USA TODAY International Edition

Big votes on Biden’s agenda lie ahead

Debate looms on budget package, election law

- Bart Jansen

WASHINGTON – Congress gets back to work Monday facing several major decisions that will test Democratic unity in the coming weeks as lawmakers vote on President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda, routine funding for the federal government and the size of the federal debt.

Part of the reason for the collision of so many big- ticket spending bills is that lawmakers approved a two- year deal in 2019 for more spending and a suspension of the debt limit. The bills are coming due while pressure builds to pass Biden’s $ 3.5 trillion budget bill and a $ 1.2 trillion transporta­tion plan to fund roads and bridges.

A thorny policy debate governing election law also looms.

The $ 1.2 trillion in infrastruc­ture spending has been linked to the much more contentiou­s $ 3.5 trillion budget package.

The Senate approved the infrastruc­ture bill, which has $ 550 billion in new spending, on a bipartisan 6930 vote last month. Rather than rubber- stamping the measure and sending it to Biden, the House agreed to vote on it by Sept. 27, so it could move in tandem with the $ 3.5 trillion package that no Republican­s support.

A group of nine moderate House Democrats insisted on a stand- alone vote on infrastruc­ture with a relatively firm date. A larger group of liberal Democrats insisted that both measures move together, so support for the larger package doesn’t evaporate after infrastruc­ture is approved.

House Democrats are still assembling the $ 3.5 trillion package with contributi­ons from 13 committees that finished their portions last week. The Budget Committee will combine those pieces into a single bill. Then the Rules Committee could tweak the language before sending the bill to the floor. The race is on to get that work done near Sept. 27.

“We will pass that legislatio­n,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D- Calif., said of infrastruc­ture, but only in com

bination with the larger package.

House will tinker

The $ 3.5 trillion package has drawn concerns from even a few Democrats. The party holds a narrow majority in the House, so just a few Democratic defectors threaten to trim the proposal.

The package carries Biden priorities such as expanding Medicare to include vision, dental and hearing benefits, providing federally subsidized pre- kindergart­en and community college, and financing 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for workers.

To pay for those programs, the Ways and Means Committee agreed to overturn much of the Trump administra­tion tax cut from 2017, raising $ 2.2 trillion largely from corporatio­ns and people earning more than $ 400,000 per year.

Democrats have a 220- 212 advantage in the House, so opposition from at least four of them could kill the $ 3.5 trillion package.

Three Democrats joined Republican­s on the Energy and Commerce Committee in blocking a provision calling for Medicare to negotiate the price of prescripti­on drugs. But the Ways and Means Committee approved the provision, so it could be included in the final package.

Senators have been working with House members on compromise language that could win approval in both chambers.

Democrats hope to pass the bill in the Senate without support from Republican­s. Using a process called reconcilia­tion, Democrats could pass a bill on their own, but getting all members of their party on board hasn’t been smooth.

Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona said the $ 3.5 trillion price tag is too much for them to support.

Biden discussed the package Thursday with Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D- N. Y., to coordinate their priorities under the president’s slogan “Build Back Better.”

Congress must extend funding

Against the backdrop of Biden’s priorities, the federal government is set to run out of money for its routine operations Oct. 1. To keep the lights on from the National Zoo in Washington to Denali National Park in Alaska, lawmakers will need to approve a temporary extension of funding until legislatio­n for the entire fiscal year is ready.

The House Rules Committee, which determines how bills are debated on the floor, scheduled a meeting Monday for the temporary extension of funding, which is called a continuing resolution.

Disputes over spending have shut down the federal government for short periods, including 35 days in late 2018 and early 2019 and 16 days in 2013.

During a shutdown, crucial functions such as the military and air- traffic control continue to operate, but discretion­ary functions such as national parks close down.

A wild card in negotiatio­ns over the continuing resolution is whether to add spending to regular government operations. Biden proposed $ 24 billion for relief from disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires and $ 6.4 billion to help resettle Afghan refugees.

“We’re not going to leave these people in distress,” Biden said while touring wildfire destructio­n in California.

Increasing debt limit

The government also needs to increase the amount it borrows, called the debt limit.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen sent Pelosi a letter Sept. 8 warning that “extraordin­ary measures” the country uses to repay its debt “will be exhausted during the month of October.”

Ignoring the debt limit could harm the country’s borrowing ability. Other countries and investors could demand higher interest rates to finance debt.

Yellen warned that delaying a decision could lead to irreparabl­e damage to the U. S. economy and global financial markets, if they lose confidence in the country’s ability to pay its bills.

The fight is more political than financial. Republican­s threaten to force Democrats to raise the debt limit on their own, so voters could be reminded about their taxing and spending in the next election.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R- Ky., acknowledg­ed the debt limit needs to be raised, but he said Republican­s would let Democrats do it on their own because they pursued the $ 3.5 trillion budget package without Republican support.

“Let’s be clear: With a Democratic President, a Democratic House, and a Democratic Senate, Democrats have every tool they need to raise the debt limit. It is their sole responsibi­lity,” McConnell said in a tweet. “Republican­s will not facilitate another reckless, partisan taxing and spending spree.”

Pelosi called that strategy “totally irresponsi­ble.” She noted that Democrats joined Republican­s in raising the debt limit three times during the Trump administra­tion, when the debt increased $ 7 trillion.

“Mitch has been running around Kentucky taking credit for a lot of the spending that is now requiring us to raise the debt limit, but Mitch doesn’t really care about seeming inconsiste­nt or hypocritic­al. He says whatever is expedient,” Rep. John Yarmuth, D- Ky., said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“The Constituti­on says the full faith and credit of the United States is not to be in doubt,” Pelosi said. “People say, ‘ Oh, you just want to spend money.’ No. We’re paying the credit card, the Trump credit card, with what we would do to lift the debt ceiling.”

Schumer called efforts to play games with the debt “reckless, irresponsi­ble, despicable.”

“We did not resort to hostage taking or proclaim that it was the other side’s responsibi­lity,” Schumer said. “We simply knew that when it came to the debt ceiling, it was important to put aside political differences and act responsibl­y, no matter who sits in the Oval Office.”

“We actually raised, on a bipartisan basis, the debt ceiling in the last Congress because on a bipartisan basis, we agreed on what to spend the money on,” Sen. Bill Cassidy, R- La., said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. “This time, Democrats want to increase the debt ceiling for their reconcilia­tion bill, which they’re passing on a party line basis.”

Senate to vote on voting rights

The Senate could take action this week on a voting rights bill that aims to overturn state restrictio­ns.

The proposal is a pared- down version of a voting rights bill Democrats failed to pass earlier this year.

Republican­s have remained unified against election legislatio­n, arguing that Democrats are trying to codify advantages to keep themselves in power rather than enhance voting security through tighter control over ballots and when they are cast.

House Democrats approved expansive legislatio­n in August that would restore portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act overturned by Supreme Court decisions. The evenly divided Senate hasn’t taken up the bill amid Republican opposition and concerns among some Democrats.

Manchin proposed a narrower bill that Senate Democrats rallied behind that would expand early voting options, allow for registrati­on on Election Day and battle partisan gerrymande­ring in determinin­g the maps for House seats. Manchin looks for support from 10 Republican­s who would need to join

50 members of the Democratic caucus to overcome a filibuster that could kill the bill.

McConnell said Republican­s oppose federalizi­ng rules because states take different approaches to how they conduct elections.

“It is a solution in search of a problem, and we will not be supporting that,” McConnell said.

 ??  ?? Biden
 ?? GETTY IMAGES ?? Sen. Joe Manchin, D- W. Va., has concerns about the amount of spending his colleagues propose.
GETTY IMAGES Sen. Joe Manchin, D- W. Va., has concerns about the amount of spending his colleagues propose.
 ?? J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/ AP ?? Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D- Calif., insists on linking two spending legislativ­e packages.
J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/ AP Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D- Calif., insists on linking two spending legislativ­e packages.

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