Government funding runs out this Friday, but the Senate is likely to meet that deadline and pass the stop-gap funding bill, which lasts through Mar. 11, that the House passed last week. The House is in recess until Feb. 28, but the Senate will be working on that and a few other bills and nominations as well. That includes potential Russia sanctions, the Food and Drug Administration director nomination, and the U.S. Postal Service reform bill passed by the House last week.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is probably holding off on having that spending bill vote because if he gives Republicans any opportunity to try to mess it up by forcing votes on other issues, they will. A handful of the most obnoxious Republicans want to shut down the government over COVID-19 vaccine mandates for federal and health care workers. The increasingly ridiculous Tennessee Republican, Marsha Blackburn has teamed up with the odious Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton to hold it up over a Biden administration grant program to distribute “safe smoking kits” as part of a harm-reduction program to prevent overdose deaths and minimize health risks associated with drug use. Blackburn and Cotton, with their friends in whack-job right-wing media have turned that into Biden handing out “crack pipes” in low-income communities. Because of course they have. That won’t work to shut down the government, but it has been tossed into the toxic social media stew that is the 2022 GOP.
Speaking of odious, Florida Republican Rick Scott has threatened to delay the USPS reform bill, which Schumer intends to begin work on Monday at 3:00 PM when the Senate returns. When Schumer set up the first procedural vote for the bill last week, he was using an erroneous bill sent over from the House clerk, who transmitted a version of the bill that lacked some amendments. The House quickly rectified that by passing a technical correction with bipartisan unanimous consent, which the Senate also has to do to move the bill forward. But according to Schumer’s office, Scott has threatened to deny consent, forcing delays and a longer process for passing the bill.
That bill is a good one. It wipes out $57 billion of the $206.4 billion in liabilities for the USPS. Over the next decade, the bill will save the agency $50 billion by finally freeing it from a 2006 law (sponsored by Maine Republican Susan Collins) that forced the agency to pre-fund the retiree health benefits for employees. Instead, retirees will need to sign up for Medicare. The bill also imposes transparency measures for the agency’s delivery performance, one of many of the problems for the agency created by Trump’s Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.
Passing the bill could help clear the way for DeJoy’s ouster. He’s actually been a champion of the bill, and the committee leaders in the House and Senate, as well as postal union leadership, have been laying off criticism of him while working this bill through the process. That could account for some of the delays we’ve seen in getting President Joe Biden’s nominees onto the Postal Service Board of Governors, the only entity capable of firing DeJoy. The fight over DeJoy seems to have been back-burnered, and this could be why. There are still two Biden nominees for the board who have yet to have hearings in Sen. Gary Peter’s committee.
“I have worked hand in hand with the bipartisan leaders of my committee and the House Oversight and Reform Committee to craft this bipartisan bill that will help the Postal Service overcome unfair and burdensome financial requirements, provide more transparency and accountability to the American people, and continue its nearly 250-year tradition of service to every community in our nation,” Peters said after the House vote. Maybe now he’ll advance those nominees and the Board of Governors can do something about DeJoy. After the Senate passes this bill and Biden signs it.
The Senate is also going to consider one of the more controversial of Biden’s nominees—Robert Califf, President Biden’s nominee to lead the FDA. Schumer has filed cloture on the nomination, despite the opposition of a handful of diverse Democratic senators—Joe Manchin, Bernie Sanders, Ed Markey, Richard Blumenthal, and Maggie Hassan all oppose Califf because of his ties to the pharmaceutical industry. Califf won over a few Democrats, including Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren, by consenting to recuse himself from any FDA decisions linked to companies he’s been involved with for a full four years.
That’s going to be a tight vote, with five Democrats saying “no” and only four potential Republicans to support him. The continued absence of New Mexico Democrat Ben Ray Luján, who suffered a stroke two weeks ago, complicates. On that front, however, there’s very good news straight from the source. Sen. Luján released a video Sunday, flanked by his doctors, announcing he would be ready to come back within a couple of weeks.
“I’m doing well,” said Luján. “I’m strong. … I’m going to make a full recovery. I’m going to walk out. I’m going to beat this. I’m going to be stronger once I come out.” He continued “I’m proud to report that I’ll be back on the floor of the United States Senate in just a few short weeks to vote on important legislation and to consider a Supreme Court nominee.”
House votes on another short-term spending bill, Republicans continue to fight long-term resolution
DeJoy thumbs nose at Biden’s climate push, orders fleet of gas-guzzling mail trucks
With a third of the fiscal year gone and a Feb. 18 deadline, Republicans make offer on spending bill
Luján says he’s ‘going to make a full recovery,’ expects to return to Senate in a ‘few short weeks’