On the Hill: A Look Back at 2021 and Expectations for the Remainder of the 117th Congress

By Hanna Stark posted 01-12-2022 16:11


As we enter 2022 and the second half of the 117th Congress, it is important to note the preservation accomplishments of the past year and the federal preservation priorities that still need to be addressed. This year marks a crucial midterm election year where both the House and Senate will look to advance legislation of great importance to the preservation community.

Historic Tax Credit Enhancements

Throughout 2021 the National Trust for Historic Preservation advocated for enhancements to the Federal Historic Tax credit (HTC). In Spring 2021, the Historic Tax Credit Growth and Opportunity Act (HTC-GO) (H.R. 2294/S. 2266) was introduced in the House by Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Darin LaHood (R-IL), Brian Higgins (D-NY), and Terri Sewell (D-AL) and in the Senate by Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Susan Collins (R-ME). The legislation builds on past bipartisan support for the HTC and would improve access to the credit, enhance investment opportunities for smaller rehabilitation projects, and— in the House version of the legislation—includes temporary provisions to bring relief to projects impacted by the pandemic. To build support for HTC-GO, the National Trust developed extensive advocacy materials and continues to encourage Members of Congress to update this successful redevelopment tool.

A view looking up at the Capitol Building from one of the many approaches. There is snow on the bushes and the ground. January 2022
View of the Capitol after a snowstorm in January 2022. Credit: Architect of the Capitol

This work became especially important in connection to the Biden Administration’s multi-trillion-dollar “human” infrastructure legislation, commonly referred to as the Build Back Better (BBB) bill. It is anticipated the bill will utilize the budget reconciliation process to bypass the Senate filibuster, allowing the bill to pass the Senate with a simple majority vote. Over the summer, the National Trust advocated for the inclusion of HTC-GO provisions as part of the BBB. In September, the preservation community was extremely encouraged to see all the HTC-GO provisions included in the language adopted by the House Ways and Means Committee for the BBB legislation. 

Unfortunately, overall spending for the BBB legislation was reduced from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion, and the HTC provisions were dropped from the legislation that ultimately passed the House (H.R. 5376). To improve the possibility of adding HTC provisions back into the BBB legislation in the Senate, the National Trust organized a national sign-on letter sent to Congressional leadership in early December. The letter garnered nearly 4,200 signatories and demonstrated widespread support for improving and modernizing the HTC.

As Senate negotiations intensified before the holidays, longtime historic preservation champion, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) issued a call to action urging HTC supporters to reach out to their senators. Negotiations in the Senate eventually stalled, however, when Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), a key centrist Democrat, announced he would not support the BBB legislation in its current form. While Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was pushing for a vote on BBB before the holiday recess, negotiations will resume in the New Year. Democratic leaders must now develop a revised BBB bill that satisfies both wings of the Democratic Caucus. Senator Schumer has stated he still intends to bring the BBB legislation to the Senate floor for a vote in early 2022. 

The inclusion of the HTC provisions in the initial BBB drafting by the House tax-writing committee is a significant advocacy accomplishment and puts the HTC in a good position for future negotiations. The National Trust will continue to urge Members of Congress to support HTC-GO and its inclusion in tax legislation moving through Congress.  

Historic Preservation Fund Funding in FY22 and FY23

For fiscal year 2022 (FY22), the National Trust recommended fully funding the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF) at its authorized amount of $150 million in its third annual appropriations request report and in formal testimony presented to the House Appropriations Committee’s Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee on April 16, 2021.

While far from complete, the FY22 appropriations process is signaling significant support for the HPF. The president’s FY22 budget request ($151.8 million), the House Interior Appropriations bill (H.R. 4502) ($155.8 million), and text released by the Senate Appropriations Committee ($180.7 million) all exceed last year’s enacted level of $144 million and are well above the HPF’s authorized level of $150 million.

Without a bipartisan agreement on overall spending levels for FY22, however, it is unclear if this unprecedented support for the HPF will materialize. Congress had already passed two short-term measures to fund the government this fall, referred to as continuing resolutions (CR). The second CR extended FY21 funding levels through February 18, 2022— almost halfway through FY22.

Appropriators in the House and Senate are working to break the funding stalemate and make progress on full-year funding bills. Without a breakthrough, there is the possibility that Congress will be forced to fund the entire fiscal year through additional continuing resolutions, which would mean continuing to fund the HPF at last year’s enacted level. The National Trust is urging to support the record funding levels for the Historic Preservation Fund as appropriators negotiate the final FY22 spending bill. Congress to support the record funding levels for the Historic Preservation Fund as appropriators negotiate the final FY22 spending bill.

Strong support of the HPF by the Administration and Congress suggests a higher authorized funding level is warranted. With funding authorization for the HPF set to expire in 2023, the time is right for Congressional leaders to be thinking about the future of the HPF and its role in protecting our nation’s historic resources. In July, the House passed Representative Teresa Leger Fernandez’s (D-NM) amendment to the INVEST in America Act (H.R. 3684), which would permanently authorize the Historic Preservation Fund and increase its authorization level from $150 million to $300 million. The National Trust and preservation partners will draw on the growing support for the HPF by the Administration and Congress when formulating FY23 funding requests in the coming weeks.

Public Lands Legislative Priorities Continue to Advance

In July, the National Trust shared an update on the substantial progress made by the 117th Congress on legislative preservation priorities related to public lands policy issues, and that momentum continued into the fall.

Bipartisan and bicameral legislation that would tell a more complete story of the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education continued to receive strong support and advance through the legislative process. The Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site Expansion Act (H.R. 920/S. 270), led by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC) and Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), would establish National Park Service Affiliated Areas in Delaware, Washington D.C., and Virginia communities and expand the existing Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site to include related sites in South Carolina.

Following reintroduction and after gaining the support of the full House and Senate delegations representing these communities, the House and Senate bills each had successful congressional hearings in their respective communities, and at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee markup session on November 18, S. 270 passed unanimously by voice vote.

In partnership with the offices of Majority Whip Clyburn and Senator Coons, the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund will continue its multi-year effort working with local and national partners to tell a more complete story of the ongoing struggle for educational equity. In addition to viewing the Brown v. Board webinar series, you can help sustain momentum on the legislation by sending a letter to your members of Congress asking them to support the House and Senate bills.

In the latter half of 2021, other bills endorsed by the National Trust achieved additional milestones in their path towards enactment:

  • Route 66 National Historic Trail Designation Act (R. 3600) – would designate Route 66 as a National Historic Trail. After reintroduction at the beginning of the summer, the bipartisan bill led by Representatives Darin LaHood (R-IL) and Grace Napolitano (D-CA) had back-to-back weeks of legislative activity, with a House Natural Resources Committee hearing and markup session held in short succession in November. This bill provides an opportunity to secure preservation and protection for Route 66, the most culturally celebrated and internationally recognized stretch of highway in America. You can share your support for this iconic transportation corridor by adding your name to a petition with more than 64,000 signers who support the preservation of Route 66;
  • New Philadelphia National Historical Park Act (R. 820 / S. 3141) – would establish an NPS unit for New Philadelphia in Illinois. Founded in 1836 by Frank McWorter, New Philadelphia is a National Historic Landmark and is the first town known to be platted and legally registered by an African American prior to the Civil War. The legislative proposal received additional support with the introduction of a Senate companion bill by Senator Durbin (D-IL) in November; and
  • Amache National Historic Site Act (R. 2497 /S. 1284) – would create a National Historic Site in Colorado honoring over 7,500 individuals of Japanese descent unjustly and forcibly incarcerated during World War II. This legislation, highlighted at PastForward 2021, passed the House by a vote of 416-2 on July 29 and was also approved unanimously by voice vote in the November 18 Senate committee markup session.

With extensive legislative progress on each of these bills, and the many others the National Trust is engaged on alongside our partners and congressional champions, we eagerly await future House and Senate activity on these priority issues in the coming weeks and months. While the exact scenario remains to be seen, the National Trust is hopeful that one or more of these policy issues will reach the House or Senate floor and take additional steps towards enactment.

The Legacy of Emmett Till and Mamie Till Mobley

The National Trust continues advocacy and support for historic sites telling the story of Emmett Till and Mamie Till Mobley. The gruesome murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955—one of the most shocking racial hate crimes in American history—and the subsequent open-casket funeral and trial became a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. His mother, Mamie Till Mobley, played a crucial and courageous role, demanding her son’s body be returned to Chicago and displayed in an open casket at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ to lay bare the realities of white supremacy, anti-Black racism, and violence.

Legislation (S. 795) that would establish the Emmett Till, Mamie Till Mobley, and Roberts Temple National Historic Site in Chicago was introduced by Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) on March 17, and we encourage you to further engage in this campaign by signing the petition.

The National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund has joined with local and national partners to document and preserve sites connected to this crucial history. To learn more about these stories, you may be interested in the six-part limited series "Women of the Movement" that began airing on ABC (streaming on Hulu) on January 6, which shares the story and impact of the lives of Emmett Till and Mamie Till Mobley.

As the National Trust and our partners continue to advocate for these priorities, thank you for your continued engagement. We encourage you to take advantage of our free advocacy resources on many of these topics. To stay current as these bills and issues move forward, please subscribe to the government relations advocacy newsletter.

Hanna Stark is the policy and communications coordinator at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.