Democrats return with lengthy to-do list

Lawmakers are set to return to Washington with a full legislative plate after punting some of their biggest priorities into 2022.

Democrats are poised to dive directly into two big fights — President Biden’s sweeping spending plan and voting rights legislation — putting a spotlight back on intraparty divisions that dominated the end of last year.

Other deadlines, like funding the government, are also looming. And coloring all of the legislative fights is the growing pull of the midterm elections, which typically dampen the chances for major legislation. Democrats are under pressure to pass big priorities amid uncertainty over who will control Congress after this year.

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Here are five things on Congress’s to-do list for the start of 2022:

Build Back Better revival

Democrats are vowing to find a way to resuscitate at least part of a roughly $2 trillion climate and social spending bill after Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinLawmaker arrested amid voting rights protest says he'd 'do it again' No Hillary — the 'Third Way' is the wrong way WATCH: The Hill recaps the top stories of the week MORE (D-W.Va.) put it in the deep freeze.

Manchin — after weeks of signaling concerns about the House-passed bill but refusing to give it a direct cut — announced his opposition during a “Fox News Sunday” interview on Dec. 19 and then doubled down during a West Virginia radio interview warning that Democrats had miscalculated if they though they could pressure him into supporting the sweeping legislation. 

“I'm not from where they're from, and they can just beat the living crap out of people and think they'll be submissive, period," he said. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Predictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure Voting rights and Senate wrongs MORE (D-N.Y.), facing pressure from within his own caucus, is pledging to force a vote in early January on a revised version of the House-passed bill. Democrats are using the budget rules to avoid a GOP filibuster, but they’ll still need total unity from all 50 of their members, including Manchin, in order to start a debate.

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But Democrats are also in negotiations and floating ways to potentially scale back the bill so that it would include a smaller number of programs that would be funded for a longer period of time. 

If Democrats go smaller, they’ll need to make painful decisions about jettisoning some of their pet priorities that are likely to hit serious roadblocks outside of the budget rules, given the 60-vote threshold required for most legislation.

One of the biggest sticking points is over the child tax credit. Democrats, as part of a coronavirus relief bill passed in March, included a beefed-up child tax credit through 2021.

Manchin’s recent offer to the White House didn’t include the child tax credit, which is viewed as a must-have for both the administration and many of his colleagues.

Voting rights and filibuster reform

After months of grumbling over the rules, and growing pressure from both activists and Senate Democrats, Schumer is poised to bring a fight over voting rights and changing the Senate’s filibuster rule to a head.

In a letter to his caucus, the Senate Democratic leader said he would bring voting legislation to the floor in January and that if it is blocked by Republicans, “the Senate will then consider changes to any rules which prevent us from debating and reaching final conclusion on important legislation.” 

Republicans have used the 60-vote legislative filibuster to block several voting and election bills, arguing that they would federalize elections. That’s fueled frustration from outside groups and members of Schumer’s own caucus who want the majority leader to outline a plan for how Democrats will pass legislation as state legislatures debate new voting rules.

Schumer hasn’t publicly endorsed specific rules changes, but he’s made it increasingly clear that he’s ready to make changes in an effort to “restore the Senate.” 

A group within the Senate Democratic Caucus, including Sens. Angus KingAngus KingEffort to overhaul archaic election law wins new momentum Manchin, Collins leading talks on overhauling election law, protecting election officials For 2022, the Senate must work in a bipartisan manner to solve the American people's concerns MORE (I-Maine), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSchumer opted for modest rules reform after pushback from moderates The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Connected Commerce Council - Biden faces reporters as his agenda teeters Democrats' filibuster gambit unravels MORE (D-Mont.) and Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Manchin, Sinema join GOP to sink filibuster change for voting bill Desperate Dems signal support for cutting Biden bill down in size MORE (D-Va.), have been working on a proposal for how to change the Senate’s filibuster rule. Those ideas include implementing a talking filibuster, creating a carveout from the filibuster for voting rights legislation or changing the number of votes required to break a filibuster from 60 “yes” votes to 41 “no” votes.

But to change the rules without GOP support, Democrats would need total unity from within their 50-member caucus, and so far they don’t have it. Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaLawmaker arrested amid voting rights protest says he'd 'do it again' These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 No Hillary — the 'Third Way' is the wrong way MORE (D-Ariz.) have backed keeping the 60-vote hurdle, though Manchin has been taking part in private talks and Sinema has called for a public debate on the rules.

Schumer, however, is warning that he could make the Senate vote on a rules change even if it is destined to fail, a pressure tactic that would put senators on the record and fire up his party’s base.

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“I believe our constituents deserve to know which Senators choose to hide behind ill-conceived and abused rules and which Senators prefer to restore Senate floor procedures to better align with the Founders’ intentions,” he wrote.

Nord Stream 2 sanctions 

As part of a deal struck with Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzHillicon Valley — Senate panel advances major antitrust bill Senate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Lawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine MORE (R-Texas) to clear dozens of Biden nominees before Christmas, the Senate will vote on sanctions related to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which carries natural gas from Russia to Germany. 

The pipeline has sparked bipartisan pushback in Congress, but also headaches for the administration as Cruz kept holds for months on Biden’s State Department nominees. 

Senators discussed three potential options: a vote on Cruz’s bill at 60 votes, a vote on Cruz’s bill as an amendment to a larger bill from Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDems block Cruz's Nord Stream 2 sanctions bill Overnight Defense & National Security — Differences remain between NATO, Russia Senate Democrats unveil bill sanctioning Russia over Ukraine MORE (D-N.J.) that touches on Nord Stream 2 or competing and separate votes on the Menendez and Cruz bills.

In the end, the Senate agreed to vote on Cruz’s bill by Jan. 14, where it will need 60 votes to advance. That means Cruz needs to peel off at least 10 Democrats. 

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The administration previously pressured Democrats to help block Cruz’s amendment when it was offered to a sweeping defense bill in November. But Cruz, according to a source familiar with his thinking, believes he wins the January vote even with the higher threshold.

The vote comes at a precarious time for the administration, as Russia has beefed up its military presence along its border with Ukraine, raising fears of another invasion.

Funding the government

After Congress clears its January schedule, they will run almost immediately into another deadline to fund the government and prevent a Valentine's week shutdown. 

Lawmakers have until Feb. 18 to fund the government after passing a short-term stopgap bill in early December. 

The top four appropriators — Sens. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Senate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Former US attorney considering Senate run in Vermont as Republican MORE (D-Vt.) and Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Negotiators report progress toward 2022 spending deal Johnson, Thune signal GOP's rising confidence MORE (R-Ala.) and Reps. Rosa DeLauroRosa DeLauroNegotiators report progress toward 2022 spending deal Republicans must join us to give Capitol Police funding certainty  Democrats return with lengthy to-do list MORE (D-Conn.) and Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerOn the Money — SCOTUS strikes down Biden vax-or-test rules Negotiators report progress toward 2022 spending deal Democrats return with lengthy to-do list MORE (R-Texas) — have met or spoken recently about how to break a months-long stalemate and make progress on full-year funding bills. 

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But so far they’ve yet to hit a breakthrough, raising the prospect that Congress could need to use another stopgap, which continues funding at current levels, to get them deeper into 2022. 

Republicans have warned that without a deal, Congress could need to accept a full-year continuing resolution, which would fund the government through Sept. 30. But Democrats have been loath to put that option on the table and, in a bid to talk down Republicans, warned that it would negatively impact the Pentagon. 

Iraq War authorization

The Senate is expected to turn back to a years-long push to nix the military authorizations for the Iraq wars after hopes of a vote this year hit procedural stumbling blocks. 

Kaine and Sen. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Democrats return with lengthy to-do list Don't just delay student debt, prevent it MORE (R-Ind.) had expected to get a vote on their proposal — which would repeal the 1991 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force — as part of a sweeping defense bill. 

But amendment votes ran directly into a brick wall when Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Lawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine I'm furious about Democrats taking the blame — it's time to fight back MORE (R-Fla.) blocked votes on a package of 25 amendments, including the Kaine-Young one, over a push to get his own legislation either voted on as an amendment or passed in the House. 

Amid the stalemate, the Senate scrapped passing its own version of the defense bill and instead took up a compromise worked out between leaders on the House and Senate Armed Services committees. That did not include the repeal of the Iraq War authorizations. 

Schumer hasn’t yet said how he will bring the bill to the floor, but Kaine and Young have the 60 votes needed to break a likely GOP filibuster.