This week: Congress starts year-end legislative sprint

Lawmakers are returning to Washington this week for a chaotic final stretch of the year as they face a pileup that could drag into the holidays. 

The Senate is returning on Monday from the weeklong Thanksgiving break, while the House will have its first votes for the week on Tuesday. 

Both chambers have less than 10 scheduled working days before they are supposed to leave town on Dec. 13 through the end of the year — a timeline they are all but guaranteed to blow through as they face a packed to-do list despite the shrinking legislative schedule.

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Government funding 

Lawmakers have until the end of the week to figure out a way to fund the government and avoid a shutdown that would otherwise start on Saturday, Dec. 4. 

Congress previously passed a stopgap bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), to fund the government starting on Oct. 1, the beginning of the 2022 fiscal year, through Dec. 3.

Though leadership is expected to use another CR to avoid a December shutdown, they haven’t yet said how long the stopgap bill will be. They have until the end of Friday to pass the bill and get it to President BidenJoe BidenCourt nixes offshore drilling leases auctioned by Biden administration Laquan McDonald's family pushes for federal charges against officer ahead of early release Biden speaks with Ukrainian president amid Russian threat MORE’s desk for his signature.

There have been divisions among Democrats and between the House and Senate over the length of the stopgap funding bill.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauroRosa DeLauroFiscal spending deadline nears while lawmakers face pressure to strike deal Negotiators report progress toward 2022 spending deal Republicans must join us to give Capitol Police funding certainty  MORE (D-Conn.) is backing a short-term CR that doesn’t go beyond December in an effort to keep pressure on Republicans to negotiate a larger fiscal 2022 funding deal. 

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But Republicans are also skeptical that they’ll be able to reach a deal with Democrats on a larger full-year funding deal by the end of December, given the months-long stalemate between top appropriators over the larger deal. 

Democrats haven’t named a date for how long a weeks-long CR would run but have floated that it could fund the government through roughly Dec. 17. That would give lawmakers two weeks to cut a deal or have to pass another stopgap bill.

But other top Democrats, seeing a year-end calendar that leaves little wiggle room, are backing a longer bill that would fund the government into late February or March. That would prevent Congress from needing to vote twice on government funding in one month. 

Defense bill

The Senate is hoping to wrap up a massive defense policy bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, this week. 

Senators left town before the Thanksgiving recess after they failed to get a deal for votes on 18 amendments to the sweeping bill, including votes on whether to require women to register for the selective service and repealing the 2002 Iraq War authorization.

Several GOP senators blocked the amendment votes because their proposed changes were not included among the 18 amendments that would have gotten a vote under the agreement. 

Instead, the Senate formally agreed to start debate on the bill during a brief Friday session, and Democrats started the process for bringing debate on the bill to a quick close.

The Senate is scheduled to take an initial vote on Monday at 5:30 p.m. to start winding down the bill, with 60 votes needed to overcome the first hurdle. 

Build Back Better bill

Biden’s spending bill is shifting to the Senate after House Democrats passed the climate and social spending package shortly before the Thanksgiving break. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBreyer retirement throws curveball into midterms Schumer vows to vote on Biden Supreme Court pick with 'all deliberate speed' Voting rights failed in the Senate — where do we go from here? MORE (D-N.Y.) hasn’t yet said when he will bring the bill to the floor, though Democrats want to get it to Biden’s desk by the end of the year. 

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Senate Democrats are working on several changes to the bill, including on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction cap and climate change programs. There are also ongoing negotiations to come up with a paid leave program that can unite all 50 Democrats. 

Democrats need total unity from all 50 of their members in order to pass the bill through reconciliation, a budget process that lets them bypass the 60-vote legislative filibuster. 

But that also gives each member of the caucus tremendous sway to try to demand changes to the bill before a final vote. 

Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOvernight Health Care — ObamaCare gets record numbers On The Money — Economy had post-recession growth in 2021 Progressives apply pressure on Biden, Senate to pass Build Back Better MORE (D-W.Va.) has raised concerns over parts of the electric vehicle tax credit as well as methane emission fee, though Democratic lawmakers have been negotiating with him to try to find a deal on both fronts. 

Republicans are also expected to challenge language that allows Medicare to negotiate some drug prices, while Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersMcConnell warns Biden not to 'outsource' Supreme Court pick to 'radical left' Briahna Joy Gray discusses Pelosi's 2022 re-election announcement Ocasio-Cortez: Supporting Sinema challenge by someone like Gallego would be easy decision MORE (I-Vt.), who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, is also vowing to try to expand Medicare to cover vision and dental. 

Democrats need formal guidance from the parliamentarian over whether their latest immigration plan, which would grant 6.5 million foreign nationals a temporary parole status that would give them five-year work and travel permits, complies with Senate budget rules. 

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If the Senate referee finds that it doesn’t, activist groups are urging Senate Democrats to put someone in the chair to preside over the debate that would ignore the parliamentarian’s guidance.

Republicans can also use the debate over the bill once it is on the floor to force votes on any changes to the legislation that they want. Many of those changes will be able to get added to the bill by a simple majority, meaning they only need to peel off one Democratic senator to be successful. 

Any changes made by the Senate will force the spending bill to go back to the House and be passed a second time.