Democrats face monster December collision
Democrats are setting up a massive December cliff as they punt several key deadlines to the end of the year.
The party needs to fund the government to prevent a shutdown by Dec. 3, and it also faces another debt ceiling crisis that could hit as soon as mid-December, according to an analysis released late last week.
Democrats also bought themselves more time to finish a bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better legislation by passing a second short-term highway funding stopgap that will also expire on Dec. 3.
“Here we go again,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said about the decision to kick the can, saying that Dec. 3 “will be a momentous day around here.”
Progressives think the House could be ready to vote on the $1.75 trillion spending package, which the White House released a framework for late last week, and infrastructure bill as soon as this week. Though the infrastructure bill passed the Senate in August, it’s been stuck in limbo in the House for months because progressives have linked the two bills.
“I think, you know, the fact that we have the text is huge, and we are in conversation with the two senators, and so I feel positive,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
But Democratic leadership hasn’t indicated yet how it will juggle the competing priorities, and Congress is notoriously bad at multitasking major pieces of legislation.
A number of sticking points on the $1.75 trillion package could make it difficult to move speedily. These troublesome issues include locking in how the bill is paid for and whether paid leave and prescription drug negotiations will be added. Senate Democrats also need a decision from the parliamentarian on their latest immigration proposal.
House Democratic leadership is hoping to pass both this week, though a House Rules Committee meeting expected on Monday, which would have allowed for floor votes as soon as Tuesday, has been delayed as negotiations continued through the weekend.
Progressives have also pushed for firm commitments from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.), something they have so far refused to give.
“As we work through the text of the legislation I would hope all of us will continue to deal in good faith and do what is right for the future of the American people,” Manchin said last week.
Spokespeople for Sinema directed questions about the path forward to the White House, though Jayapal, during an interview with CNN on Friday, said she believed the moderate Democrat was “operating in good faith.”
Senate Democrats have been skeptical that they’ll be able to move the spending deal at lightning speed.
The Senate rules for the arcane budget process, known as reconciliation, that Democrats are using to pass the package without GOP support requires an intense floor marathon. And Democratic senators are signaling that they expect a lengthy process to finish the bill.
“That drafting has to see the light of day for some time because there’s going to be challenges, and you have to get a score, and the scoring of it is going to be challenging,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). “It’s going to take some time.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said he hoped the Senate would be able to pass the social spending package before they leave for a weeklong Thanksgiving break, which is expected to start on Nov. 22.
“I think in the Senate, they will work on converting this bill language or negotiating final details, getting it in the bill language, and then try to have this passed before Thanksgiving,” Kaine said.
But letting the social spending bill slip into late November would also push it up against the government funding and debt fights.
Lawmakers need to figure out how, and for how long, they will fund the government past Dec. 3.
While the House has passed 10 of the 12 fiscal 2022 government funding bills, the Senate has passed none, and only three have been taken up in committee.
House and Senate appropriations leaders are expected to sit down this week to try to take stock of where they are on the full-year funding bills and try to figure out what could break the stalemate on the path forward.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, described the forthcoming powwow as preliminary.
“Before they even get into numbers, they’ve got a lot of poison pills,” Shelby said about the Democrats.
That makes it more likely that Congress will need to use another continuing resolution to keep the government funded likely into early 2022, though leadership hasn’t yet revealed their hand.
Democrats haven’t spelled out how they plan to address the looming debt cliff, and because Congress tied the debt hike to a number, not a specific day, they are expected to have some flexibility on timing.
The U.S. most likely would default on its debt sometime between mid-December and mid-February absent additional congressional action, according to a projection released Friday by the Bipartisan Policy Center.
But the think tank also said that date could happen earlier if Congress passes the bipartisan infrastructure bill because it transfers funds from the Treasury Department’s general fund to the highway trust fund.
Pelosi recently said one option for raising the debt ceiling could be reconciliation — something Democrats have been loath to do because it requires them to raise it on their own to a specific number and would set up two painful floor debates in the Senate.
Asked about the debt ceiling, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told CNN that it was too early to worry about it — for now — because it was a “December issue.”
‘We’re facing November issues at the moment,” he added.