Schumer steps on the gas to move Biden agenda
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is raising the pressure on his own party to get President Biden’s spending bill on track to pass the chamber by Christmas.
Facing skepticism about the aggressive timeline, Schumer used a letter to his caucus on Monday to double down on his plan to get the social and climate spending bill, which is at the heart of Democrats’ legislative agenda, through a 50-50 Senate in a matter of weeks.
Democrats are barreling toward a self-imposed deadline on the spending bill even as they face a packed year-end schedule that includes a sweeping defense bill, raising the nation’s debt ceiling and pressure to find a path forward on stalemated voting rights legislation.
“Senate Democrats remain committed in taking up and passing President Biden’s Build Back Better Act before Christmas,” Schumer said Monday, adding that they were “working furiously to clear the necessary steps to achieve this goal.”
Schumer, in his letter and subsequent floor speech, detailed behind-the-scenes work being done, as well as warning that the Senate could have to stay in session through the weekend to clear up floor time for the spending bill before Christmas.
“There’s a lot of work to do. … It will likely take weekends and late nights to get it done,” he said.
Senate Democrats have less than three weeks to meet Schumer’s preferred timeline, a potentially herculean lift as they continue to negotiate with both themselves and the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, who offers guidance on whether provisions in the bill comply with budget rules.
“It’s still our goal,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, about the timeline.
To both start debate on the bill and pass it, Schumer needs unity from all 50 members of his caucus and Vice President Harris to break a tie. He also needs to finish talks with MacDonough.
“There’s an awful lot of work that’s being done. … I’m not in control of the time,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who opposes a family leave provision in the House-passed bill and will have a major say in how quickly things move. “Maybe they’ll get it done by that time, maybe not. I don’t have any control over that,” he added.
Schumer has privately told senators that he hoped to bring the spending bill to the floor as soon as the week of Dec. 13, but that timeline appears at risk of slipping closer to Christmas.
Democratic staff on the Senate Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committees will have informal meetings with MacDonough on Monday and Tuesday about whether proposals under their jurisdiction comply with the budget rules.
After the informal meetings with Democrats, MacDonough then meets one-on-one with GOP staffers.
After that, both sides have a formal meeting with her as part of the so-called Byrd bath, where MacDonough weighs if the bill complies with the Byrd rule, which lays out restrictions for what can be passed under the budget rules. Among those rules is that a proposal has to have an impact on federal spending and revenues and that its impact isn’t “merely incidental” to its nonbudgetary goals.
“The committees with the two largest pieces of the bill — Finance and HELP — are set to have their final Democratic-only briefings on Monday and Tuesday with the formal bipartisan Byrd bath meetings to follow. Our goal is to finalize the remaining committees over the course of this week and next,” Schumer said.
Even after that meeting takes place, it could take days for MacDonough to offer guidance, and, if she finds that a provision doesn’t meet the budget rules, senators could try to make changes, which would take up more time.
MacDonough previously rejected two immigration plans that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants. Democrats and Republicans met with her last week on the third immigration plan, which grants 6.5 million foreign nationals a temporary parole status that would give them five-year work and travel permits, but as of early Monday evening MacDonough hadn’t offered her findings on if it can make it into the bill.
Biden didn’t set a hard deadline when asked Monday if he thought the bill could pass by Christmas.
“As early as we can get it, we want to get it done no matter how long it takes,” Biden said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki sidestepped a question Monday about the possibility that the bill goes beyond Christmas, but said that they were “encouraged” by Schumer’s letter to Democrats.
“Leader Schumer made clear today that he’s moving full speed ahead. … obviously we’re engaged in that, but we obviously support leader Schumer’s effort,” she said.
Democrats are facing December deadlines on multiple fronts: In addition to wanting to pass the Build Back Better legislation, Congress still needs to clear a sweeping defense bill and raise the debt ceiling. Though outside organizations have suggested they could have until January to raise the nation’s borrowing limit, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that they have until Dec. 15.
But there are signs that leadership is moving to quickly tackle both of those issues, clearing the floor for action on Biden’s spending plan later this month.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters that they would take up both the defense bill and the debt ceiling this week, sending them to the Senate.
“I think, in both the Senate and the House that we need to act this week,” Hoyer said.
One option under discussion as part of negotiations between Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would be to link the defense bill and the debt ceiling, though that’s gotten pushback from members of House leadership in both parties and Senate Republicans.
Democrats are still working to lock down all 50 of their members behind a final version of the spending bill, including lingering disputes over issues including the state and local tax dedication cap, expanding Medicare and whether to include paid leave.
Durbin, Schumer’s No. 2, acknowledged that getting the bill through the Senate by Christmas was predicated on getting unity within the caucus.
“Any one person can stop any of these efforts,” he said. “I hope that doesn’t happen.”
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