The young administration’s agenda — detailed in 2021’s first presidential address to a joint session of Congress — dominated the news out of the nation’s capital this week. The Senate was in session and the House was engaged in the first of two consecutive committee work weeks set to continue through May 7. Here’s how Colorado’s D.C. delegation kept busy:
COUNTING THE DAYS … Joe Biden marked his 100th day in office on April 28 with a speech to a sparsely filled House chamber, due to COVID-19 precautions. More conversational than oratorical, the president’s delivery was a nod to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the transformative Democrat’s fireside chats, the same way its timing evoked FDR’s frantic pace out of the gate, aimed to compare Biden’s response to the pandemic and a stunned economy with FDR tackling the Great Depression.
Four Coloradans were among the 100 senators and House members who got tickets to the speech — Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet, John Hickenlooper and Rep. Joe Neguse and Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert — but everyone in the delegation watched it and reacted.
Distant are the days when Coloradan Mark Udall led the charge for senators and House members to set aside their colors, forget about the aisle and sit together at a presidential address, like nearly all of the state delegation did in 2012 for Barack Obama’s State of the Union. The exception that year was Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn, who skipped the speech entirely to express his disapproval of the Democrat in the White House.
This year, without exception, the state’s delegation hewed to party lines, with Democrats cheering and Republicans jeering.
“The president’s message to the American people tonight is precisely the leadership we need at this critical moment,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, whose sentiment was echoed across the board by the other Democrats.
SOUR NOTE … “My reaction to the speech can be summed up in four words: I miss President Trump,” said Boebert, who also accused Biden of “spewing hateful, partisan rhetoric” and mouthing “empty platitudes.”
During the speech, Boebert tweeted a steady stream of denunciations and later slammed Biden for his attracting far fewer viewers than Trump did for his joint addresses. She also drew the spotlight by unfurling a Mylar blanket while Biden was talking to call attention to the crush of immigrants at the southern border.
Meanwhile, a sizable majority of voters back home hold favorable views of Biden and unfavorable views of Trump, according to new polling released this week by Democratic firms Keating Research, OnSight Public Affairs and Mike Melanson. The KOM poll also found two-thirds of Colorado Republicans believe the 2020 election was “stolen” from Trump, echoing claims made by many top state Republicans.
LEGACY ACHIEVEMENT? … If it seems like Michael Bennet is talking a lot lately about the expanded child tax credit he’s been pushing for years, it’s because he has been — it’s that big, say Democrats who predict the policy will slash childhood poverty when it starts to take effect this summer.
“This is a transformative change,” said New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker in a virtual press conference on April 27 with lawmakers who want to make the credit permanent, including Bennet and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who called it “the biggest victory for working families” in decades.
In a nutshell, the measure increases the existing $2,000-per-child tax credit to $3,000 for ages 6-17 and $3,600 for children 5 and younger — adding 17-year-olds to the pot — and makes it fully refundable, meaning it’ll go to families who don’t make enough money to qualify for the current credit. It’ll also be paid out monthly, starting in July, instead of just at tax time.
All told, it’s expected to cut poverty among American children nearly in half in one year, with outsized effects among Hispanic, Black and Native American families. In Colorado, that means lifting 57,000 children out of poverty and sending payments to almost 350,000 children who weren’t getting the payment under the old law.
So far, it’s in place for just one year, under the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed by Biden in March, but the administration has proposed extending it for four more years as part of the new $1.8 trillion American Families Plan unveiled this week.
Bennet and his allies — including 40 Democratic senators and a cadre of key House Democrats — say that isn’t good enough and want the provision made permanent.
THE AYES HAVE IT … Legislation with Colorado connections involving methane emission passed the Senate and a key House committee this week.
On April 28, the Senate voted 52-42 to reverse the Trump Administration’s weakening of Obama administration rules to curb the powerful greenhouse gas, modeled on rules first adopted in Colorado when Hickenlooper was governor.
“Gov. Hickenlooper worked by bringing environmentalists and industry leaders together and crafted a policy that reflected the consensus in my state around climate change,” Bennet said on the Senate floor before the vote.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because it was a signature talking point to demonstrate Hickenlooper’s collaborative approach to solving problems during the former barkeep’s brief 2020 presidential run and on the Senate campaign trail last year.
The only “get everyone to sit down together” Hickenlooper anecdote that might have gotten more of a workout on the stump was the one about the time he brought dozens of previously hostile metro-area mayors together to get behind FasTracks, the light- and commuter-rail expansion approved by voters in 2004.
• The same day as the Senate voted, the House Natural Resources Committee voted 24-19 to pass DeGette-sponsored legislation to require oil and gas drillers on public lands to capture nearly all of the methane they produce.
“If we’re going to be serious about staving off the worst effects of this climate change, we’re going to have to get serious about cutting the amount of methane that’s being released into the atmosphere,” DeGette said during the hearing.
• On April 29, the Senate voted 89-2 to pass legislation that includes a provision from Bennet’s RESILIENT Act to require federal outreach to rural communities about financing and funding options for water infrastructure.
“Rural communities across the nation face many of the same challenges as larger communities, but often with fewer staff and resources,” Bennet said in a statement. “This provision will help ensure that local leaders have information on federal funding and financing options, so they can pursue the water infrastructure projects that fit their needs.”
The two senators who voted against the bill were Republicans Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah. Senate Bill 914, the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021, heads to the House for action.
MR. CHAIRMAN … Neguse wielded the virtual gavel on April 29 for an oversight hearing on wildfires by the House Natural Resource Committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, which he chairs.
“Colorado’s record-breaking wildfire season in 2020 has only highlighted the urgent need to invest in wildfire resiliency and recovery and equip our wildland firefighters as they work to protect our communities,” said Neguse, who also co-chairs the bipartisan Wildfire Caucus.
Pointing to Colorado’s smoky summer last year, when the state faced its three largest wildfires on record, and touting his 21st Century Civilian Climate Corps proposal — included in Biden’s massive infrastructure package — Neguse said the hearing was meant to bring together “individuals on the frontlines of these wildfires” to “discuss opportunities for community collaboration, climate resilience and workforce capacity.”
Witnesses included Courtney Schultz, an associate professor of Forest & Natural Resource Policy at Colorado State University and director of the Public Lands Policy Group at CSU; Beverly Law, an emeritus professor of Global Change Biology & Terrestrial Systems Science at Oregon State University; and Riva Duncan, executive secretary of Grassroots Wildland Firefighters and a retired U.S. Forest Service firefighter.