Politics

Congress Faces An Absolutely Brutal September Filled With High-Stakes Deadlines

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Andrew Trunsky Political Reporter
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  • Lawmakers have spent most of August on vacation after sessions that advanced an infrastructure bill and Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget, but those pain-staking efforts are nothing compared to what lies in store come September.
  • Congress will have just days to agree on a plan to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling before consequential deadlines, all while Democrats aim to pass both the budget and public works package over opposition from Republicans and certain intraparty squabbles.
  • “Our position remains unchanged,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote after the agreement passed. “We’ll only vote for the infrastructure bill when the House passes a reconciliation package that delivers on overdue promises.”
  • Republicans have also vowed to oppose a debt ceiling increase. “Because Democrats are responsible for the spending, they need to take responsibility for increasing the debt ceiling,” over 100 of them wrote.

Lawmakers have spent most of August on vacation from Washington after marathon sessions that advanced a bipartisan infrastructure bill and Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget, but those pain-staking efforts are nothing compared to what lies in store for Congress come September.

Congress will have just days to agree on a plan to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling before consequential deadlines, all while Democrats aim to pass both the budget and public works package over opposition from Republicans and certain intraparty squabbles.

The rush is compounded by the fact the Senate does not return to Washington until Sept. 13, while the House does not convene until Sept. 20.

The Senate passed the infrastructure bill on Aug. 10, but the bill must still pass the House before heading to President Joe Biden’s desk. The lower chamber, after days of contentious deliberations between moderates and Democratic leadership, adopted a rule mandating a vote on the bill by Sept. 27, but disagreements within the caucus over how the budget will be prioritized remain front and center.

“Our position remains unchanged,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive Democrat from New York, wrote after the agreement passed. “We’ll only vote for the infrastructure bill when the House passes a reconciliation package that delivers on overdue promises – like lowering drug prices, fighting climate change, supporting childcare & providing vision & dental care to seniors.” (RELATED: ‘Take The Win’: Moderate Dems Double Down, Vow To Block Budget Unless Infrastructure Bill Gets A Vote First)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks on August 25 at the Capitol after the House advanced the budget and infrastructure bill. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks on August 25 at the Capitol after the House advanced the budget and infrastructure bill. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

The House’s rule did also advance Democrats’ budget and allow for the creation of an accompanying reconciliation bill — the legislation that outlines and funds their priorities that is exempt from a Senate filibuster. Democrats are not only aiming to craft what will be a massive bill by Sept. 15, but have almost no room for error when it comes to passing it given their three-vote margin in the House and 50-50 split in the Senate.

And while progressives have called the $3.5 trillion figure a “compromise” and the Senate agreed to begin the reconciliation process earlier this month, moderates like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema have flatly objected to a budget of that size.

“Proceedings in the U.S. House will have no impact on Kyrsten’s views about what is best for our country,” her spokesman said earlier in August. “Including the fact that she will not support a budget reconciliation bill that costs $3.5 trillion.”

If the budget is not ready by Sept. 27, it is entirely possible that progressives balk at the infrastructure bill. “We will only vote for the infrastructure bill after passing the reconciliation bill,” Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, wrote.

On top of what will likely be an all-out push to pass the bills – which include the bulk of Biden’s domestic agenda – Congress must also vote on raising the debt ceiling, which was last done just over two years ago. If they take no action whatsoever, the Treasury could run out of money to fund the government, which could spark a crisis that lowers America’s credit rating.

Unlike in previous years, Republicans have said they will not vote for a debt ceiling increase, effectively daring Democrats to include it in the reconciliation bill and raise it on their own. Democrats, however, are not doing that and instead planning on bringing it to the floor independently in hopes that Republicans balk and vote for it. (RELATED: Treasury Secretary: ‘Irreparable Harm’ If Congress Doesn’t Raise The Debt Ceiling)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that Republicans will not vote to increase the debt ceiling, creating a potential high-stakes standoff. (Liz Lynch/Getty Images)

But Republicans have stood their ground. Over 100 on Monday signed a letter vowing to oppose it, citing Democrats’ $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill and the budget.

“In order for this spending to occur, our nation’s debt limit will have to be increased significantly,” they wrote. “Because Democrats are responsible for the spending, they need to take responsibility for increasing the debt ceiling.”

Congress finally must also fund the government for 2022 before the current funding runs dry on Sept. 30. While the annual process has recently consisted of bitter partisan brawls that result in last-minute compromises, Congress could pass a continuing resolution that would likely the government through 2021 and punt the extended funding bill to the holidays.

If they fail to do so, then the government will shut down for the third time in less than four years.

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