Nov 29, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Congress sprints to meet crush of deadlines

Illustration of a hand circling dates on a December 2021 calendar.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Congressional leaders have been pushing off vital action for months — and a lot of it will catch up with them in December, which begins Wednesday.

Driving the news: Funding for the federal government is set to expire at midnight on Friday. There are also consequential deadlines related to the debt limit, President Biden's agenda and annual actions like voting on the National Defense Authorization Act.

Key dates:

1. Midnight on Dec. 3: Government funding runs out.

  • As of now, members don't anticipate a government shutdown that could affect everything from access to national parks to delivery of Social Security checks.
  • Instead, they're working on another short-term continuing resolution to keep the government open for another series of weeks.
  • Democrats favor a shorter-term target of late December or January as a new deadline, while Republicans like Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, favor pushing for a longer extension.

2. Dec. 15: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s deadline to raise the debt limit.

  • The intense rhetoric we saw leading up to the initial Oct. 18 default date has died down considerably this time — in part due to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell previously blinking on the issue — but there's still no clear path forward on raising the ceiling.
  • McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer met to discuss the debt limit before the Thanksgiving recess, and have plans to meet again as early as this week.

3. Dec. 31: Schumer’s deadline to pass Biden’s Build Back Better plan.

  • Schumer said Monday that meetings with the Senate parliamentarian over shepherding the package through the budget reconciliation process are ongoing. Once that work is completed, he'll bring Build Back Better legislation to the Senate floor, he said.
  • However, there are still a number of outstanding issues that need to be worked out, including Medicare expansion, the state and local tax deductions, paid family leave and immigration.
  • Two key players, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), also have yet to sign off the bill.
  • Given the other must-pass deadlines Congress faces that take priority over this bill, we wouldn't be surprised if Senate Democrats are forced to push this off to January.

4. Dec. 31: Congress deadline to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

  • The Senate failed to reach an agreement on this must-pass, $768 billion bill before its Thanksgiving recess, and they faced another speed bump Monday night as Republicans blocked efforts to shut down debate on the bill, arguing they need to spend more time negotiating.
  • The two sides hope to hash out disagreements over a series of key amendments, such as requiring women to register for a military draft and repealing the 2002 authorization to go to war in Iraq, this week.

The backdrop: Key action regarding the Jan. 6 Select Committee’s investigation, forging a House and Senate agreement on Schumer’s China bill (the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act) and ramping up approval of Biden’s nominees also will take place simultaneously this month.

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