Senate Democrats Push Forward on Two Tracks to Advance President Biden’s Infrastructure Agenda
Senate Democrats this week moved forward on their two-pronged approach to enact President Joe Biden’s policy agenda – a $579 billion bipartisan “physical” infrastructure package – and a separate $3.5 trillion package addressing “social” infrastructure. Both measures face steep hurdles in the narrowly divided Senate and House. (Wall Street Journal and BGov, July 15)
- Senate Budget Committee Democrats agreed in principle on Tuesday to a $3.5 trillion spending increase for Biden’s wide-ranging social agenda that includes education, childcare and climate. (Reuters, July 13 and Roundtable Weekly story below)
- Separately, President Biden and a bipartisan group of senators on June 24 agreed on a framework to invest in “hard” infrastructure, including transit, roads, bridges and the electrical grid. (White House Fact Sheet and bipartisan Senate group framework, June 24)
- Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) stated last week that he plans to hold votes on both measures before the Senate leaves for its August recess. (AP and CNBC, July 9)
Bipartisan Proposal Deadline
- Schumer pushed his schedule forward by announcing the Senate will take a procedural vote next week to begin debate on the unfinished bipartisan proposal. The move forces a tight deadline on Senate negotiators to produce a detailed version of their bipartisan proposal, which has many unresolved issues, including funding sources. (Politico, July 15)
- Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said Schumer’s decision is an attempt “to put pressure on the group to either put up or shut up,” according to Politico.
- Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said, “The good news-bad news is we’ve got a pretty tight time frame. There are details we have to resolve, and those details involve things like [paying for it].” (Washington Post, July 15)
- The bipartisan proposal, if translated into legislation, would need any combination of 60 votes in the 50-50 Senate to avoid a filibuster and start debate on the measure.
Budget Blueprint Directive
- Schumer also said he wants the Senate Budget Committee to agree by July 21 on the details of their separate 10-year budget blueprint, after they agreed this week to its overall $3.5 trillion spending level. (New York Times, July 15)
- The committee must now build support for a budget resolution, which would give fiscal targets to other Senate committees responsible for producing an eventual, final bill – including how taxes would be raised to pay for it.
- Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) commented this week, “What happens next is this is an enormously large and complicated piece of legislation and it’s going to take an enormous amount of work amongst 50 people to reach agreement.” (BGov, July 15)
- Passage of a budget blueprint would also mark the beginning of the reconciliation process, which would allow Democrats to pass an expansive economic package without Republican votes. (Bloomberg, July 15)
- The Democratic budget outline may include a partial expansion of the state and local income tax deduction (SALT), according to Sen. Bob Menendez of (D-NJ), a member of the Senate Finance Committee.
- “My understanding is there is a SALT provision in there that would provide relief,” Menendez told NJ Advance Media. (NJ.com, July 15)
- Since the SALT deduction was capped at $10,000 in the Republican Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, Democratic lawmakers from high-tax states have urged the inclusion of a SALT expansion in longer-term fiscal packages.
- Roundtable Senior Vice President & Counsel Ryan McCormick, bottom left in photo, participated in the Avison Young July 14 webinar "Proposed Federal Tax Policy Changes." Additional participants included Lisa Knee and Kenneth Weissenberg of Eisner Amper.
- Roundtable Senior Vice President Chip Rodgers participated in the Association of Foreign Investors in Real Estate July 13 webinar “Mid-Year Policy Update.” Additional participants included Elizabeth Espín Stern, Partner at Mayer Brown and Hope Goldman, Senior Associate at The Cohen Group. (Watch video after entering the password “AFIRE!!”)
- President Biden yesterday commented on the dual track approach in the Senate. “There may be some last-minute discussion as to what mechanism is used to pay for each of these items, both the infrastructure package and the human infrastructure package. But I believe we will get it done.” (White House transcript, July 15)
In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pledged that the chamber will not move forward until the Senate passes a budget setting up the $3.5 trillion social spending package. (The Mercury News, June 25 and Transcript of Pelosi Press Conference, June 24)
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Senate Committee Advances $100 Billion+ Energy Bill With Provisions Affecting Commercial Real Estate
The Senate Energy Committee this week passed a bill to authorize more than $100 billion in spending on U.S. energy infrastructure with provisions affecting commercial real estate. The bill may be folded into a larger bipartisan infrastructure package emerging on Capitol Hill. (CQ and Reuters, July 14)
A Bipartisan Influence
- The Energy Infrastructure Act, introduced by Committee Chairman Joe Manchin (D-WV), below, drew the support of all 10 Democrats and three Republicans on the panel. Manchin noted that the committee’s vote “is another critical step toward finalizing our bipartisan infrastructure package, and an important reminder that we can find sensible solutions to difficult problems when we put partisanship aside and work together.” (Manchin news release and committee meeting video, July 14)
- The bill includes provisions that would create an avenue for Congressional oversight to improve the Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) – the key data set collected by the federal government on the basic characteristics of U.S. commercial buildings and how much energy they consume.
- Improving the quality and integrity of CBECS data has long been a priority of The Roundtable’s Sustainability Policy Advisory Committee (SPAC) chaired by Tony Malkin (Chairman, President, and CEO, Empire State Realty Trust) , and Vice-Chaired by Dan Egan (Vornado Realty Trust) and Ben Myers (Boston Properties).
- “Reliable data from the federal government is crucial to help building owners do their part to address climate change,” said Roundtable President and CEO, Jeffrey DeBoer. “We applaud Chairman Manchin’s efforts through the Energy Infrastructure Act to modernize CBECS data so it reflects the substantial resources our members commit to optimize energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the built environment.”
- CBECS is managed by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). It provides the foundational data set used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to certify 1-100 ENERGY STAR scores that “label” top performing buildings for lower energy use and greenhouse gas emissions compared to typical buildings.
- According to EPA, 5.6 billion square feet of floor space are ENERGY STAR rated, and these certified assets command a premium up to 16% for sales prices and rental rates.
- Despite the critical importance of EIA’s CBECS data to EPA’s ENERGY STAR program, there is currently no requirement for the agencies to coordinate on how they use or verify data. Manchin’s bill would change this.
- It would require the agencies to submit to Congress an “information sharing agreement” that explains how EPA’s own vaster and more current set of building data (collected through its Portfolio Manager “energy benchmarking” tool) can be used to supplement CBECS data.
- Manchin’s bill would also require EIA to report to Congress on how it might publish CBECS data every three years – on a faster track than EIA’s current six-to-seven year survey cycle, which results in government and private sector reliance on outdated building information in rapidly evolving energy markets.
- The bill would also require the agencies to “cross-check” buildings’ energy consumption in different data sets to improve statistical reliability, and take steps to ensure that larger buildings (greater than 250,000 square feet) are fully represented in the federal CBECS set.
Investments in the Electric Grid, Code Implementation
- Other provisions in the Energy Infrastructure Act would:
- Provide federal grants to States and other entities to harden the electric grid and improve its resiliency to natural and cyber threats;
- Provide States with money to establish revolving loan funds for building audits and retrofit projects;
- Direct the Energy Department and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to develop model guidance for combined heat and power (CHP) systems to provide “backup” or “standby” power to the electric grid;
- Create an Energy Department grant program for code agencies, building associations, and other entities to improve implementation and compliance with building energy codes; and
- Trigger Davis-Bacon “prevailing wage” requirements for any projects or programs receiving federal dollars.
Language from the Senate Energy Committee’s bill might ultimately be incorporated into a larger infrastructure package expected to encompass transportation, electric vehicles, broadband, water, and sewer systems. [See Infrastructure story above]
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