Cannabis News of Note for the Week:
Punchbowl News: What else can Schumer do? (newsletter from 8/7, text below)
Cannabis Reports of Note for the Week:
Monday, August 7, 2023 — Andrew Desiderio
The Senate will be busy this fall with must-pass legislation, from appropriations to FAA reauthorization to the farm bill. But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says he wants to do more than just the bare minimum during the home stretch of 2023.
Schumer has been banging the drum on a variety of bipartisan initiatives — some that already have enough buy-in across the aisle, and others that don’t. Of course, Schumer will need cooperation from Senate Republicans in order to move anything, and that’s not a given.
Plus Congress will be busy in September trying to avoid a government shutdown when lawmakers return early next month. The Senate will need several days to process any continuing resolution.
And Schumer has a growing crisis on his hands when it comes to Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) blockade of military promotions. Some Democrats want Schumer to use floor time to move high-profile nominations if Tuberville doesn’t relent soon. There are no indications that Tuberville is even close to backing off, and just this weekend the Alabama Republican Party passed a resolution backing his blockade.
An equally important part of this process is House Republicans’ willingness — or lack thereof — to engage on legislation that falls outside the “must-pass” category.
So in addition to the dearth of floor time in both chambers, it’s not clear that Speaker Kevin McCarthy has any interest in bipartisan legislating.
McCarthy didn’t support much of the bipartisan legislation that came out of the Senate during the first two years of Joe Biden’s presidency. Now that he’s speaker, putting these bills on the floor could risk splitting his conference. McCarthy may decide he has enough on his hands just trying to keep the government open.
With all of those caveats, we wanted to do a status update on some of the bipartisan measures that Schumer outlined in a “Dear Colleague” letter last month. It’s worth noting that the Senate has already passed some of what Schumer mentioned in that letter — most notably, a bill to crack down on fentanyl trafficking. This was added to the annual defense authorization bill in July.
Railway safety: The dangerous train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, six months ago brought Sens. Sherrod Brown(D-Ohio) and J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) together on a bipartisan bill aimed at bolstering railway safety. The Commerce Committee passed the measure in May.
A handful of Donald Trump-aligned conservatives have signed onto the effort, but party leaders on both sides believe the legislation in its current form lacks enough GOP support to clear the 60-vote threshold.
The problem for most Republicans is that the bill goes too far in imposing new regulations on the industry. Vance may have his work cut out for him here.
Bank executive clawbacks: On a near-unanimous vote, the Senate Banking Committee approved legislation that would allow financial regulators to claw back executives’ pay when a bank fails.
There’s little doubt that the full Senate would likely approve this measure overwhelmingly. But in the House, there’s not much urgency around the issue, even as the banking crisis from earlier this year remains a priority for many on the Hill.
Cannabis banking: This has been a years-long push by a surprisingly eclectic group of senators, including Schumer and Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) — the NRSC chair whose goal for the next 15 months is to dethrone Schumer as majority leader.
The legislation, known as SAFE Banking, would allow cannabis companies to do business with federally regulated banks.
But senators from both parties have reported very little progress on the issue in recent weeks. Brown, who chairs the Banking Committee, has said it’s up to Daines to help deliver some additional GOP sponsors.
The challenge for Daines is that Democrats are trying to expand the legislation to address expungements for non-violent cannabis-related crimes. This makes the effort a tougher pill to swallow for some Republicans.
Insulin and prescription drugs: Schumer has long said he wants to cobble together a comprehensive drug-pricing bill this year, and there are two bipartisan duos competing on a major aspect of the initiative.
Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) have proposed legislation that would cap insulin prices for Americans with diabetes at $35. There’s a separate but similar proposal from Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and John Kennedy (R-La.).
There’s enough appetite from other Senate Republicans that this could feasibly get to 60 votes at some point. Senators from both parties are already in agreement on efforts to reform the practices of pharmacy benefit managers, including the chair and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, who released their own legislation on the matter.
As is the case with Schumer’s other bipartisan objectives, success or failure will ultimately come down to floor time and McCarthy’s eagerness to take up Senate-passed legislation.
“We’re making progress in a whole lot of these,” an optimistic Schumer said at a news conference before the recess. “And I think you’re going to find a very, very productive fall in the Senate.”
Also: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared at Kentucky’s annual Fancy Farm picnic on Saturday and declared that it “won’t be my last,” noting he has attended the confab for 28 years straight.