Four shredded puzzle pieces and a few weeks for Democrats to put them together
WASHINGTON – In a pivotal week, at a pivotal time for President Biden’s national agenda, Congress Democrats attempt to put together a jigsaw puzzle of four jagged pieces that may or may not fit together.
Getting them to work as a whole is critical to the party’s political agenda and outlook, and how quickly they can piece the puzzle together will determine whether the government suffers another costly and embarrassing shutdown – or, worse yet, a first-time failure of the government. payment on its debt which could precipitate a global economic crisis.
Here are all the moving parts.
Exhibit 1: Government funding.
At 12:30 a.m. Friday morning, parts of government that operate at the discretion of the annual congressional spending process will be cash-strapped if an interim spending bill is not passed. October 1 marks the start of the fiscal year, and with larger issues dominating their attention, the Democratic House and Senate have not completed any of the annual appropriation bills to fund the departments of Defense, Transportation. , Health and Social Services, State and Homeland. Security, to name a few.
It is not unusual. Most often, individual finance bills pass only in the winter. In the meantime, Congress passes “rolling resolutions” to keep departments open at current spending levels, with perhaps some adjustments for pressing priorities and emergencies like hurricane response and, this year, relocation of staff. Afghan refugees.
By Thursday, Congress could easily pass such a resolution to avoid a funding cutoff that could put federal workers on leave and force âessentialâ employees, like those in the Transportation Security Administration, to work without money. But on Monday, such a palliative measure was blocked by Republicans in the Senate because it was attached to …
Exhibit 2: The debt limit.
The federal government has operated for decades under a statutory cap on how much it can borrow – in common parlance, the debt limit. The federal debt of $ 28 trillion is growing inexorably, not only because the government spends far more than it recovers in taxes, but also because some parts of the government owe money to other parts, primarily the government. Most of the government that owes Social Security money after decades of borrowing. .
In essence, raising the debt limit is like paying off your credit card bill at the end of the month, because a higher borrowing limit allows the treasury to pay creditors, contractors, and agencies money that has already been mined from them in the form of treasury bills and notes. or contracts. It is not for future obligations.
The last time the problem surfaced, in August 2019, Congress and President Donald J. Trump suspended the debt ceiling until July 31 of this year. On August 2, the Treasury reset the debt limit to $ 28.4 trillion, and the government broke it a few days later. Since then, the ministry has been swirling money from account to account to make sure its bills are paid, but between mid-October and the end of October, these “extraordinary measures” will run out and the bills will remain. unpaid. It would be a shock to the international economy, since US government debt is a global haven for all kinds of cash and investment.
During Mr Trump’s presidency, Republicans and Democrats did not fight for increases in the debt limit, in part because the steep spending increases for the coronavirus pandemic and other priorities were bipartisan – although the significant tax cut in 2017 was not.
This year, Republican leaders have said that because Democrats control the House, Senate and White House, they and they alone need to raise the debt ceiling.
Republicans have made it clear that they intend to obstruct a regular bill to raise the debt ceiling, as they did on Monday. For Democrats to do this unilaterally, they would most likely have to use a budget process called reconciliation that protects tax measures from obstruction.
Doing it is a complex and time consuming affair. Everything must be done in the next two to three weeks, to beat the still unknown “date X” which is fast approaching when the government defaults. Janet Yellen, the Secretary of the Treasury, told Congress on Tuesday that the deadline was October 18.
Exhibit 3: Infrastructures.
In August, with rare bipartisan bluster, the Senate passed a $ 1 trillion bill to build or fortify roads, bridges, tunnels, public transportation, and rural broadband networks. The 69 âyesâ votes included Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, and 18 other members of his party.
Then it got more complicated.
Pressing for a quick vote on the bill, nine conservative Democrats in the House threatened to withhold their votes for the party’s $ 3.5 trillion budget bill until the infrastructure adopted by the Senate frees their room.
The budget plan was necessary to push Mr. Biden’s sprawling social policy and climate change agenda beyond Republican obstruction in the Senate, through the reconciliation process. So, in a signing maneuver, President Nancy Pelosi struck a deal with the nine moderates: vote for the budget resolution to launch the social policy bill, and she would tackle the infrastructure bill from here. September 27, three days before a multitude of transport and infrastructure programs must exhaust their legal authority.
Ms Pelosi hoped that by then the reconciliation package would also be ready for action. But that did not happen, and now the Liberals in the House are threatening to withhold their votes for the infrastructure measure.
September 27 passed Monday without a vote or agreement between the factions, with the speaker securing the agreement of her moderates to postpone the action until Thursday. The question is whether enough Liberal Democrats in the House will vote for it pending the final details of …
Exhibit 4: Reconciliation of social policies.
The Democrats’ hugely ambitious social policy bill, which Biden calls his “Build Back Better” plan, is chock-full of the party’s long-standing priorities. The House wrote a 2,465-page version that includes a wide range of climate change programs, the extension of a generous child tax credit, universal preschool, significantly expanded access to community college, increased resources for elderly care and paid leave, and an extension of health insurance to cover vision, hearing and dental care – all paid for by billions of dollars in increases taxes on companies and the rich.
Ms Pelosi had hoped to vote on it this week, but she ran into two problems: At the moment, Democrats probably do not have the votes, and Democratic Senate leaders have yet to produce a draft. detailed law that can get the support of every member of their caucus.
Several conservative Democrats in both chambers, including Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, said they could not support the plan as proposed. And because Republicans have made it clear that they are united in their opposition, Democrats cannot afford to lose even one voice from their party in the Senate.
The math is almost as daunting in the House, where Democrats can afford to lose as few as three votes.
Mr. Biden negotiated with the holdouts to determine what they might support. But for now, the lack of agreement on the sprawling plan is blocking its progress – and also leaves the fate of the infrastructure measure uncertain.
On Monday afternoon, Pelosi signaled Democrats that a vote on the reconciliation plan should be postponed until differences are ironed out.