Biden spending bill to likely slip in Senate after House delays

The Senate’s debate over President Biden’s social and climate spending bill appears likely to slip after the House failed to send the bill over before the Veterans Day recess. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) had hoped to start debate on the Build Back Better legislation this week. But in a letter sent to the Senate Democratic caucus on Sunday, he said the Senate is “likely” to take up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a massive defense policy bill, instead.

“Due to the House pushing back consideration of the BBBA to the week of November 15th, it is likely that the Senate considers the NDAA this upcoming week as we await House passage of the BBBA,” Schumer wrote, referring to the Build Back Better Act.

Though the defense bill passed out of committee over the summer, when it could come the Senate floor has been in limbo as Democrats have tried to figure out the timing of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which passed the Senate in August, and the social and climate spending bill. 

The defense bill typically passes by a wide bipartisan margin but is a magnet for hundreds of potential changes, and it can take roughly two weeks to get the bill on to the floor and to a final vote. 

Schumer, in his letter, noted that the Senate’s defense bill debate will include a vote on repealing the 2002 Iraq War authorization. He’s also mulling adding in China competitiveness legislation that passed the Senate earlier this year but has stalled in the House. 

Schumer didn’t say when the Senate will take up Biden’s Build Back Better legislation. The House had hoped to pass the bill before Congress left for a one-week congressional recess but instead punted, with House moderates saying they wanted more information from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) included consideration of the bill on the upcoming week’s House floor schedule. 

“Timing of consideration of the BBBA in the Senate will largely depend on when the House sends us the bill and when CBO finalizes their scores for all of the committees, which are needed to complete the ‘Byrd Bath’ process,” Schumer wrote in the “Dear Colleague” letter. 

Schumer had previously said that once the House passed the bill, the Senate would need roughly a week to make sure it complied with Senate budget rules. Congress is poised to leave town after this week for a one-week Thanksgiving break and return on Nov. 29. 

Schumer’s office has been in contact with the parliamentarian to make sure the bill complies with the Senate’s rules for reconciliation — the process Democrats are using to bypass a filibuster — and the budget resolution they passed earlier this year that teed up the spending bill.

In addition to “aiming” to finish those discussions this week, Schumer said that Senate Democrats will also start discussions with the parliamentarian on if the bill complies with the Byrd rule, which lays out restrictions for what can be included under reconciliation. 

But if the Senate’s timing on the social spending bill slips past Thanksgiving, it runs into other looming deadlines, including funding the government. The Senate is scheduled to be in session until Dec. 13, but Schumer urged senators to “keep your schedule flexible for the remainder of the calendar year.”

“I am confident we can get each of these important items done this year, but it will likely take some long nights and weekends,” he said.

Congress has through Dec. 3 to fund the government and prevent a shutdown heading into the holidays. 

Schumer, in his letter, acknowledged that lawmakers will need to pass another stopgap bill, known as a continuing resolution, as talks about a larger deal continue. 

“I am hopeful that we can reach an agreement soon so that the Committees can finalize their bills and we can consider a FY2022 Omnibus bill later this year. However, it is likely that we will need to process a Continuing Resolution before December 3rd to give our Appropriators more time to finish their work,” he wrote.

Democrats are also holding talks about how to advance voting rights legislation, including what, if any, potential changes to the Senate rules unite all 50 members of the caucus. In order to change the legislative filibuster, Democrats would need the support of every member of the caucus as well as Vice President Harris in the chair to break a tie. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) are both opposed to nixing the filibuster, and Manchin has opposed the idea of a carveout. 

Before the Veterans Day break, a group of Senate Democrats was tapped to lead discussions within the caucus, and Schumer, in his letter, said that “those conversations will continue in earnest this coming week.” 

Tags budget reconciliation bill Build Back Better Act Chuck Schumer Continuing resolution filibuster reform government funding bill Government shutdown Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema legislative filibuster NDAA authorization Repeal of the 2002 AUMF Steny Hoyer

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