Adam S. Olsen- Washington, D.C.
September 21, 2021

House and Senate Democrats on Monday unveiled a measure that would fund the federal government into December while holding off a potential default on U.S. debt through next year, setting up a last-minute clash with Republicans ahead of two key fiscal deadlines on Capitol Hill.  Democrats’ plans immediately encountered fierce resistance from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), who reaffirmed Republicans’ prior threats to vote against an increase in the country’s borrowing limit even if it is attached to a measure that funds the government.  Republican lawmakers have maintained this position since the spring as part of their broader opposition to President Joe Biden’s economic agenda, even if it means shutting down the government again to make their point.  McConnell’s renewed commitment angered Democrats, who said they had provided the votes necessary to address the debt ceiling during the Trump administration even when it included spending that they were opposed to. And it raised the odds of a dangerous, market-moving showdown in Congress, coming on a day when the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell over 600 points.  The continuing resolution (CR) proposes $6.3 billion in emergency funding to resettle Afghan refugees, $1 billion for the Iron Dome air defense system and other Pentagon-friendly provisions to avoid a government shutdown after September 30th.  The CR, which runs through December 3rd, would also pay to temporarily house Afghan evacuees at American facilities overseas as well as screen them and resettle some eligible evacuees in the U.S.  The bill’s fate is uncertain and Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) on Monday said in a statement that the GOP has an obligation to address the debt limit because the party helped to pass sprawling coronavirus aid plans last year and addressing the debt limit is about meeting obligations the government has already made.

As both the bipartisan Senate passed infrastructure bill and the $3.5 trillion Democratic led social programs infrastructure packages languish, Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a Dear Colleague letter to her caucus Monday night warning that the big, bold agenda Democrats were trying to enact may have to be scaled back as pressure from moderates collides with rulings from the Senate parliamentarian and other problems within the Caucus to put the package at risk.  Senior Democrats said on Sunday that they will likely need to scale back President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion social spending bill while passage of the linked bipartisan infrastructure bill may slip past a September 27th deadline.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also may delay sending the $1.2 trillion infrastructure measure after House passage to the White House for Biden’s signature until the larger spending bill passes, a move aimed to ensure that moderate Democrats support the bill.  Moderate Democrats, including Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, continue to push to scale back the spending, over liberal objections.  House and Senate leaders need to reconcile a series of policy differences, including how to finance the package, health care provisions and a key promise to lower the cost of prescription drugs.  In order to win enough support from moderate and conservative Democrats to begin work on the much larger, partisan package, Speaker Pelosi agreed to hold a vote on the Senate-passed $1 trillion infrastructure bill on September 27th, but with a week to go before that vote, liberal Democrats are warning that they will block passage of that legislation until work is completed on the $3.5 trillion package.

For today, on the floor, the Senate will resume consideration of the nomination of Margaret Irene Strickland, of New Mexico, to be United States District Judge for the District of New Mexico.

The House may begin work on the continuing resolution and also take up H.R. 4350 – National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022.  The House Armed Services Committee passed the NDAA, 57-2, which raised the topline spending limits by about $24 billion.

Adam S. Olsen, Washington, D.C.