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Week In Politics: Jan 6 Commission, Infrastructure Bill, Biden's New Budget Proposal


Capitol Hill's often likened to a glacier because you have to stare an awfully long time to see any movement. A commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection - most Senate Republicans won't even talk about it. The infrastructure bill - maybe next month. We're joined now by NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Ron, 70% of the - of Senate Republicans voted to block even a debate on a bill that would establish a bipartisan - meaning both parties - commission to investigate the attack on the chamber in which they worked, which Capitol Hill security defended at risk to their own lives. Why not even a debate?

ELVING: Indeed, why? The way the modern filibuster works is not like the movies. They don't act it out, hash it out on the floor for days and weeks on end. In fact, it's a prevention of any formal consideration of the bill at all. And we saw that here. Six Republicans did vote to support an independent commission. Nine other Republicans did not vote. And the other 35 just said no. So even when you added in the Democrats, there were 54 votes to proceed. And given the Senate rules, that bipartisan majority lost. And that left moderate Republicans feeling quite isolated, indeed. Here's Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski talking to reporters on Thursday.


LISA MURKOWSKI: To be making a decision for the short-term political gain at the expense of understanding and acknowledging what was in front of us on January 6 - I think we need to look at that critically. Is that really what this is about, is everything is just one election cycle after another?

ELVING: So, yes. Let's be frank. If you are Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, this is about one election cycle after another. He made that very clear in pressuring the party members in the Senate. Getting to the bottom of what happened on January 6 might well cast the former president in a bad light. And at a minimum, it would make conservatives argue with each other. And for McConnell, job one is keeping his party more or less united for the 2022 midterm elections and 2024.

SIMON: Ron, I have a feeling Congress couldn't agree on chocolate chip cookies right now. Is there anything they could agree on?

ELVING: Well, yes. There's the China bill, which is about competing more vigorously with that country. We're talking semiconductor production, research in energy and computers and defense and other critical arenas of competition. There's been real negotiation and true bipartisan cooperation on this, and final approval on that bill seemed within reach early Friday, and it should get done in June.

SIMON: And, Ron, I seem to recall this week that my first words from the crib were, what about an infrastructure bill? Are we close to an infrastructure bill?

ELVING: I think we can all relate. This has traditionally been a place where the parties cooperated. Everyone wants roads and bridges for the folks back home. So you will probably see still a trillion-dollar package with lots of those roads and bridges and some other things. But Biden will have to come back later to get his electric vehicle charging stations and other means of making the future possible.

SIMON: And President Biden yesterday proposed a $6 trillion budget for the next fiscal year - of course, begins in October. That almost makes a $2 trillion infrastructure bill petite. How's this being received? Does it have a chance?

ELVING: Presidential budgets are largely wish lists and negotiating positions, really. Congress has its own budget process and its own committees that actually write the bills that release the dollars from the Treasury. But the Biden budget is an important statement. It says this president wants the government to do more, that it needs to do more and to tax certain people more in order to do it. The spending numbers are records. The deficit numbers would be, too. We've been doing those kinds of records all the way back to Ronald Reagan in 1980. The difference is this budget is trying to restore some of the safety net the Reagan budget shrank and some of the progressivity in taxation that Reagan eliminated in the 1980s. So you can see why it will be a big budget fight this year.

SIMON: Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.