Washington Watch: Congress returns to face shutdown deadline, hurdles for Biden’s Build Back Better plan
Lawmakers return to Washington this week from a holiday break, and with them will come fierce debate over President Joe Biden’s sprawling social-spending and climate bill passed by the House earlier this month, as well as a Friday deadline to keep the government running.
The Senate returns Monday from a weeklong Thanksgiving break, while the House is back in on Tuesday, and among lawmakers’ first tasks is funding the government past midnight Friday, when a stopgap budget expires. Congressional leaders are expected to use another short-term budget to avoid a December partial shutdown, but as the Hill reports, they haven’t said how long a so-called continuing resolution will last.
Lawmakers are also confronting a fresh debt-limit deadline: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has told Congress that maneuvering room to avoid default would run out soon after Dec. 15 if the borrowing limit isn’t raised.
Meanwhile, Democrats are set to return to debating Biden’s massive social-spending bill. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, has said he’d like his chamber to pass the so-called Build Back Better plan before Christmas, but several key provisions in the roughly $2 trillion measure need to be hashed out after passing the House of Representatives on Nov. 19, and Senate action could reportedly slip into the new year.
Attention will turn once again to Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, two moderate members of Biden’s party who have aired concerns about the size and contents of the plan. But other lawmakers such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who usually votes with Democrats, will also be critical to watch on issues including the state and local tax deduction, or SALT.
Here are a few key items that senators will debate afresh beginning this week.
The House-passed bill raises the $10,000 cap on the state and local tax deduction to $80,000, beginning in tax year 2021 and extended over nine years. Sanders has said the provision amounts to a tax break for wealthy Americans, calling it “wrong.” He’s not alone. Montana Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, has said he’d “just as soon have it out,” since “I think it gives tax breaks to the wrong people: Rich people.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, says he has a proposal that would aim the break at middle-class families. Compromise will be key on this and the rest of the bill, as the measure will need the backing of every Democrat to pass the 50-50 Senate. No Republicans support it. With next year’s midterm elections approaching, the GOP is bashing Biden’s plans and charging they will make high inflation worse.
House Democrats approved four weeks of paid family and medical leave — but that’s as far as that idea could get.
Manchin is opposed to the $200 billion item in the House bill, insisting it should be done in a “bipartisan way” instead of through the so-called reconciliation process Democrats are using to push Build Back Better in the Senate. That process requires just 50 votes, meaning Democrats can’t afford opposition.
Manchin’s Democratic colleague, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, has been trying to bring him on board with paid leave and said after the House’s vote that they “continue to talk about ways to put paid leave in this bill.”
About 6.5 million immigrants who have lived in the U.S. since 2011 would get relief from deportation as well as work permits if the Senate doesn’t change the House bill. Another provision would boost the technology industry’s
efforts to hire foreign-born workers amid labor shortages, by increasing the availability of green cards.
But will immigration measures pass the Senate’s budget rules? Since the reconciliation process is intended to be for federal-budget-related matters, immigration could be ruled out of a final bill.
This is an updated version of a report that was first published on Nov. 26, 2021.