This week: Congress poised to go into December overtime
Congress is driving deeper toward the holidays, as lawmakers struggle to make progress on a lengthy year-end to-do list.
Both the House and Senate were scheduled to leave Washington, D.C., for the year at the end of the week.
The House, instead, has formally added a week to its schedule, meaning the lower chamber will now start its break by Dec. 20, while senators are warning they could remain in session right up until Christmas.
Congress passed a short-term government funding bill last week, taking one item off its plate.
But it still faces a legislative slog that could eat up weeks of floor time, with negotiations continuing this week on a sweeping defense bill, President Biden’s social and climate spending plan and how to raise the debt ceiling.
Senate Republicans are set to net a temporary win on Biden’s vaccine mandate for larger employers.
After failing to block funding for the mandate as part of last week’s government funding bill, Senate Republicans are poised to force a vote this week to nix the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s rule under the Congressional Review Act.
All 50 GOP senators have backed the resolution and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) became the first Democratic senator to say that he’ll vote for it, giving the effort to roll back the mandate enough support to pass the Senate.
“I do not support any government vaccine mandate on private businesses. … I have long said we should incentivize, not penalize, private employers whose responsibility it is to protect their employees from COVID-19,” Manchin said.
Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), who told The Hill that he was talking to a handful of other Democratic senators, added in a statement that he hoped “more Democratic Senators and Representatives will follow Senator Manchin’s strong lead.”
But the effort is expected to run into a wall in the House, where Republicans aren’t able to force a vote.
The House is expected to take up a final deal on a sweeping defense policy bill this week after hitting speed bumps in the Senate.
In a sign that House and Senate negotiators are close to a final agreement, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) put the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on the schedule this week for a vote.
Leadership on the House and Senate Armed Services committees have been informally negotiating a final agreement as the Senate has struggled to get its version of the defense bill across the finish line. The House passed its initial version of the NDAA in September and typically the two chambers form a formal conference to work out the differences.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) hasn’t formally announced that he’s pulling the Senate’s defense bill even as he pivots to other business.
But the Senate’s bill is stuck amid a standoff between Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and the House over his legislation, which would ban imports from China’s Xinjiang region, where administration officials have accused Beijing of carrying out genocide against Uyghur Muslims.
Rubio has been blocking votes on roughly two dozen amendments to the Senate’s defense bill unless he either gets a vote on his proposal as an amendment or the House agrees to take up the bill.
With no quick resolution in sight, senators instead expect the House to pass a deal worked out informally between Armed Services Committee leadership and send that bill to the Senate.
It would need at least 10 GOP senators to help it clear procedural hurdles and get to a final vote. Republicans initially blocked the Senate defense bill because of a disagreement over amendment votes.
Senate leadership is also discussing linking the debt ceiling to the defense bill, which is garnering pushback from House leadership and Senate Republicans. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned Congress that lawmakers have until Dec. 15 to raise the nation’s borrowing limit though outside groups have predicted it could be pushed into January.
Build Back Better bill
Senate Democrats are continuing negotiations over Biden’s Build Back Better legislation as they try to get it through the upper chamber in a matter of weeks.
Schumer has vowed that he wants to pass the bill by Christmas. It’s an ambitious timeline, given a packed year-end agenda and lining divisions within the caucus, and both Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have been privately skeptical that they’ll be able to meet the self-imposed deadline.
In addition to negotiating with each other, Democrats are expected to keep meeting with the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, as she weighs in on whether pieces of the bill comply with rules that outline what can be included in the spending legislation because it’s being passed under budget reconciliation.
Democrats are waiting to find out if MacDonough will sign off on 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, while also ramping up meetings with her on health care provisions of the bill.
The Senate will start the week with votes on Biden’s nominees, including an initial vote on Monday evening on Jessica Rosenworcel’s nomination to be a member of the Federal Communications Commission.
After Rosenworcel, they’ll turn to Deirdre Hamilton’s nomination to be a member of the National Mediation Board and Chris Magnus’s nomination to be commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
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