Adam S. Olsen- Washington, D.C.
December 10, 2021

Both the House and Senate are not in session today.  The House will return on Tuesday, December 14th for votes, and the Senate will return at 3:00 p.m. on Monday, December 13th.

The Senate on Thursday adopted a bipartisan deal that paves the way for lawmakers to raise the debt ceiling, a move that positions Congress to stave off a catastrophic default ahead of a fast-approaching fiscal deadline.  The bill that lawmakers finalized Thursday does not actually raise the debt limit. Instead, it makes a one-time tweak to the Senate’s rules, allowing Democrats in the narrowly divided chamber to lift the borrowing cap without the risk of a Republican filibuster.  The breakthrough came after 14 Republicans joined every Democrat to effectively end their party’s monthslong blockade of debt-limit legislation, allowing the bill to advance in the 50-50 Senate. The legislation later passed by a similar margin, 59 to 35, with 10 Republicans joining Democrats for final passage.  That would pave the way for a separate vote to raise the limit by as much as $2.5 trillion, expected early next week, likely on Tuesday. It puts Congress on track to avoid a fiscal crisis with little time to spare. The Treasury Department has said that it could breach the statutory debt limit soon after December 15th and would no longer be able to finance the government’s obligations.

The Senate is also expected to vote on final passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as soon as Tuesday, which got bogged down when a number of GOP senators objected to advancing it unless they secured votes on amendments they supported, in particular one sponsored by Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho) that would require sanctions against the owner of Nord Stream 2, a pipeline built to deliver Russian natural gas to Germany. The State Department in May waived sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG, the pipeline’s owner, as the administration tried to strengthen U.S. ties with Germany.  The legislation was also held up by a demand by Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) that language from the bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act be added to the NDAA. That bill aims to ensure that products made by the forced labor of Uyghur Muslims, and others, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, don’t enter the U.S. market. It passed the Senate unanimously in July and passed the House this week.

Today, the Congressional Budget Office released a revised score on the Democrats’ social safety net plan, Build Back Better, based on a Republican request to see how much the bill would cost if a series of provisions — including the child tax credit expansion — were extended for the full 10 years.  The CBO estimates that the version of the legislation without sunsets would “increase the deficit by $3 trillion over 2022 to 2031.” The current bill does not include such extensions to the provisions.  The analysis released Friday notes it does not include how much the CBO believes would be raised from tax enforcement mechanisms. It’s longstanding policy the CBO does not include that kind of estimate. This analysis could be important to a key moderate Democratic member, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has long been concerned that many programs in the Democratic bill may end up being extended or even become permanent.  Not long after the analysis posted, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) released statements responding to it, saying this is a “fake” CBO report because, they argue, any extensions of the programs would be “fully offset.”  The Senate will spend next week continuing to negotiate on Build Back Better, although a final vote is unlikely before the holiday recess.

After adjourning on Thursday, when the Senate next reconvenes on Monday, it is expected to start the week by considering Samantha D. Elliott to be United States District Judge for the District of New Hampshire, Lucy Haeran Koh to be United States Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit and Jennifer Sung to also be United States Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit.

Adam S. Olsen, Washington, D.C.