Democrats face squeeze on Biden’s spending bill

Senators are bracing for their debate over President Biden’s climate and social spending bill to keep them in Washington until, and potentially into, the holidays. 

The timeline for the legislation has repeatedly slipped, but Democrats say they want to get it done this year even if that means working into Christmas or beyond, when Congress typically tries to take a weeks-long break. 

House Democrats are hoping to pass the bill this week, with the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) planning to release an analysis by the end of the day Friday. But even if the House sends the bill across the Capitol, it could still be weeks before it comes up in the Senate. 

“It’s going to be intense,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). “I’m hoping we have off between Christmas and New Year’s, but I’m expecting we will run it up until pretty close to Christmas.” 

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), asked when he thought Congress would be wrapped for the year, guessed: “New Year’s Eve.” 

“Do you have plans for Christmas? You can spend it at my house because my plans are screwed up too,” Tester said, adding that he envisioned Congress finishing its work “very late in December.” 

The threat of a Christmas pileup is a step back from Majority Leader Charles Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) initial hope that the Senate could bring the measure up this week and pass it before leaving for a weeks-long Thanksgiving recess. If the Senate makes changes, which appears likely, the House will have to pass the bill a second time before it goes to Biden’s desk. 

But now the bill is not expected to come to the Senate floor until at least after Thanksgiving, where it faces competition on a crowded schedule. 

The Senate will start debate on a sweeping defense policy bill this week, but senators don’t expect to finish it before the recess. Though the National Defense Authorization Act is largely bipartisan, it eats up roughly two weeks of Senate floor time. 

Instead, senators could return on Monday, Nov. 29, needing to finish the defense bill and move quickly to avert a government shutdown with funding running out starting Saturday, Dec. 4, two deadlines that would only further delay Biden’s spending package. 

Lawmakers haven’t said how long of a stopgap funding bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), they will try to pass by early next month. But they are looking at the option of a weeks-long CR to try to buy more time for a year-end government funding deal. 

“What I understand is we’re going to be operating on a continuing resolution until maybe the week before Christmas,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), an adviser to Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), adding that one option was a CR through Dec. 17. 

That would set up another funding deadline closer to Christmas. 

“This is creating quite a traffic jam,” Cornyn added. 

Schumer, in a letter to his caucus sent Sunday, didn’t put a hard timeline on when the Senate will take up the Build Back Better Act (BBBA), though he said at the White House on Monday that they would try to pass the rest of Biden’s spending plan “in a few weeks.” 

“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 Sunday letter, referring to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. 

The Senate could need roughly a week to get the bill ready for the floor, based on estimates from Democrats. 

Democratic senators are hoping to finish conversations with the parliamentarian this week on if the spending bill complies with a budget resolution that they approved earlier this year, which laid the way for it and included general top-lines. They’re also expected to start conversations with the parliamentarian this week about if it complies with the Byrd rule, which lays out the budget process they are using on the social spending bill. 

And to get the spending bill through the Senate given unified GOP opposition, they’ll need total unity from all 50 Democrats, something they don’t have yet. 

Senate Democrats are still negotiating on a myriad of provisions including climate change measures, paid leave and tax reform. And Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a key swing vote, raised new concerns about inflation after data last week showed that it hit a 30-year high. 

Manchin, who has previously called for a strategic pause, didn’t rule out, or in, that the spending bill could be ready to pass this month. 

“I’m not in charge of the calendar,” he said. 

Manchin added to another gaggle of reporters, “Let’s wait and see what inflation does.” 

Schumer warned his caucus of the impending end-of-year pileup, telling senators to “please 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. 

Schumer’s warning appeared to be sinking in with senators. 

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) was overheard whistling as he left the Capitol after a vote on Monday night. Asked by The Hill if he was whistling a Christmas carol, Moran confirmed that it was “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” but warned that the next line in the song is “if only in my dreams.”

Tags Charles Schumer Jerry Moran Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Cornyn Jon Tester Mitch McConnell Tim Kaine

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