In a pivotal week, in a make-or-break stretch 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 as a whole is critical for the party’s agenda and political prospects. Failure could have major electoral and economic consequences — including the potential of a first-ever default on the government’s debt that could precipitate a global financial crisis. Here are all the moving parts.
Piece 1: Government funding.
Lawmakers entered this week facing a critical deadline: At a second past midnight on Friday morning, the parts of the government that operate under the discretion of Congress’s annual spending process had been set to run out of money.
Oct. 1 is the beginning of the fiscal year, and with larger issues dominating their attention, the Democratic House and Senate have not completed any of the annual appropriations bills to fund the Departments of Defense, Transportation, Health and Human Services, State and Homeland Security, to name a few.
On Thursday afternoon, lawmakers averted a potential shutdown. The Senate passed a stopgap bill that would keep federal funding flowing into December and allow more time for the annual appropriations bills to be completed. The House quickly passed the bill as well, clearing the way for Mr. Biden to sign it and keep the government funded.
Piece 2: The debt limit.
Raising the debt limit is akin to paying off your credit card bill at the end of the month, because a higher borrowing ceiling allows the Treasury to pay creditors, contractors and agencies money that was already extracted from them in Treasury bonds and notes or contracts. It is not for future obligations.
Republicans have made it clear that they intend to filibuster an ordinary bill to raise the debt ceiling, as they did on Monday. For Democrats to do so unilaterally, they would 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. It all has to be done in the next two to three weeks, to beat the rapidly approaching “X date” when the government defaults. Janet Yellen, the Treasury secretary, told Congress on Tuesday that the deadline is Oct. 18.
Piece 3: Infrastructure.
In August, with rare bipartisan swagger, the Senate passed a $1 trillion bill to build or fortify 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 quick 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 until the Senate-passed infrastructure bill cleared their chamber. But now liberals in the House are threatening to withhold their votes for the infrastructure measure until the budget blueprint has successfully made its way through reconciliation.
Piece 4: Social policy reconciliation.
Democrats’ exceedingly ambitious social policy bill, which Mr. Biden calls his “Build Back Better” plan, is packed with longstanding party priorities. The House has drafted a 2,465-page version that includes a huge array of programs to combat climate change, the extension of a generous child tax credit, universal prekindergarten, greatly expanded access to community college, increased resources for elder care and paid leave, and a Medicare expansion to cover vision, hearing and dental care — all paid for by trillions of dollars in tax increases on corporations and the wealthy.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi had hoped to put it to a vote this week, but she faced two problems: As of now, Democrats most likely do not have the votes, and Senate Democratic leaders have yet to produce a detailed bill that can draw the support of every member of their caucus.
Several conservative-leaning Democrats in both chambers, including Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have said they cannot support the plan as proposed. And because Republicans have made it clear they are unified in their opposition, Democrats cannot afford to lose even one vote from their party in the Senate and can afford to lose as few as three votes in the House.
Mr. Biden has been negotiating with the holdouts to determine what they could support. But for now, the lack of agreement on the sprawling plan is blocking its progress — and leaving the fate of the infrastructure measure uncertain as well.
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