Congress returns to tight deadlines on government funding, Biden’s agenda and more

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Lawmakers return to Washington with a familiar year-end agenda – a pile of important bills and little time to act on them.

The most immediate problem is to avoid a partial government shutdown at the end of the week, but they must also grapple with the country’s borrowing power and the annual defense policy bill.

Democrats also set Christmas as their own deadline to pass the roughly $ 2 trillion domestic spending bill that includes climate, health care and childcare programs. This massive bill is the second element of President Biden’s ‘Build It Better’ agenda – the $ 1.2 infrastructure bill was signed earlier this week and the president has already started pushing for it. praise its value to communities across the country.

Congress is slated to begin its winter recess on December 11, but with everything on its plate, most people expect both Chambers to stay on Capitol Hill longer this year.

Here is an overview of the Congress to-do list:

Government funding: Federal agencies run out of cash at midnight Friday. No deal seems close at hand on the dozens of spending bills that fund the federal government. Instead, lawmakers are scrambling to push the boundaries for a while. Republican and Democratic appropriators are developing an interim financing bill, called a Continuing Resolution, that extends current spending levels. But House and Senate committees have not agreed on how long they want a short-term bill to last.

A source familiar with the talks told NPR that negotiators have gathered around a CR that will come in late January or potentially February so the two chambers can have more time to come to an agreement on the bills. annual funding.

Debt limit: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen informed Congress earlier this month that she has until December 15 to raise the country’s borrowing limit or risk defaulting on the country’s bills. The issue sparked a partisan standoff earlier this fall, but ultimately Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Agreed to a deal that avoided default for weeks. He and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., have held talks on the matter, but there is no clear path to resolve the issue.

Republicans again urge Democrats to pair a debt limit increase with a budget reconciliation plan and pass it on their own, as they can pass a bill using rules that avoid GOP obstruction . But many Democrats are against it and say it might be difficult to finish this bill on time.

“If Republicans want to bash us and raise people’s interest rates and make it hard to pay for cars, go ahead and stand up for this cause. We’re going to stop them from doing that,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, D- Minn., Said Sunday on ABC this week.

The deadline for having to act may be pushed back to early next year, depending on treasury revenues, but leaders say they plan to act in December.

Defense Authorization Bill: Congress has approved the annual political bill for almost 60 years. As usual, the House and the Senate are working on different versions. This year’s bill includes reforms to the system for prosecuting allegations of sexual assault in the military, a salary increase for military men and women, and measures to increase military support for Ukraine in the face of the new threat from Russia. It may take months to negotiate a final deal between the two chambers, and the chairmen of the House and Senate armed services panels have urged leaders to make it a priority. The House approved his version and the Senate is expected to vote on his bill this week.

Rebuild a better spending bill: After the House passed a roughly $ 2 trillion package last week, several Senate Democrats have indicated they want to see changes.

Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va., opposes the four weeks of paid family leave in the House bill, so it should be deleted. Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Wants to expand Medicare coverage to include vision and dental benefits. Immigration provisions that provide work permits to those who have entered the country since January 2011 and prevent them from being deported are being reviewed by the Senate parliamentarian to see if changes to the law. respect the limits of what can be included in a budget reconciliation program. Democrats are using the reconciliation process to get around a Republican obstruction.

There is also an ongoing debate over a tax deduction for states with high local and state property taxes. Some Democrats, including Sanders, warn that the way the House structures the deduction could end up giving many wealthy Americans a significant tax break, and goes against their campaign pledge to make the wealthy pay their fair share.

Schumer has set a Christmas schedule to complete the bill and send it to the president, but if the Senate amends the bill, as scheduled, the House will have to vote it again. Democrats fear it will become more difficult to pass if the debate spills over into 2022, an election year. They want to complete action on the National Expenditure Bill which includes climate, healthcare, childcare programs so they can campaign on these policies and the infrastructure bill. that the president signed recently.

An unknown factor as members of the House and Senate return to Washington – news of a new variant of the coronavirus. President Biden met with members of his COVID task force on Sunday and urges those who have not been vaccinated to be vaccinated and for those who are eligible to receive a booster.

Over the summer, the administration came under criticism for not acting quickly enough to tackle the spread of the Delta variant. So far, there is no indication that the Omicron variant will be more transmissible or cause severe symptoms, but lawmakers are concerned to continue to tackle the pandemic and any potential economic impact. [Copyright 2021 NPR]

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