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Michigan Congressional Democrats Work to Push Social Policies

Several of the state’s Democratic Congress members are working to advance policies such as child care, Medicaid expansion, nutrition assistance, electric vehicle charging and more as a part of the proposed $3.5T budget reconciliation.

(TNS) — Michigan Democrats in Congress are working to get their policy priorities into the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill that committees are debating starting this week.

Their wish list items for the social policy and climate change legislation range from child care assistance to PFAS-free firefighter gear to expanded Medicaid home health care and nutrition assistance.

Many of the lawmakers support dedicating millions more dollars to beef up funding for electric vehicle charging stations — seen as key to transitioning more consumers to EVs — as well as some of the package's top-line items, including universal prekindergarten, paid family and medical leave, and expanding Medicare to include dental, vision and hearing benefits.

"This really is about making sure that all American families have a fair shot, to be able to take care of their families and get ahead," Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a member of the Senate leadership, told reporters on a Wednesday call. "That's what this fight fundamentally is about."

Several Democratic-led House committees began marking up their portions of the bill text on Thursday. Debate in some panels is expected to run into the middle of next week.

The Democrats intend to pass the package using a procedure called budget reconciliation, whose rules let them to pass the bill with a simple majority in the Senate instead of the 60 votes required to advance most bills.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Wednesday that his caucus would move "full speed ahead" despite a warning from West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a critical Democratic vote, calling for a " strategic pause" and raising concerns about the cost.

"We are moving forward on this bill," Schumer said.

Republicans are largely opposed to the legislation, blasting it as a partisan exercise that could drive up prices and hurt the nation's economic recovery from the pandemic.

"This bill puts Washington's addiction to spending on full display," said Brian Patrick, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R- Holland. "This partisan bill will cause inflation to rise even higher, eliminate Michigan jobs and shrink paychecks."

"Worse, Republicans have essentially no seat at the table as Democrats attempt to ram this thing through via reconciliation," said Billy Fuerst, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R- St. Joseph.

That doesn't mean that some Republicans won't attempt to alter or add to the bill to improve it. That includes an amendment offered Thursday by U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer, R- Grand Rapids Township, during debate in the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

It would devote $150 million for a new Manufacturing USA Institute focused on semiconductor manufacturing under the umbrella of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Stabenow stressed the work of the Agriculture Committee that she chairs on child nutrition, saying her panel has worked closely with the House and the White House to craft legislation that will extend EBT benefits to cover the cost of lunches for children throughout the summer.

"We're going to see really, really positive things for children both for healthy food in the summer, as well as throughout the school year," she said.

Stabenow is also pushing to make community mental health and addiction treatment programs piloted in Michigan available in all states and for expanded clean energy tax credits that would provide funding for a tax credit for manufacturers to build or retool facilities to make emissions-reducing technology.

"We will see something significant happen in terms of reducing pollution and emissions," she said in an interview. "The great news for us is that it involves manufacturing, and it involves creating jobs. So Michigan will be a big winner of anything we do."

Sen. Gary Peters, D- Bloomfield Township, is pushing to include his bill to create a $5 billion program within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to fund neighborhood revitalization projects, including new affordable housing.

The second-term senator is also seeking more resources to address port congestion, strengthen the supply chain, fund research and development for small and mid-sized manufacturers, increase resiliency to flooding and storms, and improve cybersecurity defenses at the state and local level. Peters chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

"The Build Back Better bill is an important opportunity to make overdue and smart investments that will create good-paying jobs and expand economic opportunity for Michiganders," Peters said in a statement.

"That's why I'm working to secure resources to bolster domestic manufacturing and our supply chains, invest in economic engines like our Great Lakes ports, and increase access to affordable housing in communities that have been left behind."

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D- Flint Township, serves on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and said he secured in the bill's text $5 billion over five years for Trade Adjustment Assistance for communities hurt by international competition, which would allow local governments to access funding within a trade assistance program that currently helps workers, companies and farmers.

"What it would do is identify those communities that are chronically hit by trade impacts. A rising tide does not lift all boats when it comes to trade," Kildee said.

Communities could choose how they use the funds to fit their needs. For example, it could go to economic development programs, cleaning up brownfield sites or establishing career training programs.

Kildee also worked to include $80 million in the package for grants for local fire departments to replace gear and foam with products that are free of toxic per- and polyfluorinated chemicals, or PFAS.

He said blood tests have shown that firefighters have higher levels of PFAS chemicals in their blood than the general population because of exposure to firefighting foam and protective gear made with PFAS.

U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D- Bloomfield Township, pressed for the Education and Labor Committee to add into the bill enforcement language from the PRO Act, including civil penalties for employers who misclassify employees or engage in union "busting" activities such as lockouts.

The bill incorporated parts of Levin's America's College Promise Act that would provide federal aid to states to waive tuition and fees for two years of community and technical college programs.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D- Dearborn, is advocating for leaders to include her $400 billion legislation to expand home and community-based care for Medicaid and ensure that caregivers in the program receive better wages.

This issue is a personal one for Dingell, who helped care for her husband, the late Rep. John Dingell, and arranged home care for him when she couldn't be there.

Discussions are ongoing among the House, Senate and White House on the level of funding for the provision, which is based on a bill that Dingell introduced this year with Sen. Bob Casey, D- Pennsylvania.

Dingell and Rep. Yvette D. Clarke of New York this summer pressed for $85 billion to build out an EV charging network, rather than the $7.5 billion passed by the Senate in its traditional infrastructure bill this summer.

Dingell's other priorities include a national green bank known as the Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator to spur the financing of renewable energy and emissions reduction projects.

Dingell and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D- Detroit, have also pressed for leaders to incorporate their proposal for a permanent water assistance program for low-income households through the Environmental Protection Agency that would allow for access to affordable drinking and wastewater services.

In addition, Tlaib and U.S. Reps. Elissa Slotkin, D- Holly, both signed onto a letter this week urging Democratic leaders to craft a child care policy with specific elements, including coverage through elementary school, capping out-of-pocket costs at 7 percent of income and eliminating "burdensome" administrative hurdles such as work requirements.

"The fastest way to get more parents — especially women — back into the workforce is by expanding child care access to more working families," Slotkin tweeted.

The office of U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D- Southfield, said her priorities in the bill include electrifying the U.S. Postal Service fleet and fixing waste water systems to help combat the storms and flooding that Southeast Michigan has recently seen.

Lawrence is also pressing for provisions to fund replacement of lead service lines and elements of her WATER Act to boost access to clean, affordable drinking water, a spokesman said. That bill is co-sponsored by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee.

(c)2021 The Detroit News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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