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August 27, 2020 12:00 PM, EDT

Climate Change Debate Adds to Busy Fall Congressional Agenda

SchumerSenate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. (Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg News)

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By recently proposing to reduce emissions, invest in communities and add millions of new jobs, Senate Democrats intend to add climate change to the list of pertinent policy matters before Congress this fall.

Democrats, the minority party in the U.S. Senate, published a report that calls for the reduction of U.S. emissions to achieve 100% global net-zero emissions no later than 2050, as well as increase spending on climate programs to at least 2% of gross domestic product per year.

The report reinforces Democrats’ stance on the topic ahead of the November elections. Climate change has been perceived as a partisan point.

“The climate crisis is not some distant threat. It is here now, and it will be catastrophic if we don’t strike back immediately. Over the next few decades, climate change will affect every part of American life: our health, our economy, our national security, even our geography,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Aug. 25.

Added Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who led the report, “We don’t have to keep losing on climate — the work we’ve done shows that we can unite Americans and finally get this done.”

The comprehensive report follows a lengthy call-to-action from the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, myriad measures, hearings focused on climate change and debates about the Green New Deal environmental overhaul proposal.

Last year, a Senate committee approved a five-year highway policy measure that included a section on climate change matters. Republican leaders have not scheduled floor consideration for that bill as the country’s current highway policy law, called the FAST Act, expires at the end of September.

Led by Democrats, the House this summer advanced its update of the highway law as part of a massive infrastructure package. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the chamber’s top surface transportation policymaker, criticized the House-passed bill: “House Democrats are more committed to the Green New Deal than dealing with crumbling roads and bridges.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)

Barrasso

Besides the FAST Act’s reauthorization, Congress’ fall agenda is expected to include consideration of fiscal 2021 funding bills for federal agencies, and potentially a new pandemic economic relief package. Members resume their business after Labor Day.

Even as the House passed most of its appropriations bills, the Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to schedule votes on fiscal 2021 funding measures. Absent Senate action, approving temporary funding measures meant to avert a partial shutdown of federal agencies is a likely scenario. By the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, Congress would need to send the president for enactment either fiscal 2021 appropriations legislation or a stopgap funding bill.

As part of a House bill that included the fiscal 2021 transportation funding measure, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration would receive $881 million for its operations. The proposed allocation would be a $202 million increase from the fiscal 2020-enacted level, and $179 million more than the president’s request.

Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee Chairman David Price (D-N.C.) said of the overall bill: “This funding is necessary for our future prosperity, especially as we transition from pandemic to recovery.”

Partisan tensions are likely to continue during the fractured coronavirus relief aid negotiations between senior Democrats and top White House officials. The two sides have been unable to reconcile their differences to advance the next emergency package.

“We are engaged in a debate not just about dollars and cents. It is about values and common sense. Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress and the administration have refused to recognize and meet the needs of the American people,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) Aug. 23. “We urge Republicans to return to the negotiating table immediately.”

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“We want to extend federal unemployment benefits, extend the [Small Business Administration] Paycheck Protection Program, provide funding and legal protections for K-12 schools and universities, and fund testing, treatments and vaccines. But Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader Schumer said over and over that it would be ‘piecemeal’ to pass the most urgent, most bipartisan policies first and argue over the rest later,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Senate Republicans unveiled a $1 trillion pandemic relief measure. A House-passed package of about $3 trillion includes $15 billion for highway programs. Freight stakeholders have urged congressional leaders to approve emergency aid to prevent disruptions across commercial and commuter transportation corridors.

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