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‘Long days and nights’ ahead for Congress

On Friday, President Joe Biden signed into law a continuing resolution which will fund the government through mid-February — a welcome sign for a Congress that has plenty to do from now until the end of the year.

Unfortunately for lawmakers, funding the government might have been the easiest part of their lengthy December to-do list. 


What You Need To Know

  • Last week, Congress passed a bill to fund the government through February, averting a government shutdown – but that may have been the easiest part of their lengthy December to-do list
  • Congress must pass the annual defense spending bill and address the debt limit before Dec. 15
  • Congressional Democrats are aiming to pass President Joe Biden’s nearly $2 trillion social spending and climate measure — the Build Back Better bill — before Christmas
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., warned colleagues in a letter Monday that it will require “more long days and nights, and potentially weekends” in order to get it all done

Last week, the Senate voted 69-28 to pass a House-approved bill that will keep the government open through Feb. 18 and provide $7 billion for resettlement of Afghan refugees. The measure passed after an amendment proposed by Republicans that would bar use of federal funds to enforce or implement vaccine mandates failed, 50-48.

Ahead of the bill’s signing Friday, Biden called for Congress to come together on a long-term funding bill that addresses the country’s needs.

“Funding the government isn’t a great achievement,” Biden said. “It’s the bare minimum of what we need to get done.”

What are some of the items that Biden said “need to get done?”

  • Congress has to come to an agreement on addressing the debt limit prior to Dec. 15, lest the country default on its debts for the first time ever, potentially setting off a global economic catastrophe.
  • They must also act to approve the annual defense budget bill — the National Defense Authorization Act — which Congress has passed in bipartisan fashion for six decades.
  • And on top of that, Congressional Democrats are aiming to pass President Joe Biden’s nearly $2 trillion social spending and climate measure — the Build Back Better bill — before Christmas.

Difficult? Yes. Possible? Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., believes so, but warned colleagues in a letter Monday that it will require “more long days and nights, and potentially weekends” in order to get it all done.

Schumer said that this week they “anticipate” a conference agreement on the defense bill — a reconciling between the House and Senate versions of the measure  — but warned that there could be weekend votes due to the time it takes to process those differences.

The defense bill passed the defense bill in bipartisan fashion in September, but the measure has stalled in the Senate due to lawmakers squabbling over amendments — specifically, one related to the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline running from Russia across Europe, one that would restrict products forcibly made by Uyghur Muslims in China from entering the U.S., and a number of others.

Democratic leaders do not object to the substance of the Uyghur amendment — introduced by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — but say that it violates a Constitutional amendment which says that revenue measures must come from the House, not the Senate.

“It’s unfortunate that this misguided demand of a single Republican senator is preventing this important legislation to support our national security from moving in the Senate,” Schumer said last week.

Further complicating the defense spending bill is an attempt to potentially tie a debt limit hike to the must-pass bill: Both Republican and Democratic House leaders alike have expressed concerns that a defense bill which includes an increase to the debt limit could pass the chamber.

Senate Republicans have urged Democrats to go it alone on the debt limit hike, saying in October after they helped Democrats pass a short-term extension that they would not do so again. Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have been privately discussing the matter of the debt limit in the last several weeks in the hopes of coming together on an agreement.

Congress has raised the debt limit — which does not authorize new spending — several times in recent years, under both Democratic and Republican control of both the White House and Congress. For example, Democrats joined Republicans three times under former President Donald Trump in hiking the limit.

Two House lawmakers — a Democrat and a Republican — unveiled a measure last week that they say would address the issue and end repeated Congressional skirmishes over raising the debt limit, but it’s unclear whether that proposal will garner any momentum.

Schumer also provided Monday an update on what’s next for the Build Back Better act, with the New York Democrat reiterating his goal of passage before Christmas.

What’s next for the bill is to make sure that all of its provisions pass muster for the chamber’s reconciliation process — the maneuver that allows certain budget legislation to pass the chamber with a 51-vote majority rather than the 60-vote legislative filibuster threshold.

Schumer said that Senate committees started meeting with Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough — the chamber’s nonpartisan arbiter of the rules — over the summer to make sure that provisions of the bill can survive the so-called “Byrd bath,” or compliance with the Senate’s budget reconciliation rules.

“On Friday and Saturday, 8 of the 12 Senate committees that were given Reconciliation instructions submitted their final Senate text to the Parliamentarian, the Congressional Budget Office [CBO] and the Senate Republicans,” Schumer said. “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,” he added. “I am confident that Senators will have ample time to review the text and CBO scores.”

“I especially want to thank the Senate Parliamentarian and the staff for all of the time and energy they have dedicated to this process,” Schumer wrote. “It is a very onerous job and they are handling it with professionalism.”

MacDonough, the Senate’s parliamentarian, has been working through the bill while battling breast cancer — members of both parties have expressed praise for her hard work despite the circumstances.

Once the bill survives that process, it will need the approval of all 50 Senate Democrats — including moderate holdouts Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. — and have its differences reconciled with the House before it can get to Biden’s desk.

A tall order, to be sure, but Schumer is confident it can all get done — and more, as he also teased other possibilities to tackle before the end of the year, including action on voting rights.

But an accomplished December could give lawmakers something to talk about when they return home for the holidays — and accomplishments to tout ahead of the all-important 2022 midterm elections.

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