Beltway Buzz, October 8, 202: Funding Federal Government & the Debt Ceiling
Crisis Averted. For Now. Another week, another major crisis in the U.S. Congress (and the country, for that matter). Last week, it was funding for the federal government. (Congress resolved that issue in typical fashion, by kicking it down the road to early December 2021.) This week, the crisis was the debt ceiling, and we are coming dangerously close to October 18, the date after which the United States will not be able borrow money. By all accounts, defaulting on our nation’s debt would be a “dogs and cats, living together—mass hysteria” type of catastrophe. Fortunately, the debt ceiling crisis appears to have been temporarily averted, as the U.S. Senate this week agreed to kick the can down the road on that issue as well. Assuming the debt deal is subsequently approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, both government funding and the debt ceiling will be extended through December 3, 2021 (though some think this week’s deal will extend the debt limit into January 2022). This means that the fiscal brinksmanship over government funding and the debt ceiling could replay in December.
Reconciliation and BIF. The House of Representatives is out of town until October 19, 2021. That obviously means that there were no House votes on the bipartisan “hard infrastructure” bill (sometimes known as “BIF”) passed by the U.S. Senate or the “human infrastructure” reconciliation bill. The former appears to be on ice as Democrats search for broader intraparty agreement on the latter. As of now, the paid leave provisions and increased labor and employment penalties that the Buzz discussed several weeks ago remain in the bill. This week, the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace sounded the alarm and explained to Congress that the inclusion of these provisions is not appropriate for reconciliation.
Vaccine Mandate Update. In addition to these major legislative issues, the other hot labor and employment issue in Washington, D.C., is the federal government’s plans to require employers to maintain workforces that are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. While there has been movement on the federal contractor aspect of this strategy, stakeholders haven’t heard a peep from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). It has been approximately one month since the White House announced that OSHA would issue a COVID-19 emergency temporary standard requiring employers with 100 or more employees to mandate that their employees be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing.
DOL Nominees on the Move. President Joe Biden’s nominees to head various subagencies at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) continue to queue up. This week, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing on the nominations of Lisa M. Gomez to lead the DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration and José Javier Rodriguez to head the DOL’s Employment and Training Administration. As a reminder, Douglas L. Parker (nominated to be assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health) awaits a vote on the Senate floor and David Weil (nominated to be administrator of the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division) remains in committee.
Happy Birthday, SCOTUS (Building). October 7, 2021, marked the 86th birthday of the Supreme Court of the United States’ current home at 1 First Street in Washington, D.C. Surprisingly, for much of its first 140 years or so, the Supreme Court convened in rather modest settings. Originally, the Court gathered in various locations around New York City and Philadelphia. When the capital moved to Washington, D.C., in 1800, the Supreme Court convened in the Capitol Building (at one point even residing in the building’s basement) and even moved to a private house when British troops torched the U.S. Capitol during the War of 1812. Beginning in 1819, the Court returned to the Capitol—upstairs this time—where it remained until 1935. The process for moving the Court to its current home began in 1929, when former president and then-chief justice William Howard Taft convinced Congress to provide a permanent location for the Court. Construction began in 1932 and was completed in 1935. Congress appropriated more than $9 million for the construction of the Court, and the project—including all furniture!—amazingly came in $94,000 under budget.