Progressives' optimism for large reforms dwindles
This week: Democrats face mounting headaches
Democrats are facing a growing number of headaches, including high-stakes standoffs with Republicans over the debt and feuding within their own party over President Biden's $3.5 trillion spending plan.
Democrats are confronting two quickly approaching deadlines: the Sept. 30 funding cliff to prevent a government shutdown and House Democrats' self-imposed timeline for voting on the roughly $1 trillion Senate-passed infrastructure deal.
Democrats are set to start to head off the first this week, as House Democrats return from a weeks-long summer break.
The House will vote on a short-term government funding bill this week that is expected to fund the government into early December, as well as provide new funding for natural disasters and Afghan refugees.
"The House will take up a continuing resolution to ensure that our government can keep serving the American people without interruption. This will include emergency supplemental funding to meet our commitment to our Afghan allies, and address damage from recent storms," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a letter on Friday.
House Democrats are also expected to vote this week to suspend the debt ceiling, which kicked back in on Aug. 1. Democratic leadership hasn't said if they will tie the debt fight to the continuing resolution (CR) or try to pass it on its own or attached to another bill.
Though the debt ceiling kicked back in on Aug. 1, the Treasury Department has been using so-called extraordinary measures to keep the government solvent since then. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned lawmakers during a recent letter that those will likely run out sometime in October.
Though Democrats can pass both on their own in the House, they'll need GOP support to pass both the government funding bill and a debt ceiling hike in the Senate.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said that there would be GOP votes for a government funding/disaster relief package, but warned that including a debt ceiling increase would threaten the overall bill.
"Our members are sympathetic to doing something on the disaster supplemental," Thune said. "If they send a CR over with a debt limit attached to it, I just think it really complicates passage."
Democrats could raise the debt ceiling on their own if they included it in their $3.5 trillion spending bill, which they are passing under reconciliation to bypass a Republican filibuster. But Democratic leadership has so far said that they won't do that, as they push Republicans to help them carry the weight of a debt ceiling vote.
"There are a number of different options. The White House, Speaker Pelosi, myself, are discussing those. And we believe that we must do this. We believe it's an imperative to do it. And Leader McConnell, as I said, is playing dangerous political games by not stepping up to the plate," Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters, referring to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Republicans have vowed that they won't help pass the debt ceiling increase, whether it is on its own or included in another bill. Because conservatives are vowing that they will filibuster any bill that includes a debt hike, Democrats will need at least 10 GOP votes unless they backtrack and include it in the $3.5 trillion spending plan.
Once the short-term funding bill passes the House, the Senate will have only a matter of days to vote on it and get it to Biden's desk in order to prevent a shutdown. Democrats haven't said what they will do if Republicans block it because it's tied to the debt ceiling fight.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told CNN on Sunday that while he didn't prefer that Democrats raise the debt ceiling on their own, it could end up there.
"I'm not fine with that, but if that's what it takes, that's what it will take," Clyburn said.
Biden $3.5 trillion plan
As Democrats move forward with government funding on the floor, much of their behind-the-scenes haggling this week is likely to focus on Biden's two-part spending package.
Hoyer, in his letter, reiterated that Democrats would take up the $1 trillion Senate-passed narrower infrastructure bill by Sept. 27, in line with a deal worked out by a group of moderates and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
But if Pelosi brings up the Senate bill without the larger reconciliation bill - which is expected to include big party priorities including expanding Medicare, combating climate change and sweeping new social programs - also moving along simultaneously, progressives are warning that they will balk.
Chris Evans, a spokesman for Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told The Hill that the Senate bill and the $3.5 trillion spending plan are "integrally tied together" and that House progressives "will only vote for the infrastructure bill after passing the reconciliation bill."
And House progressive leadership warned last month that an internal survey found that a majority of their members would block the Senate's infrastructure bill without the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill.
Democrats could delay the Senate bill, but that also risks angering the moderates that Pelosi cut the agreement with last month amid a days-long standoff.
Though House committees have voted on their individual pieces of the $3.5 trillion plan, Democrats face plenty of roadblocks before they have an agreement on a final version that they can send to Biden.
Complicating the negotiations, Democrats need near unity in the House, where Pelosi can only lose three members, and total unity in the Senate, where Schumer can't lose any of his.
The latest setback came on Sunday night, when Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough warned that Democrats' plan to provide a pathway to citizenship couldn't be included in the $3.5 trillion spending bill.
Democrats had pitched MacDonough on including 8 million green cards for four groups - Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status holders, agricultural workers and essential workers - in their spending bill.
But MacDonough rejected that push on Sunday, saying that the immigration plan "is not appropriate for inclusion in reconciliation."
Democrats are vowing to pitch an alternative, but the ruling is the latest landmine facing the party as it struggles to find unity.
Democrats still haven't lined up behind a top-line figure with moderates, warning they can't support a $3.5 trillion figure and progressives digging in against going any lower after they initially pitched a $6 trillion bill.
They also need to work out their health care plan, including when to phase in new Medicare benefits, how big to go on tax increases, drafting climate change language that's a top priority for progressives and figuring out the path forward on a drug-pricing plan after a setback last week.
Democrats will vote as soon as this week on a revamped voting and election reform legislation after Schumer moved to tee it up.
Democrats, including Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), rolled out the updated bill last week, touting it as a unifier of the 50-member Senate Democratic Caucus.
But the bill will fall to a GOP filibuster, with Democrats needing 10 GOP votes to start debate. Manchin is pitching Republican senators on the bill, but they blocked a more sweeping For the People Act earlier this year and have been publicly skeptical of the renewed Democratic effort.
"We will not be letting Washington Democrats abuse their razor-thin majorities in both chambers to overrule state and local governments and appoint themselves a national Board of Elections on steroids," McConnell said in a statement shortly before meeting with Manchin.
Democrats are under growing pressure to nix the 60-vote legislative filibuster or make exceptions that would keep it intact on other legislation but let voting bills pass by a simple majority.
But Democrats would need total unity to change the rules, something they don't currently have. Both Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have said they oppose nixing the filibuster and Manchin has specifically opposed a carve out for voting rights.
The House will vote on legislation this week to codify Roe v. Wade, guaranteeing access to abortion, after the Supreme Court declined to block a Texas law that bans most abortions.
Pelosi announced the vote after the Supreme Court ruling, saying that the House would take up the bill from Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) to statutorily protect a person's ability to seek an abortion and for health care providers to provide abortion services.
Though the bill will be able to pass the House, it is expected to hit a wall in the Senate. The Senate's version of the bill only has the backing of 48 senators, with no GOP senators and Manchin and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) not signed on.
The House will take up a sweeping defense policy bill this week, in a potential proxy battle over Biden's Afghanistan policy.
More than 800 amendments have been filed to the House Rules Committee, which will take up and determine the contours of the debate on Monday.
The $778 billion defense policy bill doesn't spend money but greenlights funding and lays out broad policy for the Pentagon.
The House's vote comes amid a lingering fight over Biden's exit from Afghanistan, where the administration was caught off guard by the Taliban's quick rise and the Afghan government's rapid collapse.