A divided Congress grapples with rising gas prices, COVID relief and immigration

Lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill this week and were met with a growing list of legislative items to tackle. From funding for Ukraine to more COVID relief, there’s a lot they’re hoping to accomplish before the legislative calendar is upended by midterm elections. NewsHour congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill this week and were met with a growing list of legislative items to tackle. From funding for Ukraine to more COVID relief, there is a lot they're hoping to accomplish, as the political clock may be running out.

    For more on all this, I'm joined by our Lisa Desjardins.

    So, Lisa, a lot to look at. They are back in town. As we just heard from Diane Swonk, there is growing concern about the economy, about growth, about inflation. What does all this say about what Congress is looking at?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is a major issue for not just the country, but for Congress right now.

    The problem is, there isn't that much Congress can do to change the short-term economy or to address short-term prices. But, that said, Democrats want to let Americans know that they are paying attention, they're concerned.

    And, today, Democrats did unveil something that they're trying to do. Their idea coming out of the House is to tackle gas prices specifically. Don't have to tell our viewers that those gas prices went up 20 percent in just a few weeks in March.

    You look at the gas prices here, those are from California. Everywhere is different. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to move through with her counterpart in the Senate a bill that would deal with how oil and gas companies — what they charge. Basically, they accused them of price manipulation.

    Here's what Speaker Pelosi said today.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA):

    In this time of war, at any time, there's no excuse for big oil companies to profiteer, to price-gouge or exploit families.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    They want to give the federal government more power to look at how oil and gas companies operate, how — potentially penalize them.

    The problem is, Judy, that's another thing that would have a long-term effect, not a short-term effect. Pelosi is someone who does not want to change the gas tax, does not want to erase that.

    One other economic move we are watching, there's a bill about our competitiveness with China. The Senate just moved to go to conference. That means we're getting closer to perhaps seeing a final bill on that. It also deals with the CHIPS Act, which is a very important technological issue on semiconductors.

    But I think we're still weeks away from seeing where that goes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And then, in addition to all that, you have the request for Ukraine, which we have reported on, other urgent needs out there. We reported on the White House request today for $33 billion.

    What — where does all that stand?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    All right, I'm going to break this down quickly.

    And we did talk about this a bit yesterday, but more action was — came today. As our viewers may know, the president did announce he wants $33 billion, as we were talking about earlier in the program, for Ukraine. Now, here's the thing.

    Senator McConnell, the Republican leader, did say today that he is likely to support that, even though it's a very large number for Republicans. The problem, again, is that Democrats would also like to get the COVID funding bill, about $10 billion, through. McConnell is someone who is in the way of that right now.

    But the issue is that McConnell has not made a deal on these two issues coming together. Democrats have decisions to make. And I think a lot of this, we will understand more about in the month of May.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, Lisa, the Biden agenda overall, a number of things he talked about during the campaign last year, there's the thing that was originally called Build Back Better. What about all that?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So much to talk about here.

    So let me also try to guide this. We are still watching Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. And he is having talks with Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. They just talked on Monday. However, what Joe Manchin wants right now is a bill that is aimed at deficit reduction. He would increase corporate taxes, which is what a lot of Democrats want to do. But he would use half of that money to reduce the deficit.

    Sort of what he's saying, if you want my vote, this is what I — what I want in return. Now, Democrats could try and get some of that original — those original agenda items, maybe child care, maybe some health care provisions in that. But this is early days on that. And, really, it kind of is a longshot at this point on whether any version of Build Back Better remains.

    I think what I want to do, because this is so much, it sometimes hurts my own head to talk about all these things. I want to lay out for viewers the chances of survival of all these different issues that we're talking about.

    So we put together this graphic. This is talking about the path ahead for all the different issues that are on the table here. You see, first of all, on the left side, more likely, Ukraine funds. That is something that is more likely to get through Congress sometime in coming weeks and months.

    Now, sort of more in the middle, talking about COVID finds. That is a hot political issue right now. Republicans do not trust Democrats. There is politics involved. I do think, though, everyone realizes this country needs new COVID supplies.

    Now, in the middle, trickier, that China competitive spill and CHIPS. Very unclear to see where that heads. On the less likely end, the longshots, those include things that we were just talking about, the Manchin deficit bill, Build Back Better. There is also a potential climate bill that Joe Manchin and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are working on.

    I put those on the longshot kind of part of the spectrum. Another problem with all this, Judy, of course, as you said, the clock is running out.

    So let's take a quick look at the calendar for Congress up ahead. Here we are. Let's look at May and June. These are the weeks that both the House and Senate are in session, just five weeks. Why do these months matter? Because this is a midterm election year. July 4 is generally seen as the time when everything turns into the election year.

    This is a huge election year. Could lawmakers do something after September? Yes. But have they in recent years? No, they never have. And, also, occupying the calendar in May and June, January 6 hearings in the House.

    So there is not a lot of oxygen on Capitol Hill. They have a lot to do. There is not a lot of will — or there's not a lot of commonality, and a lot to do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And those January 6 hearings, we think, in the month of June.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes, my reporting, my sources tell me June, yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, you don't have enough to keep track of.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We will handle it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you very much.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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