House Democrats focus on votes on 'cannabis and cats' instead of coronavirus relief

Several provisions from legislation passed earlier to address coronavirus relief are set to expire at the end of December. Lawmakers in both parties want to pass additional coronavirus relief, though they don’t seem to be putting pressure on Speaker of the House Pelosi to get back to the negotiating table and work out legislation with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. So, this week, absent any major legislation being ready for votes, the House is taking up decriminalizing marijuana and a ban on breeding and private ownership of big cats. Priorities.

Congress is focusing on negotiating a government funding deal as it has a deadline of December 11 to pass a bill to fund the government and avoid a shutdown. It has not yet been determined whether bipartisan consensus can be reached to enact any additional COVID-19 relief before the year’s end.

Appropriators are hoping to reach agreement as soon as this week on an omnibus measure with new fiscal 2021 spending policy to avoid the need for another continuing resolution extending fiscal 2020 provisions.

The leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations committees reached agreement last week on how to divvy up about $1.4 trillion in discretionary spending for fiscal 2021 that is allowed under a two-year budget deal. Setting spending allocations for the 12 appropriations bills is just the first step in negotiating an omnibus package, and appropriators still have to work through several policy differences between the House and Senate spending bills.

In other words, Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer want a bill that is big enough to include bail-outs for cities and states burdened with large debt (mostly Democrat areas) and Republicans Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell are taking a hard pass on that. Rank and file members of the House are encouraging Pelosi to take a smaller package and work on getting more later. Now that the election is over, perhaps Pelosi will stop preening and delaying negotiations to deny the Trump administration’s ability to get a deal going.

Democrats in House leadership pushed back a vote on legalizing marijuana until after the November 3 election. They know that even if it passes in the House, there is no way a Republican-controlled Senate will pass the legislation. If Democrats win the two Georgia run-offs, calculations by supporters will change.

The measure is not on track to become law this year because it lacks support in the Republican-controlled Senate, and some analysts also are downbeat on its prospects next year, when the 117th Congress convenes.

“We subscribe to the view that pressure will build on Congress to address cannabis especially as more states act to legalize it for recreational and/or medical use; however, we do not expect this pressure to result in federal legislation during the 117th Congress,” said analysts at Height Capital Markets in a note on Tuesday.

“We will revise our odds should Democrats win the Georgia runoff elections and gain control of the Senate.”

Height’s team said Republicans “enjoy a distinct advantage in the Georgia Senate runoff elections and are likely to maintain control of the Senate,” and that contributes to their view that during the 117th Congress the “odds of cannabis legislation becoming law” stand at “less than 25%.”

The bill is known as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. A vote is expected on Thursday or Friday. It will likely pass in the House as there is little likelihood it would pass in the Senate. There is little change that those voting in favor of it would reap repercussions from constituents opposed to legalizing marijuana.

Rep. Steve Scalise, the House Republican Whip, voiced his irritation on the House priorities this week.

The MORE Act is a 2019 proposed piece of U.S. federal legislation that would deschedule cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and enact various criminal and social justice reforms related to cannabis, including the expungement of prior convictions. Rep. Ilhan Omar is all for it.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act is scheduled for a vote Thursday. It revises requirements governing the trade of big cats ( species of lion, tiger, leopard, cheetah, jaguar, or cougar, or any hybrids). Specifically, it revises restrictions on the possession and exhibition of big cats, including restricting direct contact between the public and big cats. If you watched The Tiger King on Netflix, you know what is going on here.

Carole Baskin, the owner of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida, who was featured in the series, has lobbied for passage of legislation for years. Her rescue website says the bill would “address two of the biggest sources of abuse of big cats by ending owning big cats as pets and stopping exploitative roadside zoos from offering cub petting and photo ops.”

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy sums this week up well – “cannabis and cats”.