(Bloomberg) — A banking bill for cannabis businesses. “Junk fee” curbs. Insulin price cuts. The US Congress is bitterly divided, but in these niche areas, there is hope for compromise.
Most Read from Bloomberg
It’s a far cry from the sweeping infrastructure and climate legislation Democrats passed when they controlled the House, Senate and the White House or the deficit-cutting grand bargain Republicans hope for this year. But many of these bipartisan efforts would have far-reaching effects on markets, business and consumers.
Here are the ideas getting early attention on Capitol Hill this year:
An effort to provide legal protections for banking services for state-authorized marijuana businesses didn’t quite get across the finish line last year, but has already been the focus of bipartisan discussions with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer taking a leading role. Notably, a version passed the House in 2021 with the support of a narrow majority of Republicans, including now-Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Schumer’s challenge will come from progressive Democrats like Cory Booker, who have sought broader legislation, while maintaining an appeal to Republicans.
Extending the new $35-a-month insulin price cap from Medicare to other health plans — a proposal Joe Biden reiterated in his State of the Union — has been opposed in the past by the GOP, but there are bipartisan efforts in the Senate, where Susan Collins and Josh Hawley are among the Republicans who have proposed versions of a price cap. Shrinking payments to pharmacy benefit managers and tweaking patent laws in an effort to lower drug prices have also been discussed by senators in both parties, as well as bolstering rural health care.
The White House and lawmakers in both parties have been sparring in a political blame game over the Norfolk Southern Corp. train derailment and the emergency response in East Palestine, Ohio. But legislation could ensue. Republican Representative Bill Johnson told Bloomberg Television Thursday that a House subcommittee will analyze the derailment and look at what needs to be done “to stop something like this happening again,” while the Biden administration has also called for legislation to improve the safety of trains, especially when they are carrying hazardous materials.
Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell is among the Senate Democrats who want to write bipartisan legislation on what Biden has called “junk fees.” The idea is to make the pricing of products like airline tickets more transparent and less aggravating for consumers, although ranking Republican Ted Cruz is wary of Democratic moves to re-regulate the airlines. Republican John Hoeven, however, said he sees making airline travel better at the top of the list of bipartisan possibilities. Other areas Biden talked about regulating are fees for concert tickets and sporting events, resort fees at hotels and termination fees for assorted telecom services. Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, meanwhile, wants to require companies to notify consumers before charging them automatic subscription renewals.
Senators in both parties have expressed support in the Judiciary Committee to pass legislation protecting children online, with Chair Dick Durbin predicting they can reach an agreement. Antitrust legislation aimed at several large tech companies was backed by both the House and Senate Judiciary committees last year but never got a floor vote amid fierce industry opposition. Biden called for passing tech antitrust legislation in his address.
Senate Energy Chair Joe Manchin and House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers are among the lawmakers who want to streamline federal permitting reviews that routinely snarl big projects. Speeding permits for oil and gas production, pipelines, renewable projects, grid connections, and mines for critical minerals has bipartisan support. Manchin’s effort narrowly failed last year amid a backlash from Republicans unhappy with his support for Democrats’ broader Inflation Reduction Act.
Cruz is among the senators hoping to get a deal to free up more airwaves for wireless communications via spectrum auctions. This typically bipartisan exercise tends to get cast as businesses getting more bandwidth and the government getting billions of dollars in revenue without a tax increase.
Bipartisan legislation would eliminate the gap in sentences between crack and powder cocaine. A bill sponsored by the new Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries passed the House in the past Congress with strong bipartisan support — including from McCarthy — before bogging down in the Senate, where Booker has the lead.
There are assorted efforts to ban ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok or otherwise address suspicions about Chinese surveillance, which have only grown in the wake of the Chinese balloon flight over the US. McCarthy has also made countering China a top priority, with a new select committee and a pledge that it would be a bipartisan effort.
There has been a lot of early, bipartisan talk of regulating cryptocurrencies in the wake of assorted multibillion-dollar disasters. It’s still not clear, however, how to mesh the views of crypto skeptics like Senate Banking Chair Sherrod Brown with crypto supporters in both parties to yield a law providing clear lines of oversight.
Crafting bipartisan action to bolster affordable housing is another priority for Brown this year as well as ranking Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina. At a recent hearing, Scott called for “encouraging private investment in the housing sector and eliminating unnecessary barriers that artificially restrict supply,” rather than spending more. Brown bemoaned rising rents, a shortage of homes to buy and higher interest rates putting homeownership out of reach for many.
Expiring authorizations and appropriations will provide opportunities for legislation even if other efforts fail. A Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, the annual appropriations and defense bills and renewing agriculture and nutrition subsidies are among key items.
Difficult issues like climate, immigration and Social Security have also been the subject of bipartisan talks but face very long odds. Some senators in each party are discussing enacting border carbon adjustments to bolster US industry against higher-polluting competitors in China and other places in concert with the European Union. On immigration, key Senate Republicans are waiting to see what, if anything, the House can pass first. And while both parties have taken Social Security off the table for budget talks, some senators are discussing creating a fund to invest in the stock market — like most pension funds do — in hopes of improving returns.
–With assistance from Billy House and Alexander Ruoff.
(Updates with rail safety item in sixth paragraph)
Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek
©2023 Bloomberg LP