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March 13, 2021

County’s congressional members tackle wide variety of issues

Credit: The Frederick News-Post, Ryan Marshall

With the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump finished and the latest COVID-19 relief bill passed and signed, Frederick County’s federal lawmakers are turning their attention to other legislative priorities.

Infrastructure, voting rights and criminal justice reform — and how to get them through the House and especially the U.S. Senate — are a few of the items Sens. Ben Cardin (D) and Chris Van Hollen (D) and Congressmen Jamie Raskin (D) and David Trone (D) plan to focus on for the remainder of the two-year legislative session that began in January.

President Joseph Biden (D) signed the American Rescue Plan pandemic relief package on Thursday, clearing the first major priority of the congressional session from lawmakers’ desks.

After working on the rescue plan, Trone said he’ll continue his work fighting the opioid epidemic and trying to help ease the damage that the COVID-19 pandemic has done in the addiction and mental health communities.

“There will not be a vaccine for this addiction,” Trone said.

He’ll also work with Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and other lawmakers in the House and Senate on the Second Chance Act, a multifaceted bill that would reform things such as sentencing requirements, mandatory minimum sentences and sentences of life without parole, among other issues.

He plans to use his seat on the House Appropriations Committee and its Military Construction, Veteran’s Affairs, and Related Agencies Subcommittee to advocate for Fort Detrick, as well as the more than 40,000 veterans in the Sixth Congressional District.

Raskin served as the lead House manager in Trump’s impeachment trial then focused on helping with the $1.9 trillion rescue plan, which he said “basically, finally deals with the crisis in its full magnitude.”

The House is expected to begin work in the next few weeks on H.B. 1, a collection of bills designed to strengthen voting rights and security.

The package has several of his bills in it, Raskin said, including one that would help prevent the influence of foreign money in U.S. elections.

He also supports an aspect of the bill that would eliminate gerrymandering of congressional districts by setting up independent redistricting commissions rather than having legislatures design the districts as is done in many states.

Cardin said the Senate won’t be able to take up the House bill as one package, and its various parts will have to be handled as separate pieces.

Another key priority for Cardin will be supporting Biden’s “Build Back Better” infrastructure plan, which covers topics including transportation, water, broadband and energy projects.

He’ll also work on providing money for Fort Detrick in the federal budget, gun safety, immigration, justice in policing and providing help for small businesses.

Van Hollen, along with Trone and others, said he hopes to work on building out broadband capacity in rural areas to help allow students connect to high-speed internet service.

He also hopes to highlight the work being done at Fort Detrick and said he and Cardin spoke with Brig. Gen. Michael Talley of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command recently about the importance of stable funding for the base.

Elsewhere, Van Hollen said he’s focused on measures moving through the Senate, including modernizing the country’s infrastructure such as roads, bridges, schools and water and sewer systems, updating the electrical grid to deal with climate change and finding more money for public transit.

In order to help Senate Democrats pass their agenda, Cardin and Van Hollen may have to help decide the future of the chamber’s filibuster rule in which senators can hold up consideration of a bill unless 60 of them vote to end debate.

Both Cardin and Van Hollen support changing the rules of the filibuster rather than ending it completely.

Cardin said the Senate should allow bills that come out of the committee that drafted them to come out without a filibuster.

He also supports ending the practice known as “holds,” which allows an individual senator to obstruct a bill.

The Senate can design a filibuster process that allows for strenuous debate without allowing the current level of gridlock, Van Hollen said.

He said Congress’ upper chamber is already an anti-democratic institution that gives small states the same representation as those with many more voters, and a filibuster rule that allows 41 of 100 senators to kill a bill only adds to that anti-majoritarian tilt.

Senators who want to filibuster a bill should have to stand up and physically hold the floor through continuous speaking, he said, rather than the current practice that simply requires them to notify leadership that they plan to filibuster.

Once a filibuster ends, there should be a specified period of debate, followed by a vote decided by a simple majority, Van Hollen said.

“The burden should be on those that want to stop a majority from doing something,” he said.