- Congress has a lot on its plate this month.
- Democrats want to avoid a government default on its debt and pass Biden’s Build Back Better agenda.
- A bipartisan effort to authorize defense spending is also on the table to pass before the new year.
Congress is back in session after a Thanksgiving recess, and lawmakers have a hefty agenda on their plates to complete before Christmas.
Two weeks ago, the House passed President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better framework, and while that was a significant step toward advancing Democrats’ social-spending agenda, they still have a ways to go. Not only does that framework face the Senate now, where it will likely see additional cuts and amendments, but Democrats also have to deal with averting a government shutdown, raising the debt ceiling, and passing a defense spending bill — all of which they hope to accomplish in December.
“As you know, the legislative agenda for the remainder of 2021 is considerable,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told lawmakers in a letter before Thanksgiving. “I am confident we can get each of these important items done this year, but it will likely take some long nights and weekends,” he added.
Raise the debt ceiling by Dec. 5 to keep the US funded and avoid a government shutdown
The first matter Democrats must tackle is avoiding a government shutdown. On October 6, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stepped in to help Democrats raise the debt ceiling and keep the government funded an additional two months. That measure expires in just five days, on December 5, meaning Democrats must figure out a way to once again ensure the US can continue paying its bills.
Although in the months leading up to October, Democrats struggled to raise the debt ceiling given the GOP stance that Democrats must do it on their own without Republican assistance, Insider reported last week that this time around may not quite the political standoff. McConnell and Schumer met to discuss the quickly approaching deadline.
“We had a good discussion about several different issues that are all extant here as we move toward the end of the session and we agreed to keep talking and working together to try to get somewhere,” McConnell told HuffPost following the meeting.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that after December 15, she is not confident the Treasury will have the resources to fund the government and stressed the need for the matter to be addressed in a bipartisan way. Democrats like Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar agree.
“You know, if the Republicans want to scrooge out on us, and increase people’s interest rates and make it hard to make car payments — go ahead, make that case,” Klobuchar told ABC News. “We’re going to stop them from doing that.”
Democrats’ sweeping climate and social-welfare package
The vast majority of Democrats have been very clear: Americans need Biden’s Build Back Better agenda signed into law as soon as possible. While the House succeeded in a passing a $2 trillion framework this month, their version is certainly not final as it now rests in the Senate.
As Insider’s Joseph Zeballos-Roig reported, there are a number of measures that could get cut from the bill due to opposition from centrist Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. For example, Manchin had concerns with the inclusion of four weeks of paid leave, arguing it could grow the national debt, and he has also pushed back against expanding Medicare.
Meanwhile, progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders would like to see the bill “strengthened.” After the House passed the bill, he called for the inclusion of lower prescription drug prices, increased taxes on the wealthy, and more robust climate reform.
Biden previously said he would like to sign this bill into law “as soon as possible.”
A bipartisan task: authorizing key defense programs
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers are hoping to finalize the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2022, which will likely be the easiest thing lawmakers can pass this month. The NDAA has historically been bipartisan, and as The Washington Post reported, lawmakers are hoping to pass the $768 billion annual measure this week.
However, this measure is being considered far later than it had in previous years and has raised concerns for some lawmakers that Congress could break a 60-year streak and fail to pass the defense policy bill.
“Don’t mess up the one thing that you can count on the Senate to do in a bipartisan way every year,” Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine told Politico. “A Senate that cannot do this hardly deserves the title.”