A man walks past the United States Capitol as a government shutdown looms in Washington, September 30, 2021.
Lea Millis | Reuters
The flurry of activity in Congress is not going to end anytime soon.
Lawmakers spent their early fall jumping through high-stakes agenda items. The breakneck pace will continue over the next few months, and Washington’s ability to meet several upcoming deadlines could have implications for the country for years to come.
The first target arrives on Oct. 18, an estimated date when the United States will no longer be able to pay its bills unless Congress increases or suspends the debt ceiling, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Democratic leaders also want to pass both a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a broader plan to invest in the social safety net before major transport funding programs expire in late October.
In addition to the to-do list, Congress will need to act by December 3 to prevent a government shutdown.
Here’s what lies ahead as lawmakers try to beat looming deadlines.
Confronting the debt ceiling
Failure to address the debt ceiling by Congress could upend financial markets, increase the cost of borrowing, and increase the threat of a first U.S. default. This worst-case scenario could cost the country jobs and hurt the global economy.
While Yellen gave congressional leaders an estimated deadline of Oct. 18, she noted that the Treasury may lack the means to pay its bills before or after the date. How lawmakers will resolve the crisis is unclear.
Democrats have made several attempts to suspend the debt ceiling in recent weeks. Senate Republicans have thwarted all efforts to do so and will likely block an attempt this week by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., to approve a bill passed by the House to suspend the borrowing limit .
Republicans have argued Democrats should raise or suspend the cap themselves as they prepare to approve a massive bill to invest in the social safety net and climate policy. Democrats, including President Joe Biden, have argued that the GOP has taken a dangerous stance for political gain as the United States faces economic turmoil.
Failure to raise the debt ceiling would not only close the door to future spending, but also prevent the United States from paying its current obligations. Democrats have pointed out that Republicans have joined them in approving trillions of dollars in emergency coronavirus aid since the borrowing limit was last suspended in 2019.
Congress has raised or suspended the debt ceiling 78 times since 1960, according to the Treasury. While the loan limit processing has generally gone without incident, Republicans have used deadlines as political leverage more often over the past decade. As the midterms of 2022 approach, Republicans see handing over this task to Democrats as an opportunity to take over the House and Senate. As the midterms of 2022 approach, Republicans plan to give Democrats this task as part of their strategy to take over the House and Senate.
Democrats may have to raise the cap themselves through budget reconciliation, a process that allows them to approve legislation without a Republican vote in the Senate. Perhaps the party could do that in a bill separate from its current budget plan, which would invest in the social safety net and green energy.
Democrats are hoping Republicans will give ground as the Oct. 18 deadline approaches, but GOP leaders have given no indication they will change their stance.
Biden’s economic plans
Democrats set a target on Oct. 31 to push through both sides of Biden’s economic agenda. The date recognizes a tough deadline: Funding for some surface transportation programs would expire at the end of the month if Congress does not approve the infrastructure bill, which would refresh the money for five years.
Democratic leaders have recognized that they will need to jointly endorse the bipartisan plan and their broader budget proposal in order to pass them both. This means that the Oct. 31 deadline for the House to go ahead with the Senate infrastructure bill is also the goal for both chambers to approve most of Biden’s agenda.
Biden and congressional leaders more explicitly linked the two plans after House progressives said they would not vote for infrastructure legislation until the social spending bill passed by the Senate. The party is expected to strike a deal and draft final legislation in the coming days to pass the deadline.
Democrats are doing well in trying to craft a plan that the more conservative and liberal members of their party will support. They will likely have to cut the $ 3.5 trillion price originally offered for the bill.
Progressives already saw this figure as a compromise. Senator Joe Manchin, DW.V., has said he will not support an investment of more than $ 1.5 trillion.
Democrats will need all 50 members of their Senate caucus to pass a bill. They seem to be running out of at least two votes: Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.
Biden, who planned to sell his economic plans to Michigan on Tuesday, had separate talks with centrists and progressives in the House this week.
The success of the negotiations will determine whether Congress can pass both a transportation, broadband, and utility refresh, and what could be the biggest expansion of federal benefits in decades.
The infrastructure plan includes more than $ 500 billion in new spending on roads, bridges, airports, public transportation, broadband, water pipes and the power grid, among other measures. Biden and congressional leaders see it as complementary to their larger proposal.
Budget legislation as originally proposed would make child care more affordable, expand paid time off, and lower the age of Medicare eligibility while adding dental, vision and hearing coverage to the government program. It would establish a universal pre-K, make two years of community college free, and extend a more generous child tax credit created as part of the coronavirus assistance program Democrats adopted this year.
This would offset the spending by raising taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans, among other revenue measures. The party will likely have to cut parts of the plan to convince Manchin and other lawmakers who have called for cutting the price by $ 3.5 trillion.
If the social spending law is not passed, Democrats will face other deadlines to renew their priorities. For example, the popular expansion of the child tax credit will not be available until tax year 2021.
The closure is looming … again
Congress narrowly beat a deadline of late September to prevent a government shutdown. Lawmakers have not given themselves much time to have to act again.
A bill signed by Biden last week funds the government until December 3. Congress will have about two months to agree and pass a longer term supply bill.
Completing a financing plan on time is not a certainty. As Democrats prepare to raise or suspend the debt ceiling and embrace both elements of Biden’s economic plan, the coming weeks will be filled with activity.
As the debt containment process shows, the mid-term 2022 approach also increases the incentive for political struggles in Congress over generally mundane issues.
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