By Meghan Castellano & Danielle Owen
Read this blog from The Corps Network’s Government Relations Team on what recent updates from Washington mean for the Service and Conservation Corps community.
- In the weeks leading up to the midterm elections, pollsters predicted that Republicans were poised for a historic win. Typically, the midterm elections serve as a referendum on the party that holds the White House, with the party in control of the executive branch losing seats in Congress. As the results started coming in, there were several key races that were too close to call.
- Democrats maintained control of the Senate, holding 50 seats including flipping one seat in Pennsylvania with the election of Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman. If Democrats maintain Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock’s seat in Georgia they will have 51 seats in the Senate. Since neither Georgia Senate candidate, Senator Warnock and Republican candidate Hershel Walker, was able to pass 50% of the vote threshold, there will be a runoff election on December 6.
House of Representatives
- On the evening of November 16, after almost a week of ballot counting, the Republican Party officially retook the U.S. House of Representatives when they reached the needed 218 Congressional Districts won. This means we face a divided Congress in 2023 and 2024. It will be difficult for any legislation that is not “must pass” to work its way through Congress. The House Republicans will likely attempt to attach aspects of their policy agenda to “must pass” legislation, such as annual appropriations bills.
- Both parties in both chambers have begun the process of electing their Leadership for the upcoming 118th Congress. They will also decide who the various Committee Chairs and Ranking Members will be for the respective parties.
- House Republicans began their leadership elections the week of November 14. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was elected to be the party’s nominee for Speaker by a vote of 188 to 31. Rep. McCarthy should win the position of Speaker of the House in January, but he cannot lose too many votes from his Caucus. House Democrats planned to wait until after Thanksgiving to hold their leadership elections. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced they will remain in Congress, but they will not seek leadership positions. Democratic Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) will also remain in Congress, but he announced that he will seek the Leadership position of Assistant Democratic Leader.
- In the Senate, Republicans held their leadership election on November 16. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will continue leading Senate Republicans. Senate Democrats will hold their leadership elections on December 8. During the weekly Senate Democratic lunch on November 16, it was reported that Leader Schumer announced that he will nominate Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) to be Senate president pro tempore. This position, currently held by the retiring Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), presides over the Senate in the absence of the Vice President. If chosen Senator Murray would be third in line to the Presidency, after the Vice President and the Speaker of the House. She would also be the first woman to hold this position. Senator Schumer (D-NY) is expected to continue in the position of Democratic Leader.
- This election made clear that a generational shift has significantly impacted America’s political landscape as Generation Z becomes old enough to vote. Gen-Z voters have shown that climate change is a priority. Polling suggests that climate change is one of the top three issues that young people say they care about.
- The divided Congress next year will mean President Biden will have a far more difficult time advancing his policy agenda, including climate actions. Given that neither party will hold a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate, which is needed to overcome a filibuster, nothing significant will become law without compromise in the House and the Senate.
Fiscal Year 2023 Appropriations
- Both the House and the Senate voted in favor of passing a stopgap funding bill to keep the government open through December 16. This Continuing Resolution (CR) will temporarily keep the government funded at Fiscal Year 2022 levels. While funding bills typically originate in the House, the Senate decided to take up the CR first this time because Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) agreed to allow Senator Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) energy permitting legislation to be included in the CR in exchange for his support of the Inflation Reduction Act. Republicans and Democrats in both chambers pushed back on this legislation. Ultimately, Senator Manchin agreed to take out his permitting legislation from the CR so it could move forward in the Senate, on to the House, and to the President’s desk for his signature to avoid a government shutdown.
- Now that Congress has returned after midterm elections, lawmakers will have to address Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) appropriations. While the House has passed six of twelve FY23 spending bills and the Senate Appropriations Committee released drafts of all twelve of their bills, Congress was unable to pass a full FY23 spending package. Before the end of the year, lawmakers will either need to approve a full-year omnibus spending package or pass another short-term spending measure, which could extend into the 118th Congress. With Republicans winning control of the House for this next Congress, they could be unmotivated to go along with any Democratic plans to pass an omnibus spending package before the end of the year, recognizing greater negotiating power is waiting ahead in 2023.
Reconciliation Legislation (Inflation Reduction Act)
- While the reconciliation text was being voted on in the Senate, Leader Schumer discouraged members of the Senate Democratic Caucus from introducing amendments. Since this legislation went through the reconciliation process, approved amendments could potentially bring the entire legislation down. Several Senate Republicans introduced amendments that they knew would be hard for Democrats to vote against but due to this process they did. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced four amendments as messages, one of which included funding the Civilian Climate Corps (CCC). Unfortunately, due to the process for passing reconciliation legislation, the amendment failed 98-1.
- After more than a year, the budget reconciliation process was completed when President Biden signed R. 5376, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 into law. This bill devotes around $369 billion to clean energy and climate change programs. Unfortunately, the bill does not contain any funding at the Department of Labor or AmeriCorps. The bill does contain a significant amount of potential project funding for Corps.
- Linked here is potential project funding for Corps. Below are examples:
- State and Private Forestry Conservation Programs – $1.5 billion will be made at the Department of Agriculture to provide multiyear, programmatic, competitive grants to a State agency, a local governmental entity, an agency or governmental entity of the District of Columbia, an Indian Tribe, or a nonprofit organization through the Urban and Community Forestry Assistance program for tree planting and related activities, with a priority for projects that benefit underserved populations and areas. Since the Inflation Reduction Act was signed into law relatively recently, the implementation plan for these funds is still in the works. There will be opportunities to go through states that requested urban priority funds through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
- Environmental and Climate Justice Block Grants – $2.8 billion will be made available through 2026 at the Environmental Protection Agency to award grants for:
- Community led air and other pollution monitoring
- Investments in low- and zero-emission and resilient technologies
- Workforce development to reduce greenhouse gas
- Mitigating climate risks
- Climate resiliency and adaptation
- Reducing indoor air pollutions
- Engagement with disadvantaged communities.
- This funding will begin to be allocated in February 2023. Partnerships between a Tribe, local government, or an institution of higher education and a community based nonprofit organization, non-profit organizations, or a group of nonprofit organizations are eligible to apply.
- National Parks and Public Lands Conservation and Resilience – $250 million will be made available at the National Parks Service and Bureau of Land Management to carry out conservation and land resiliency projects on federal land. These funds will remain available through 2031.
United We Stand Summit
On September 15, President Biden held a “United We Stand” summit in which he sought to address the hate-filled violence in our country and the ways in which Americans can come together to overcome it. During his speech, President Biden discussed how national service can bridge the divides in our country and he called for the AmeriCorps living allowance to be raised to $15 an hour by Fiscal Year 2025. This event was followed a few days later with a briefing by Michael Smith, CEO of AmeriCorps called “United We Serve.” He laid out AmeriCorps’ involvement in this Biden Administration initiative and reiterated the President’s call for Congress to raise the AmeriCorps living allowance to $15 an hour. CEO Smith shared that the agency would be looking at the model that is currently being used by FEMA Corps and the Public Health AmeriCorps with the CDC on how AmeriCorps can work with other federal departments on national service. They are going to work with the Peace Corps on trainings focused on bridge building that can be provided to AmeriCorps programs. AmeriCorps will also be working with the federal Office of Personnel Management on pathways into federal careers after a term of service in AmeriCorps.
September PLSC Roundtable
In mid-September, in follow up to The Corps Network’s March 2022 Climate Action Summit, TCN held small informal meetings with several Corps directors and career staff from the federal lands management agencies, AmeriCorps and staff from the National Park Foundation. Federal partners in attendance included representatives from AmeriCorps, BLM, BOR, BIA, DOI, NOAA, NPS, USDA, and the USFS. The focus of those meetings was on Public Lands Corps match, the agreements process, career pathways, recruitment, and a living wage for Corpsmembers. Each of these agencies expressed a commitment to working with TCN and the Corps community on the challenges we are experiencing. During the second day of this three-day event, staff from all the various agencies were in the room at the same time, giving all our federal partners the opportunity to hear the issues being discussed as well as allow people from different agencies to share ideas on how to solve these problems. These meetings were a good way for Corps to engage with the various agencies and keep conversations moving forward. After the event TCN’s GR Team compiled action items from these meetings and have since reached out to the various agencies to follow up about next steps.