Senate

This week: Democrats regroup after setback on Biden agenda

Democrats are trying to figure out their next steps after the House failed to pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill and the White House and Democrats on Capitol Hill weren’t able to reach a deal on sweeping social spending legislation. 

Biden is hitting the road this week to make the case for the package, with press secretary Jen Psaki indicating that he’ll also be meeting with lawmakers at the White House.

And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) are now setting the end of October as their next self-imposed deadline for advancing the two-part spending package that is at the heart of Biden’s legislative agenda. 

“It takes a little time. I believe we’re on track to pass both the bipartisan infrastructure bill as well as the reconciliation Build Back Better bill, and our goal is to get both bills done in the next month,” Schumer said during a press conference in New York. 

Pelosi, in a “Dear Colleague” letter released over the weekend, pointed to the end of October, when a short-term highway funding bill will expire, as the new deadline for the House passing the roughly $1 trillion infrastructure bill. 

“We must pass BIF well before then  the sooner the better, to get the jobs out there,” she wrote, referring to the bipartisan infrastructure framework.

It’s a tight schedule: The House is currently scheduled to be out of town and not vote again until Oct. 19. The Senate is in Washington this week, though they are scheduled to be out of town next week. 

The new timeline comes after House Democratic leadership delayed a vote on the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill, which progressives threatened to vote down without an agreement on the sweeping social spending bill that is expected to carry priorities like combating climate change, expanding Medicare and new child care and education benefits. 

Pelosi and a group of moderates initially agreed to hold a vote on the bill by Sept. 27, but that was pushed until Thursday as Democrats tried to figure out a way to break the stalemate between not only the House and Senate but moderates and progressives. 

The decision for House Democratic leadership to delay the vote and leave town sparked outrage from moderates. 

“A small far-left faction of the House of Representatives undermined that agreement and blocked a critical vote on the president’s historic bipartisan infrastructure bill,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.). 

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who helped lead talks on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, accused Democratic leadership of making “conflicting promises that could not all be kept.” 

“[They] have, at times, pretended that differences of opinion within our party did not exist, even when those disagreements were repeatedly made clear directly and publicly,” Sinema added. 

Democratic leadership and the White House had been hoping to get Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to agree to a framework, including a top-line figure, for the spending bill, which Democrats are passing under a budget process known as reconciliation that lets them bypass the Senate’s 60-vote legislative filibuster. 

But they weren’t able to reach a deal, and a visit to Capitol Hill by Biden on Friday left progressives feeling emboldened, with Biden telling reporters after the closed-door meeting that “it doesn’t matter” when the two bills are passed. 

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s six minutes, six days or six weeks. We’re going to get it done,” he said.

Debt ceiling

Congress is quickly heading toward a debt ceiling cliff with no clear plan for how to prevent the country from barreling over it and into a historic default. 

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned lawmakers that they will need to raise the debt ceiling by Oct. 18 or risk a default that would have widespread, severe economic consequences. 

The debt ceiling kicked back in on Aug. 1, after Congress and then-President Trump suspended it in 2019, and since then Yellen has been using so-called extraordinary measures to keep the government solvent. 

But congressional leadership is in an entrenched stalemate over how to raise the debt ceiling.

Senate Republicans blocked a short-term government funding bill that would have suspended the debt ceiling through 2022. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also prevented Schumer from bypassing the 60-vote legislative filibuster in order for Democrats to be able to suspend the debt ceiling on their own with 50 votes and Vice President Harris to break a tie. 

Neither side appears ready to blink yet.

Senate Republicans are adamant that Democrats will need to raise the debt ceiling through reconciliation. Republicans see forcing Democrats to use the budget process as beneficial because unlike suspending the debt ceiling through a certain date, using reconciliation would force Democrats to vote to raise the debt ceiling to a specific number.

But Democrats are so far refusing to put that option on the table. The House passed a stand-alone debt suspension bill last week that Democrats moved to make available for a vote as soon as this week. But it would need 60 votes to advance, with Republicans expected to block it. 

Nominations

Amid the high-profile drama over the spending package and the debt ceiling, the Senate is continuing to grind through Biden’s nominees. 

The Senate will vote on Monday night on Jonathan Meyer’s nomination to be general counsel for the Department of Homeland Security. 

Schumer has also teed up Paloma Adams-Allen to be deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development and Lauren King to be district judge for the western district of Washington.

Tags Biden nominations bipartisan infrastrcure framework Build Back Better Charles Schumer debt ceiling Donald Trump Infrastructure Janet Yellen Jen Psaki Joe Biden Joe Manchin Josh Gottheimer Kyrsten Sinema Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Reconciliation

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