The first week of March will be a big one in the House as Democratic leaders bring two top party priorities to the floor: a government overhaul measure given the coveted bill number HR 1 and legislation named after George Floyd that would overhaul policing laws.
Both bills will be on the floor the week of March 1, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer announced in a “Dear Colleague” letter Tuesday. The House passed both measures last Congress, but legislation not signed into law expires at the end of each Congress and thus the House begins the process again.
HR 1, which contains changes to campaign finance, voting and ethics laws, was the first big bill Democrats passed in 2019 after their return to the House majority.
Not a single Democrat opposed HR 1 last Congress, but they knew it was just a messaging bill that would never pass the then Republican-controlled Senate or get support from then-President Donald Trump.
This Congress, the House has Democratic partners to advance their agenda with the party narrowly controlling the Senate and President Joe Biden in the White House. But that makes the vote counting for HR 1 and other party priorities more difficult as the House — where Democrats have a narrow majority with 221 seats — considers how to transform bills written largely for aspirational, messaging purposes into legislation that can become law.
Instead of starting the 117th Congress again with HR 1, House Democrats, following Biden’s priority, opted to make another coronavirus relief package their top legislative push.
Coronavirus bill late next week
The $1.9 trillion relief measure, which is moving under the budget reconciliation process to allow for a simple majority vote in the Senate, is set to come to the House floor late next week.
To accommodate the time it will take to prepare the reconciliation package for floor action, Hoyer has adjusted the House schedule for next week, switching from a Monday-through-Thursday work week to a Tuesday-through-Friday session that could extend into the weekend.
"Members should be aware that the House may need to remain in session through the weekend next week to complete consideration of the American Rescue Plan," Hoyer wrote in the "Dear Colleague" letter.
Before the vote on the reconciliation package, the House will spend the earlier part of next week considering a wilderness package and the so-called Equality Act, which would broaden the definition of protected classes to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
Despite being prioritized behind other bills, HR 1 is still on track to get a floor vote before it did at this point in 2019, on March 8. Before turning to their agenda that year, House Democrats had to wrestle with the Trump administration over spending matters at the start of the Congress to end a government shutdown that started in 2018.
Overhaul bill a ‘centerpiece’
Hoyer in his letter called HR 1 "the centerpiece of Democrats’ agenda to make government more transparent and accountable to the people it serves. "
The policing overhaul's early placement on the schedule reflects Democrats' commitment to prioritizing racial equality issues. It was crafted last summer amid civil rights protests across the country after Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police.
The original version of the bill named after Floyd sought to ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants and institute other accountability measures in police departments across the country through the use of federal grant incentives and restrictions. It passed late last June on a 236-181 vote, with three Republicans supporting it.
Hoyer has reserved time the week of March 8 for the House to consider the coronavirus relief package again should the Senate send an amended version back.
Since the measure is moving under budget reconciliation, several provisions in the House version of the bill may not survive the Senate's strict rules for reconciliation. The House has sought input from the Senate parliamentarian ahead of its floor vote next week to avoid any surprises.
Hoyer said he would share further information about the schedule for the week of March 8 with members as it approaches, while noting, "The House will address additional legislation relating to challenges long overdue for Congressional action. "