Crunch time for Congress with Biden’s agenda, and debt limit, on the line By Reuters
By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress returns to session on Monday facing a massive agenda and a tight time crunch, with President Joe Biden’s Democrats hoping to pass sweeping domestic programs, fund the government, approve an infrastructure bill and raise the debt ceiling in a matter of weeks.
The deadlines include a September 27th vote on the $1 trillion Senate-approved Infrastructure Bill and Oct. 1 when federal funds will run dry if Congress does not act. The country may breach its borrowing limit and risk defaulting on U.S. payments obligations later in October.
Democrats hold the tightest control of Congress and are looking to pass a $3.5 billion spending package, which would include proposals for education, childcare, housing, and green energy. This bill has been cleared by Republicans. While progressives claim the plan represents the biggest expansion of social policies in decades, senior Democrats acknowledged that the bill might need to be cut to get it passed.
CNN’s third-ranking House Democrat James Clyburn stated on Sunday that although it could cost $3.5 trillion, “it may still be very close to that, or perhaps closer to something else.”
Democrats are also keen to pass legislation on voting on abortion rights. This is despite strong Republican opposition. A Senate filibuster requirement requires that at least 60 out of 100 senators agree to move most legislation.
“Have they had more to eat than they can chew?” William Hoagland (senior vice president, Bipartisan Policy Centre think-tank) said that yes they had.
IS INFRASTRUCTURE DEAD?
Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives has pledged to vote on the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill within a week of her return from summer vacation.
Progressives insist that they will not vote in favor of the infrastructure plan unless the Senate passes the $3.5 trillion program for social spending. This maneuver is called “reconciliation” and it avoids the Senate supermajority requirement.
A compromise could be that the infrastructure bill is voted on September 27th, but Pelosi would not forward the bill to Biden until the bigger package has passed.
“She could hold onto that bill for quite a while. There’s some flexibility with how we combine the mandates,” John Yarmuth, Chairman of Democratic House Budget Committee told Fox News Sunday.
The reconciliation package’s key components, which include proposals to reduce the price of prescription drugs, change tax laws and increase the overall price, is still being negotiated by Democrats. Tax increases on corporations and wealthy Americans will finance the plan.
Moderate Senate Democrats including Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema say $3.5 trillion is too much; Manchin suggests spending less than half that. Due to their slim majorities, Democrats cannot spare three House defectors and none from the Senate.
No Republicans intend to vote for the plan, and may ask the parliamentarian https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-senate-referee-spotlight-democrats-pursue-major-spending-2021-09-09 to rule on whether parts conform to the reconciliation process to qualify to be exempted from the filibuster rule.
The parliamentarian decided that Democrats could not attach reforms regarding immigration to the $3.5 Trillion plan. Chuck Schumer, Senate Majority leader, stated that the senators would explore alternatives.
Norman Ornstein is a senior fellow at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. He said that it was possible to manipulate the legislation to help moderate Democrats declare victory, while also calming progressives. For example, by shortening certain programs or raising tax collections to cover costs.
Can you achieve that without Sept. 27th? Ornstein said that while I don’t believe it is possible, it was feasible.
While the Sept. 27 deadline is self-imposed, two more rigid ones come next.
One is Oct. 1. This will be the day when government funding ends. If this happens, many federal functions would have to cease as they were in the past three years.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also warned that Treasury’s cash reserves and borrowing capacity will run out under $28.4 Trillion federal debt limit. The Treasury could then be unable pay any bills, or to service its debt, unless Congress takes action.
The U.S. default could cause financial turmoil, cut services and benefit and damage the country’s credit rating. This could lead to the economic downturn.
This scenario could be catastrophic politically for Democrats. However, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, along with other high-ranking Republicans, has warned that they won’t vote to increase the national debt limit. They have done it repeatedly under Republican Donald Trump.
McConnell called Democratic spending inflationary.
McConnell spoke on the Senate’s floor that “they’ve been printing, wasting money as if there’s never tomorrow”.
Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat, said on Thursday that he believes Republicans and Democrats will resolve their political differences and avoid what called a self-inflicted, “Washington-baked crisis” over U.S. creditworthiness that the pandemic-stricken U.S. economy could ill afford.
“That doesn’t mean we may not get up to the precipice on that,” Warner told reporters. “I’ve just got to believe that this will get resolved.”