Congress stares down slew of deadlines with return to Washington
▶ Watch Video: Congress faces looming deadlines to pass president’s agenda and approve funding
Washington — The holiday season has arrived, and Congress has gifted itself a lengthy legislative to-do list that includes must-pass bills to keep federal agencies operating and avert a fiscal crisis, as well as President Biden’s sprawling social spending and climate change package that has been a source of squabbling among Democrats.
The House and Senate returned to Washington early this week after a Thanksgiving recess, and lawmakers are now turning their attention to navigating a slew of self-imposed deadlines, the most immediate of which is the expiration Friday of a measure that funds the federal government.
But on the heels of the December 3 cutoff to skirt a partial government shutdown comes the need for Congress to extend or suspend the debt limit, which Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said must be addressed by December 15 to avoid a default for the first time in U.S. history.
Also hanging over lawmakers as they convene is the must-pass $768 billion annual defense policy bill, advancement of which was stymied by Republicans in the Senate on Monday. GOP Senate leaders including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe accused Democrats of trying to rush the measure, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, through the upper chamber, cutting off the amendment process.
But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pushed back on Republicans’ filibuster of the defense policy bill in a Senate floor speech Tuesday, calling their criticisms of the amendment process “poppycock.”
“Passing the annual defense bill should not be in question, and Republicans blocking this legislation is harmful to our troops, to their families who sacrifice so much and to our efforts to keep Americans around the world safe,” he said. “We Democrats are not going to let Republican intransigence stop us.”
To keep the lights on at federal agencies and address one pressing legislative item, Schumer said members are aiming to pass another stopgap measure that would fund the government into 2022. The majority leader predicted the House would move to pass a short-term continuing resolution as soon as Wednesday and said Senate Democrats are “ready to pass this legislation and get it done as quickly as possible.”
Schumer said he and McConnell have also met for discussions about the debt limit, and he expects they will continue talks to reach a bipartisan solution to address the looming debt ceiling crisis.
While congressional leaders are working to chart a path forward for the must-pass legislative items, Senate Democrats are also looking to clear Mr. Biden’s nearly $2 trillion plan to bolster the social safety net and combat climate change.
Called the Build Back Better Act, Schumer said Senate Democrats will meet this week with the Senate parliamentarian to make procedural and technical changes to the bill that are needed to ensure it complies with the rules governing the process — reconciliation — they’re using to pass the package.
Once those fixes are made, Schumer said he will bring the bill to the floor for a vote.
“Before we hit Christmas Day, it’s my goal to have the Senate take action to debate and pass President Biden’s Build Back Better legislation,” he said.
But the path to successfully passing the social spending plan may not be an easy one, as Democratic leaders still have to bridge divides among members, namely West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, over its details.
Manchin, a moderate whose opposition to its initial $3.5 trillion price tag forced Mr. Biden to scale down the package, told reporters Monday he is going through the version of the social spending bill passed by the House earlier this month, but is still opposed to the inclusion of a provision to provide paid family and medical leave.
“I want paid leave to be worked in a separate piece of legislation,” he said. “And I think there’s a bipartisan pathway forward.”
All Republicans oppose Mr. Biden’s domestic policy plan, so its approval by the Senate requires support from all 50 Democrats.
Jack Turman contributed reporting.