Four Jagged Puzzle Pieces and a Few Weeks for the Democrats to Assemble Them

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Four Jagged Puzzle Pieces and a Few Weeks for the Democrats to Assemble Them

WASHINGTON — In a crucial week for President Biden’s domestic agenda, congressional Democrats are trying to assemble a puzzle of four jagged pieces that may or may not fit together.

Making them work holistically is critical to the party’s agenda and political prospects, and how quickly they can assemble the puzzle will determine whether the government faces another costly and embarrassing shutdown – or, even more. Worse, defaulting on your debt for the first time could lead to a global economic crisis.

Here are all the moving parts.

At the second of midnight on Friday morning, portions of the government operating under the discretion of Congress’ annual spending process will run out of money if a stopgap spending bill does not pass. October 1 is the start of the fiscal year, and with bigger issues dominating their focus, the Democratic House and Senate haven’t completed any annual appropriations bills to fund the Departments of Defense, Transportation, Health and Human Services, State and Homeland Is. Security, to name a few.

It is not uncommon. More often than not, personal financing bills don’t get passed until winter. In the interim, Congress passes “continuous resolutions” to keep portfolios open at current spending levels, perhaps changing some of the immediate priorities and emergencies like hurricane response and, this year, Afghan refugee resettlement.

As of Thursday, Congress could easily pass such a resolution to avoid a funding lapse that could force federal workers and “essential” workers like the Transportation Security Administration to work without money. can do. But on Monday, such a stopgap measure was blocked by Republicans in the Senate because it linked…

The federal government has worked for decades under a statutory limit on the amount it can borrow — colloquially, the loan limit. The $28 trillion federal debt climbs inexplicably, not only because the government spends much more than it does in taxes, but also because some parts of the government owe money to other parts, mainly most The government gives money from Social Security after decades of borrowing. .

In a nutshell, 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 off creditors, contractors and agencies money that is already in Treasury bonds and notes from them. were evicted. or contract. It is not for future obligations.

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The last time the issue came up in August 2019, Congress and President Donald J. Trump suspended the loan limit till July 31 this year. On August 2, the Treasury reset the debt limit to $28.4 trillion, and the government crashed through it a few days later. Since then, the department has been shuffling money from account to account to ensure its bills are paid, but sometime by mid to late October, such “extraordinary measures” will expire, and the bills will not be paid. . This would be a blow to the international economy, as US government debt is a global safe harbor for all forms of cash and investment.

During Mr Trump’s presidency, Republicans and Democrats did not battle over debt limit increases, partly because big spending increases and other priorities for the coronavirus pandemic were bipartisan – though not the big 2017 tax cuts.

This year, Republican leaders have announced that Democrats control the House, Senate and White House, so they and they alone will have to raise the debt limit.

Republicans have made it clear that they intend to file a simple bill to raise the debt limit, as they did on Monday. For Democrats to do so unilaterally, they will most likely have to use a budget process called reconciliation that shields fiscal measures from a filibuster.

Doing so is a complex and time-consuming affair. All this has to be done over the next two to three weeks, so that the still unknown but rapidly approaching “X date” if the government defaults.

In August, with rare bipartisan swagger, the Senate passed a $1 trillion bill to build or strengthen roads, bridges, tunnels, transit and rural broadband networks. The 69 “yes” votes included Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, and 18 others from his party.

Then it got more complicated.

Pressing for a speedy vote on the bill, nine conservative-leaning Democrats in the House threatened to withhold their votes for the party’s $3.5 trillion budget blueprint unless the infrastructure bill passed by the Senate. His room was not approved.

Through the reconciliation process, the budget blueprint was needed to take Biden’s massive social policy and climate change agenda ahead of the Republican filibuster in the Senate. So in a signature maneuver, Speaker Nancy Pelosi struck a deal with nine Moderates: Vote for a budget proposal to turn on the social policy bill, and she will move the infrastructure bill by September 27, three days before a host of current Will take Transport and infrastructure programs are to cease their legal authority.

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Ms Pelosi hoped that by then a reconciliation package would also be ready for action. But that hasn’t happened, and now liberals in the House are threatening to withdraw their votes for the infrastructure measure.

On Monday 27 September came and went without a vote or a deal between the factions, with the speaker securing consent from his moderates to call off the action by Thursday. The question is whether enough moderate Democrats in the House will vote for it as they await the final details…

The Democrats’ highly ambitious social policy bill, which Mr Biden calls his “Build Back Better” plan, has long been fueled by party priorities. The House has drafted a 2,465-page version that includes a vast array of programs to combat climate change, the expansion of a generous child tax credit, universal preschool, wider access to community college, elderly care and paid leave. Trillions of dollars in tax increases paid out on corporations and the wealthy — an increase in resources for the U.S., and a Medicare expansion to cover vision, hearing, and dental care.

Ms Pelosi had hoped to vote this week, but she faced two problems: as of now, Democrats are unlikely to have the vote, and Senate Democratic leaders have yet to prepare a detailed bill that will support could attract every member of their caucus.

Several conservative-leaning Democrats in both houses, including Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kirsten Cinemas of Arizona, have said they cannot support the proposed plan. And because Republicans have made it clear that they are united in their opposition, Democrats cannot afford to lose a single vote from their party in the Senate.

The math is almost as tough in the House, where Democrats can lose at least three votes.

Mr Biden is in talks with the holdouts to determine what they can support. But for now, a lack of agreement on the mammoth plan is stalling its progress – and leaving the fate of the infrastructure uncertain as well.

On Monday afternoon, Ms Pelosi indicated to Democrats that a vote on a reconciliation plan would have to be postponed until the differences were resolved.

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