The House and Senate return to Washington together this week with Democrats facing four tasks that would be difficult on their own – but, taken together, are the legislative equivalent of the Labors of Hercules.
Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) Summed up the party’s extremely urgent to-do list with drama from a movie trailer: "Keep government open. Don’t default on debt. Make sure the president wins on the infrastructure bill… and obviously the mother of all laws, the reconciliation package, ”he said, referring to the mega-bill that Democrats want to pass along party lines to spend billions of dollars on a variety of social priorities.
“Failure is not an option,” added Warner.
But despite the party’s awareness of what to do, Democrats don’t know how to do it all. The upcoming three-week legislative sprint will test their weak majorities and President Joe Biden’s domestic politics chops, with dwindling days to avoid a government shutdown and defuse a politically toxic battle with Republicans on the edge. borrowing from the country.
President Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are also under intense pressure to implement the lifeblood of Biden’s agenda: a multibillion-dollar social spending program and a bipartisan bill. on infrastructure, both of which could see votes on the ground in the coming weeks.
Already ideological clashes across the Democratic Party have started to spill over into the light of day as it begins its latest attempt to turn Biden’s massive spending plan into law. Last week, a small group of moderates sank a leader-backed drug pricing initiative at a high-level committee meeting as they demanded to vote on their own version of the bill.
On the other side of the Capitol, the senses. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) Have said they will not support legislation that costs $ 3.5 trillion, creating a skirmish with progressives who say the frontline number is already a compromise. Some Democrats are concerned that these two moderates are not at all willing to support the final bill.
Meanwhile, the leaders of this progressive bloc in the House publicly pledge to block the infrastructure bill passed by the Senate and slated for a vote later this month, unless the spending plan Gargantuan Democrats only advance in both chambers – the latest sign of a big party. falters on competing priorities.
Majority House Whip Jim Clyburn acknowledged on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday that party leaders may have to deviate from their original plan – a floor vote on it infrastructure bill by September 27 – because their larger bill is unlikely to be ready. His remarks come after Democratic leaders admitted on Friday that they were concerned about the lack of support from the left.
But one of the nine moderates who had asked for the timeline, Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii), said on Sunday he was fiercely opposed to another date.
"We expect a plenary vote on [Sept. 27]. It was a personal commitment from our management," Case said in an interview. "A lot of people would like the vote to be deferred. It is not the commitment."
The Hawaii Democrat also expressed skepticism that his more liberal colleagues would be willing to reject a key Biden priority that would also provide the largest infusion of infrastructure ever.
"I think at the end of the day when you are faced with a positive or negative vote on the floor of the House, you are going to vote for," he said. "It’s a serious no."
But while Senior Democrats recognize that the coming weeks are filled with landmines, they argue that members of the entire party will eventually unite and not waste a once-in-a-lifetime chance to pass social reforms such as the universal child care, paid family leave and expanded health care programs.
And they say they’re confident Democratic leaders will be able to avoid worst-case scenarios – a US debt stop or default – even if the exact strategy is not yet clear.
“This is the critical moment. … Everyone is going to use every ounce of leverage they have. I think it’s good, ”said Rep Dan Kildee (D-Mich.). “However, we all know that the worst case scenario is when we do nothing.”
House Democrats are expected to unveil the first part of this plan early this week, when they release an interim spending bill to fund the government until December and, presumably, suspend the country’s borrowing limit. . The text has not yet been released, but leaders are considering Dec. 3 as the end date, according to people familiar with the talks. And a measure to raise the debt ceiling should be included despite strong Republican opposition.
Pelosi, in a letter on Sunday evening, reiterated how much of a bipartisan endeavor raising the debt limit has been over the past decade, including under the Trump administration.
“When we adopt the debt limit this month, we expect it to be bipartisan again,” Pelosi wrote.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has categorically rejected Biden’s calls to work together on the debt limit, arguing that Democrats have the means to resolve it on their own using reconciliation. Democrats counter that moderates oppose the suspension of the debt limit using a party line process and that much of the debt now causing the emergency was incurred during the Trump administration.
Clyburn acknowledged on Sunday that Democrats may ultimately have to deal with the debt problem without Republicans’ help, something Democratic leaders have refused to publicly acknowledge so far.
"I don’t agree with that, but if it’s what it takes, this is what it will take," Clyburn said on CNN. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has also privately discussed other legislative vehicles to settle the debt ceiling if Senate Republicans block the current plan.
The House Rules Committee will meet on Monday to prepare this spending bill, which must be enacted by September 30 for the government to continue to function.
Democratic leaders must simultaneously try to keep their sweeping social policy bill on track for swift passage – a bill many see critical to proving the ruling party’s prowess ahead of the 2022 midterms. And with Biden’s approval rating reaching a new low, party lawmakers – especially those in competitive districts – intend to save the administration. Schumer’s office has warned Democratic staff to prepare for work late evenings and weekends.
Major House committees have already worked late into the night, with the House Energy and Commerce committee working on their piece of the bill for over 50 hours last week. However, Senate panels are still drafting legislation, despite Schumer’s ambitious deadline for committees to complete their work by September 15.
House Democratic leaders insisted that Biden’s sprawling social spending plan be ready for a vote before October. But that deadline is expected to slip, and the House budget committee has acknowledged that it has no plans to increase its part of the bill next week, according to a Democratic aide.
This could leave Pelosi and his management team with a gradual rebellion on their hands. Left-wing leaders pledge to vote against the infrastructure bill unless the wider party line plan has also crossed both houses.
House Budget Speaker John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) On Sunday acknowledged the political reality gripping Democrats.
"There is some flexibility in how we combine the two mandates. … One of them is voting on this one on the 27th. The second is not to pass one without the other," Yarmuth told Fox News on Sunday.
"I would say we’re probably going past September 27, until early October would be my best guess."
Caitlin Emma and Jennifer Scholtes contributed to this report.