Congress is back, and it’s going to be busy. House lawmakers returned today, which means both houses of Congress are sitting for the first time since July. They have a bunch of interconnected issues to deal with over the next few days.
Let’s start with the big picture: Right now, the Democrats’ efforts to pass their $ 3.5 trillion budget reconciliation plan and implement the bulk of President Biden’s economic agenda look like a chaotic mess. But as we head into the final days of September – and the final 10 days of the fiscal year – lawmakers may have more pressing issues to worry about, such as government funding to prevent a shutdown and suspension of law. federal debt limit to prevent a convulsive global economy.
Democrats are playing hard on the debt limit: Democratic leaders said Monday they would include a suspension of the debt limit until December 2022 – along with emergency disaster relief and funding to help resettle Afghan evacuees – as part of legislation to provide interim funding to the federal government until the end of this year. .
By tying the debt limit to the funding bill, which will require bipartisan support to pass the Senate, Democrats hope to force Republicans to step aside in a chicken game over the government’s borrowing power.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a joint statement Monday that they believed the suspension of the debt limit until next year would explain the debt added by a bipartisan $ 908 billion Covid relief bill. promulgated by President Trump last December.
âThe American people expect our fellow Republicans to take responsibility and pay off the debts they proudly helped incur in the December 2020 COVID ‘908’ package that helped American families and small businesses to recover from the COVID crisis, âPelosi and Schumer mentioned. âStraightening the debt limit is about meeting obligations the government has already taken on, like December’s bipartisan COVID emergency relief legislation as well as life-saving payments to Social Security recipients and our veterans. Moreover, as the administration warned last week, a forced reckless default by Republicans could plunge the country into a recession. “
Republicans have insisted for months that they won’t help raise the debt ceiling, and certainly not while Democrats pursue a partisan agenda of spending and tax increases. “Senate Republicans would support a clean, ongoing resolution that includes appropriate disaster relief and targeted aid to Afghans,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday. “We will not support legislation that increases the debt ceiling.”
McConnell has signaled that he will not move on the issue. “Do you think I’m bluffing?” He asked Punchbowl News last week.
Democrats may not expect McConnell to back down. Even if they try to squeeze Republicans with this latest move, they would also be privately discussing options to extend the debt limit without GOP support. “Well, at the end of the day they’ll have to vote for this or we’ll have to vote and do it ourselves,” House Budget Committee chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY) told MSNBC on Sunday. âWe can do it through reconciliation. The leaders said they didn’t want to do this. The reason is that if we are proceeding by reconciliation, we need to specify a number. It only leads to further chaos within a certain period of time. “
The reconciliation bill will not be ready by next week: On the budget bill, House committees last week met Pelosi’s September 15 deadline to send their parts of the package to the budget committee. But Punchbowl News reports that the Budget Committee will not mark the package this week, making it official that the legislation will not be ready for full House consideration next week.
Instead, Democrats will continue to debate the details of their bill as they try to find a way through both the House and the Senate. âThe process is now moving to the back rooms as the sausage is made,â Cowen Washington Research Group analyst Chris Krueger told clients Monday morning, adding that all Beltway players would watch and would analyze the comments of Sense. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT). âAdverbs, adjectives and anecdotes will be the coins of the kingdom for weeks to come, as everyone will be looking for clues as to what is in the note and what is out. Great.”
A pair of top House Democrats, Yarmuth and Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, acknowledged on Sunday that the $ 3.5 trillion package would likely be cut.
Bipartite bill on the infrastructure in question: Democrats were probably never going to be able to speed up their budget reconciliation plan by the end of the month, but the timing of this legislation calls into question whether Pelosi will allow a September 27 floor vote on the bill bipartite on infrastructure adopted by the Senate. Pelosi had agreed to a vote on that date as part of a deal she struck last month with moderate Democrats threatening to derail the larger budget package. Democratic leaders had sought to tie the two laws together so that progressives support the infrastructure bill favored by moderates and moderates support the welfare agenda that progressives seek. Pelosi will now have to decide whether to allow voting on infrastructure before the reconciliation package is ready. Yarmuth said on Sunday that while the vote would likely take place in October, Pelosi could retain some leverage by not sending it to Biden immediately.
Sinema issues an ultimatum: Sinema reportedly told President Joe Biden last week that if the House delays its vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, or if the vote fails, it will not support a reconciliation plan.
Other moderate Democrats take the same position. “If they delay the vote – or if it drops – then I think you can say goodbye to reconciliation,” Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) told the Politico Playbook. “Reconciliation would be dead.”
Democrats Still Clash Over Health Care: Sinema also told the White House that she opposed the prescription drug price proposals in bills being drafted in both the House and the Senate, according to Politico (which also notes that the Arizona senator has been a major recipient of pharmaceutical industry campaign donations, according to Kaiser Health News analysis earlier this year).
Sinema is not the only Democrat to challenge the party’s health care reform proposals. A number of other lawmakers are also opposing a proposal that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with drug companies and index prices to those paid by other developed countries – changes that would save money. hundreds of billions of dollars, which party leaders had envisioned to help fund the expansion. other advantages.
As moderates and progressives continue to argue over the size and scope of their reconciliation plan, healthcare remains a key sticking point, as Jonathan Weisman and Sheryl Gay Stolberg report to The New York Times:
âSouthern Democrats, in particular, are urging their leaders to prioritize insurance coverage for 4.4 million working poor across the 12 states, mostly in the South, with Republican or divided leaders who have refused to ‘expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. But the Progressives, led by Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent and former presidential candidate, are determined to provide older Americans with dental, hearing and vision coverage. â¦ Some Democrats, moreover, say Congress should not reward states that have refused to expand Medicaid by creating a separate, fully federally funded insurance program for their working poor. Under the Affordable Care Act, states that extend Medicaid pay 10% of the cost. “
Manchin wants a break: The centrist West Virginia senator tells people Congress should take a “strategic break” – until next year – before taking the $ 3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package, reports Hans Nichols of Axios. Manchin, who has said he will only support a package of up to $ 1.5 trillion and has expressed concerns about specific parts of the Democratic plan, pitched the idea of ââa “strategic pause” in an editorial for the Wall Street Journal earlier this month but did not specify the length of the delay at the time.
Other Democrats fear any break could threaten the prospects for passage of the reconciliation bill – and the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Senate parliamentarian rejects Democrats’ immigration plan: In another blow to Democrats’ reconciliation plans, Senatorial MP Elizabeth MacDonough said in a decision released Sunday evening that the package cannot include the party’s plan to pave the way for citizenship for millions of people. undocumented immigrants. The parliamentarian’s office said the proposed immigration changes represented “a policy change that significantly outweighed the budgetary impact of this change” and therefore were not admissible under Senate reconciliation rules. .
The bottom line: The next 10 days are going to be loooooong.