After Thanksgiving, Congress has a busy December

Members of Congress at home for the Thanksgiving vacation may want to consider fueling up with an extra serving or two of their favorite holiday foods – with a plethora of deadlines and decisions awaiting them at their doorstep. back in Washington, they may need an extra boost of energy.

In the remaining weeks of the year, members of Congress must deal with a few crucial issues ahead of the New Year:

  • First, the Senate must pass and pass the Fiscal Year 2022 Military Expenditure Bill, which was passed by the House in September.
  • After that, Congress must pass a bill to fund the government beyond December 3.
  • Next, Congress must reach an agreement on the debt ceiling by December 15 to prevent the nation from defaulting on its debts.
  • And meanwhile, Senate Democrats plan to take back President Joe Biden’s $ 1.85 trillion social spending and climate change bill, the Build Back Better Act.

All of this as the mid-terms of 2022 and oversight of Congress looms on the horizon.

This is no small feat for a Congress, let alone one as divided and agitated as this one.

Military spending

The military spending bill – the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) – was passed by the House of Representatives in September with a largely bipartisan vote of 316-113.

Congress passed the NDAA for six consecutive decades under Republican and Democratic control, including in 2021, when then-President Donald Trump vetoed the bill. The Republican president rejected the bill because it did not repeal a 1996 internet communications law that protects online speech, but the House and Senate both overturned Trump’s veto – a first for his presidency – in a bipartite manner.

The Senate voted last week to push the defense bill forward in a bipartisan fashion, 84-15, after negotiations to include anti-China competitiveness legislation by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer delayed the vote.

Schumer dropped the provision after he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Reached a deal to reconcile the Competitiveness Bill, and the Senate voted to move on to debate on the Bill. Defense spending law of $ 780 billion.

But lawmakers are still haggling over a mountain of amendments to the bill, which could continue to slow proceedings. Lawmakers are scrambling to negotiate a deal that would make amendments more concise, leading to a swift passage.

POLITICO reported this week that U.S. allies voiced concerns to lawmakers at a Canada security forum over the weekend that the bill has yet to pass and may not be enacted until. the end of the year. Democrats and Republicans have been frustrated with the delays.

“Don’t mess up the one thing you can count on the Senate to do in a bipartisan fashion every year,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., According to the outlet. “A Senate that cannot do this hardly deserves this title. “

Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican, noted that the bill had passed much earlier in recent years: “There were many of us …

Debt limit and public funding

Congress must also take swift action to tackle the debt ceiling and fund the government.

In October, Congress passed a short-term measure to fund the government until December 3 and increase the debt limit by $ 480 billion, avoiding both a shutdown and the United States’ default on payments. the first time in their history.

But kicking the box down the road, so to speak, only bought lawmakers two months before they had to deal with both issues again.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned last week that the federal government would not be able to meet its financial obligations after December 15 unless Congress votes to raise or suspend the debt limit.

“To ensure the full confidence and credit of the United States, it is essential that Congress increases or suspends the debt limit as soon as possible,” Yellen wrote in a letter to President Pelosi.

Yellen previously warned that if the federal government could not pay its bills, defaulting for the first time in its history, it would likely trigger a “historic financial crisis,” which would include soaring interest rates, falling prices. stocks, the country going into recession and millions of jobs lost.

It could also mean that the elderly are not collecting Social Security checks, troops are not paid, and families are not receiving child tax credits.

In his letter, Yellen explained that the new infrastructure law signed by President Joe Biden on Monday allocates $ 118 billion to be transferred to the Highway Trust Fund by December 15. These funds are then invested in non-negotiable Treasury securities subject to the debt limit. .

“While I have a high degree of confidence that the Treasury will be able to fund the U.S. government until December 15 and complete the Highway Trust Fund investment, there are scenarios in which the Treasury would end up with insufficient remaining resources to continue funding US government operations beyond that date, ”Yellen wrote.

As they did in October, Republicans again urged Democrats to go it alone to raise the debt ceiling, telling them to include an increase in social spending from President Biden and the Build Back Better bill. on climate change.

However, Congress has steadily increased or suspended the debt limit, regardless of the party chairman in the White House. Democrats noted that they voted with Republicans three times to do so under former President Donald Trump.

Rebuild Better act

After months of debate and deliberation, the House of Representatives passed President Biden’s nearly $ 2 trillion climate change and social spending bill last week, the Build Back Better Act.

Along with the $ 1,000 billion infrastructure bill, the sweeping measure includes funding for universal preschool, lowering prescription drug costs and the largest legislative investment ever to fight climate change. It will be funded in large part by a combination of tax increases on the wealthiest Americans, large corporations, and companies doing business abroad.

Even after all the haggling and back and forth between lawmakers, the bill’s initial passage through the House might end up being the easiest part.

The bill is now in the hands of the Senate, where it faces a long way – including the need to convince moderate Senators Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., And Joe Manchin, DW.Va., and survive Senate budgetary reconciliation. process, which means that further changes could be made to the massive measure.

First, the bill must go through what is called a “Byrd Bath” process – named after the late West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd – under which the provisions of the bill will be reviewed under obscure chamber budget rules to see if they can stay in the bill.

Certain provisions of the bill, which are probably popular, will undoubtedly be deleted if they do not correspond to these rules. These could include provisions on immigration, which the Senate parliamentarian – the non-partisan arbiter of chamber rules – has already rejected.

Then the bill will go through the “vote-a-rama” process, whereby lawmakers can propose dozens and dozens of amendments, many of which will likely fail, but could delay the process and force tough votes. .

After all of this, the final version of the Senate bill must be reconciled with the House, which could prove difficult with such a tenuous and delicate deal between the Democrats, with their slim majority in Congress.

But the White House’s chief economic adviser and Senate Majority Leader both expressed optimism on Sunday that Biden’s Build Back Better bill would clear the Senate and come to his office to be signed. .

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” White House National Economic Council director Brian Deese said the Biden administration will work with “all members of the Senate” as Democrats try to find a compromise and make advance the president’s bill through the equally divided chamber.

Deese said that despite the concerns of moderate Democrats, the Build Back Better law contains provisions that are popular with the whole party, such as reducing the cost of child and elderly care.

“We have broad agreement on these provisions,” Deese said on Sunday. “And so I expect that as we move forward to the Senate, we will have a lot of momentum.”

Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., stressed the party’s unity, signaling that he was open to negotiating with Manchin and Sinema to meet their concerns.

“The House has presented a very strong bill,” he said. “Everyone knows Manchin and Sinema have their concerns, but we will try to negotiate with them and get a very strong and bold bill from the Senate that go home and pass.

When asked on Sunday he thinks the package could get through the Senate, Schumer said: “I think we’re in very good shape to get 50 votes,” but that he knows Republicans in the chamber will be looking for ways “to try to knock him out. “

Despite tough odds, the White House is optimistic about the bill’s passage.

Working closely with lawmakers this fall as they worked to push forward both the infrastructure bill and overall domestic spending, the White House now has “a good understanding” of the place. where the consensus lies in the equally divided chamber, Deese said on Sunday.

“We will be working with all members of the Senate on this bill,” Deese said. “But I think because of this work over several months, we really now have a good understanding of where the consensus is.”

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Echoed the cautious optimism shared by Deese and others.

The tester acknowledged that while the bill is likely to undergo some changes before it goes to a floor vote, “reasonable people” in the chamber “can come up with a bill that is a very, very good law Project, [one] that works for states like Montana and other states in the region.

“We don’t all see everyone the same way, so let’s negotiate and craft a bill that cuts costs for families and taxes… and gets things done to help move this economy forward, so we can stay. the premier power in the world, ”Tester added.

Ryan Chatelain, Breanne Deppisch, Rachel Tillman and Austin Landis of Spectrum News contributed to this report.

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