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Taxes, cannabis banking, drug prices: What Senate Dem incumbents hope to tackle next

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In the runup to the 2022 midterm election, something crazy happened: Senate Democrats clinched a fistful of bipartisan bills, from microchips to clean energy to gun safety. That remarkably productive period undeniably boosted Senate Democratic incumbents heading into November.

These days, things are different. The House is Republican-controlled and famously dysfunctional, so no one is expecting another pre-election extravaganza. Nonetheless, Democratic incumbents are making a late-game push for new accomplishments — and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a former campaign arm chief, seems game.

Schumer vows that once Congress is done with its endless government funding saga (which could be as soon as next week), he will turn to that long-awaited list of bipartisan bills he told us he was eyeing last summer. He’s going to get a lot of input about what to put on the floor.

In interviews this week, Democrats sketched out their top priorities: The House-passed tax deal; a rail safety bill responding to the disaster in East Palestine, Ohio; cannabis banking legislation, a new farm bill, a package of community health center funding and action to lower drug prices; and a new FAA bill.

Some Democrats even want another try on the bipartisan border deal that Republicans blocked.

“If Republicans play it straight, we can do immigration, we can do the RECOUP Act [on executive accountability]. We can do [cannabis] banking, we can do the rail bill … and tax,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), one of the party’s most vulnerable senators facing voters this fall.

Brown added, with a friendly personal gibe, “If Republicans do it right, and you get another haircut, then we can do it.” (Note: This reporter did just get a haircut.)

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), another incumbent up for reelection this fall in a tough race, said “there’s no question” there’s a hunger to do more. But he and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who’s also in cycle this fall, both emphasized that the big laws from President Joe Biden’s first two years are still important to their constituents.

Chief among those earlier Biden-era laws: the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which continues to give senators the chance to roll out funding for big local projects. Those announcements, politically speaking, have just as much pop as newly passed legislation would.

For example, Baldwin teased that Biden will be in Milwaukee on Wednesday “to make a major announcement. It may be legislation that was passed years ago, but these are huge accomplishments.”

Back to Schumer’s next phase of the Senate agenda: The question remains whether the GOP will go along or filibuster anything major that Democrats want to do, even if there’s a Republican cosponsor attached. Some Republicans wonder why they would cut a deal with Democrats now when they think they’re likely to take back the Senate and the White House this fall.

“My sense is some people would like to delay this,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) of the tax deal. “I understand that position but I’d be in favor of doing it now.”

He also advised Schumer to take a chance with the rail bill despite unclear GOP support: “Put it on the floor and make people go on record.”

Given the tilt of the Senate map, Senate Republicans don’t have a ton of electoral incentive to pass legislation that helps Democrats in key states. Still, history is littered with the dashed hopes of lawmakers who blocked bills because they thought they could get a better deal later.

Even so, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) — yep, another vulnerable incumbent — warned that whatever gets done is not going to be as transformative as the bills passed in 2022.

“What we get done now isn’t about [going] to the people and saying ‘look what we’ve got done that’s that big.’ That cake has already been baked,” Tester said. “This is just getting shit done that needs to get done.”