Washington’s Daytime Emmy–Winning Legislative Summer Drama

Nothing conjures up childhood summer memories quite like soap operas. Growing up, I would join my grandmother in front of the TV late morning until mid-afternoon to watch her “stories.” As a kid, I didn’t see the appeal, but as an adult, I recognize there is plenty to love — outrageous storylines, backstabbing “frenemies,” intriguing cliffhangers and intrafamilial drama.

If this all sounds eerily familiar, that’s because Capitol Hill has a lot in common with our favorite daytime soaps. So, as we kickstart summer in Washington, here are the stories – and bills – I am watching over the coming weeks and months. I can’t wait to see how the plots unfold.

Days of Our Lives

Like sand through the hourglass, so are government funding lapses and legislative authorization expirations. The days of congressional staffs’ lives are filled with this steamy, sordid hotbed of passionate “to-do’s” every year. Funding and program deadlines typically drive action so let’s see how Congress will contend with these quickly-approaching deadlines:

  • June 30: Trade Promotion Authority and Trade Adjustment Assistance
  • July 31: Debt limit suspension
  • September 30: Fiscal 2021 funding, including surface transportation authorization; National Flood Insurance Program
  • December 31: Tax provisions, including expanded earned income tax credit and child tax credit; energy and mortgage insurance tax extenders

The Bold and the Beautiful

Earlier this season, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) assumed the Senate’s starring role as Majority Leader. Since then, we have heard the Leader utter the word “bold” more than once in his press conferences referencing the Democrats’ agenda. His caucus had big ideas coming into the 117th Congress, but we’re at a cliffhanger over whether these legislative priorities move in any “beautiful” way. As we inch closer to the August recess, plenty of suspense surrounds these bold initiatives that have passed the House but remain paralyzed in the Senate:

  • LGBTQ Rights (H.R. 5 Equality Act)
  • Immigration (H.R. 6 American Dream and Promise Act)
  • Guns (H.R. 8 Bipartisan Background Checks Act)
  • Police Reform (H.R. 1280 George Floyd Justice in Policing Act)

Guiding Light

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been a guiding light to Senate Republicans for more than three decades. Could it be a coincidence that this daytime soap is the second-longest-running drama (57 years) in American television history? McConnell’s message discipline and steadfast, strategic tactics are legendary. Last month he said, “One hundred percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration,” and, by extension, congressional Democrats. Some may say this approach is villainous, but my bet is the GOP Senate Leader will receive a Daytime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Political Maneuvering on the issues of infrastructure, tax, and election reform.

The Young and the Restless v. One Life to Live

What screams (literally) soap opera more than a shocking display of family conflict? Washington is glued to the cringeworthy episode currently taking place within both parties and both chambers. The Young and the Restless (aka progressive Democrats) are aggressively pushing leadership to adopt its all-or-nothing approach: eliminate the filibuster to enact major legislation on climate change, voting rights, collective bargaining and minimum wage, to name a few. Meanwhile, a simmering tension remains within the GOP where party members have One Life to Live, or at least one election cycle. Do they move on from the divisive rhetoric of the past four years or continue to embrace its grip over the party? The resentment, grievances and undermining are plentiful at the family dinner table.

As the World Turns

Fresh off a seemingly successful jaunt through Europe, President Biden will turn to Congress to continue the international drumbeat to counter China’s rising dominance and reclaim America’s multilateral accolades. Greeting him at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue are issues including the ongoing Iran nuclear negotiations and rejoining the World Health Organization, the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Human Rights Council. Look for action on these bills to keep up the momentum:

  • China Competition (S. 1260 U.S. Innovation and Competition Act of 2021)
  • The National Defense Authorization Act (not yet introduced)
  • War Powers (H.R. 256 Repeal the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002; S.J. Res 10 joint resolution to repeal the authorizations for use of military force against Iraq)

All My Children

The pandemic put a direct spotlight on childcare and education, illuminating their necessity but also a host of inequities. There is a bipartisan desire to address these challenges; lawmakers did support these critical issues in various COVID-19 spending bills. But there is a sustained disagreement on whether such provisions also should be folded into a broader infrastructure package. Regardless, these less controversial bills may see movement in the coming months:

  • School Diversity (H.R. 729 The Strength in Diversity Act)
  • Higher Education (H.R. 2037, S.864 Jumpstart Our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act of 2021)
  • Child Nutrition Act (not yet introduced)

General Hospital

Americans are ready to bid the pandemic “buh-bye,” but government agencies still are grappling with allocating massive COVID-19 federal aid, and Congress is keen on ensuring the rescue dollars do not fall victim to waste, fraud and abuse. While this drama is playing out, so, too, is the debate over the cost of prescription drugs and the country’s capacity to respond to the next health crisis. The following bills have enjoyed support on both sides of the aisle, and there is cautious optimism they will get over the finish line before the end of the year:  

  • Drug Pricing (H.R. 2139, S.908 Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Act)
  • Global Heath (H.R. 391 The Global Health Security Act)
  • Telehealth (S. 1512 Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) Act of 2021)

As the outside temperature rises in Washington, you can escape the heat in front of the TV as I did during those hot summers in my home state of Mississippi. Or you can tune in to Capitol Hill for the best in political intrigue, drama and plot twists. Either way, stay cool and enjoy the stories!

Shellie Purvis is a managing director at Cogent Strategies where she keenly navigates domestic federal funding legislation for clients and provides guidance on international relations. For Shellie’s complete bio, click here.