzker received a favorable federal court ruling regarding a decades-long consent decree that made some state government hiring subject to federal oversight.
A 1972 court order known as the Shakman decree required federal court approval for some personnel decisions to combat patronage hiring. But the court noted Pritzker “demonstrated substantial compliance with the decree and identified and instituted durable remedies to help ensure that it sticks.” So, the court determined, “The power to hire, fire, and establish accompanying policies needs to return to the people of Illinois and the Governor they elected.”
“I’m gratified that the court recognized my commitment to hiring practices that fully live up to the principles of the U.S. and Illinois Constitutions,” Pritzker said in a news release. “From the time that I took office, my administration has worked to strengthen the state’s hiring practices and ensure that we have durable, lasting reforms in place so that the state can guard against unethical hiring practices now and in the long term. With the end of this 1972 decree and the enormous work required by the ongoing federal monitoring, the state can focus our efforts on ensuring effective and efficient hiring that allows us to better fulfill our obligations to the people of Illinois.”
Regulatory work behind 1 million EV push in full swing in Illinois
The effort to electrify the state’s transportation sector and ensure the power grid can meet increased demand involves the Illinois Commerce Commission, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the state’s Department of Transportation, and Illinois’ two largest public utilities, among others.
Between those agencies and utilities, there’s hundreds of millions of federal, state and ratepayer dollars available for EV charging infrastructure, vehicle rebates and other plans aimed at accelerating EV adoption. While the regulatory force behind CEJA lies with several agencies, the task of ensuring all of them are working together lies in the hands of the state’s electric vehicles coordinator.
That person is Meghan Lakhchaura, who was appointed to the position officially on July after serving in an administrative capacity at IEPA since April. She has previously served as the director of policy in North America for the electric vehicle supply company EVBox, policy director for the rooftop solar and battery storage provider Sunrun Inc., and public utilities regulatory analyst for the California Public Utilities Commission.
It’s a diverse private sector and regulatory experience which she said has helped her hit the ground running. “So the job is basically figuring out how all of these pots of money work together,” Lakhchaura said in a recent interview with Capitol News Illinois. “What are the pieces that we have to look at? Where do we put our resources? How do we think of things comprehensively and having a comprehensive charging strategy for the state?”
She praised the top-down vision laid out by the governor’s office and CEJA but said lawmakers and regulators will have to continue to adapt to meet the 1 million EV goal. “CEJA is a good starting step,” she said. “I think that it sets up some very good practices. …It puts out a road for utilities, it puts out a rebate for vehicles, for charging. It’s a good first step, but we’re going to have to do more to get to 1 million vehicles.”
New data available for every community in northeastern Illinois
The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) released a new set of Community Data Snapshots to help local leaders, community organizations, and others plan and make informed decisions in their communities.
These data-rich snapshots — one for each of the region’s 284 municipalities, 77 Chicago neighborhoods, and seven counties — summarize demographic, housing, employment, transportation, land use, revenue, and water information.
The Community Data Snapshots include original CMAP data to help communities implement recommendations from ON TO 2050, the region’s long-range plan.
Executive Vice President
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry