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An ambitious Senate agenda — if the GOP will help

Federal agencies are funded through September. The must-pass agenda is winnowing down. And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants to pivot to a flurry of bipartisan legislation he first laid out last summer.

Schumer says he wants to take swings at Big Tech, enact banking reforms and shore up the nation’s railroad safety standards, among other ambitious projects.

Of course, success is far from certain. And it’ll be nothing like the first two years of Joe Biden’s presidency in a Democrat-run Washington. The 117th Congress saw a historically productive Senate craft and pass several landmark bipartisan bills that were signed into law — often with the help of GOP leaders. This time around, with an eye on the Senate majority, Republicans are much less likely to help Democrats deliver results they can tout in November.

So it’s unclear whether much of this agenda can garner 60 votes in the Senate, let alone clear a GOP-run House beset by infighting and dysfunction. In the months since Schumer first laid out those priorities, the House dumped two major cross-party bills on his plate — a tax package and a TikTok bill — that could make for a fascinating pre-election streak of bipartisan legislating.

Political benefits: Another important element of Schumer’s legislative calculus is the fact that some of these bipartisan bills could serve to boost Democratic incumbents in tough races this year. Looking at you, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)!

And, as is the case with pretty much anything in the Senate, the process will matter a whole lot. It takes a week to pass anything without unanimous consent, and Republicans could put up a fight on amendments. And leadership is already urging Republicans to stick together in opposition to things like the tax bill. That doesn’t mean Schumer won’t hold “show” votes, of course.

But while it’s rare to secure standalone votes — Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) has been trying to do this with his credit card competition bill — it’s not impossible. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) just did it with a bill to reauthorize a compensation program for radiation victims, which passed the Senate easily.

Alternatively, some proposals could be attached to another legislative vehicle. Both chambers will need to address the April and May deadlines for FISA and the FAA reauthorization, respectively, at some point.

In addition, Congress is going to have to pass a bill to fund the rebuilding of the Francis Scott Key Bridge. We noted in the Midday edition Tuesday that, in 2007, Washington moved to approve $250 million to rebuild the I-35W bridge in Minnesota just days after its collapse. This will be something the Hill has to reckon with.

Let’s get into it.

Wyden-Smith tax bill: This measure passed the House in a massive bipartisan vote but is on the verge of collapse in the Senate. Republican leaders are vowing to stop the effort in its tracks, even privately encouraging members to filibuster it if Schumer brings it up.

Some Republicans believe they’ll have a better shot at addressing tax policy next year when the Trump tax cuts expire and they could have the Senate majority. Others have suggested quite openly that it wouldn’t make sense to give Biden a win this close to the election.

There is modest GOP support in the Senate, especially with the expansion of the child tax credit. This is something that could also help in-cycle Democrats. But if the bill lacks the requisite 60 votes, it’s hard to see Schumer holding a show vote on this one.

Rail safety: Legislation boosting railway safety standards after the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment cleared the Senate Commerce Committee nearly a year ago.

Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) has been working to secure enough GOP support for the bill, but Republican leaders oppose it. Vance and his allies believe the votes are there. But whether this could pass the House is an open question.

Kids’ online safety: Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) have been spearheading this effort, which has more than 60 co-sponsors. Schumer has said he wants to take action on it.

But cracking down on big tech hasn’t always been Congress’ strong suit. Speaking of…

TikTok: Like the tax bill, legislation forcing TikTok to divest from its Chinese parent company passed the House with a big bipartisan margin.

To be sure, the TikTok bill isn’t in as much danger as the tax bill is in the Senate. But as we’ve reported, there are differences of opinion among top Democrats that could ultimately prevent it from moving forward in its current form. Plus, the jury’s still out on whether this effort carries any political benefits.

Banking Committee action: The Senate Banking Committee has cleared two bipartisan bills that could potentially see floor action. The first is the SAFER Banking Act, which is intended to help state-legal cannabis businesses access the banking system. It cleared the panel on a 14-9 vote.

The other is the RECOUP Act, which deals with bank executive clawbacks and other accountability standards. This passed the committee on a 21-2 vote.

— Andrew Desiderio

Presented by AARP

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We’ve made it our business to know what matters to people 50 and over—like we know that protecting Social Security and supporting family caregivers are among their top priorities. Learn more from our polling in Pennsylvania.

Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.