Nov 28, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Congress' marathon December

Illustration of two people in business suits running a relay, handing off a rolled parchment

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

With just 36 days until the House majority changes hands, the 117th Congress still has a sprawling laundry list of legislative priorities to get done before the new year.

State of play: The December agenda includes landmark legislation to codify the rights to gay and interracial marriage and to reform the Electoral Count Act of 1887. Both are awaiting Senate passage and are likely to be green-lit by the Democrat-controlled House — with potentially limited GOP support.

Driving the news: The Respect for Marriage Act cleared another procedural hurdle Monday night after three Republican senators withheld their support until they could secure floor votes on GOP religious freedom amendments.

  • That agreement also fast-tracked the bill, with senators set to vote on final passage on Tuesday afternoon.
  • A dozen Republican senators are supporting the bill — more than is needed to bypass the 60-vote filibuster threshold — with aides in both parties telling Axios that number may grow.

Be smart: The bill has been amended since passing the House in July, meaning it will have to return to the House for another vote.

  • Key House Democrats have told Axios that the addition of language clarifying the bill doesn't infringe upon religious freedom won't prompt any opposition from their side — and it could result in more Republican "yes" votes.

What’s next: The Electoral Count Act reform bill has more bipartisan backing, but a lack of precious Senate floor time could be an obstacle.

  • The legislation has substantial GOP support as a result of bipartisan negotiations — most notably from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
  • It would raise the threshold for objecting to Electoral College votes, clarify the vice president’s role in the certification process as purely ceremonial, and crack down on states sending competing electoral slates to Congress.
  • Senators are more likely than not to roll the legislation into a larger legislative vehicle, like an omnibus spending bill or the National Defense Authorization Act, to preserve floor time, aides say.

Between the lines: Both measures are in response to two of the most explosive political developments of the last two years.

  • The Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol revealed how the archaic language of the Electoral Count Act could be hijacked in an effort to overturn a presidential election.
  • And Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson, the decision that overturned landmark abortion ruling Roe v. Wade, spurred Democrats to push to codify gay marriage rights.

The big picture: Marriage and electoral reform are far from the only issues Congress is trying to tackle before the year is out.

  • Congress still needs to pass either an omnibus or a stopgap budget bill before government funding runs out in mid-December.
  • Senators are looking to add Ukraine aid into the budget or a continuing resolution funding the government as House Republicans threaten to cut off the spigot when they gain the majority.
  • The White House had also eyed raising the debt limit this year to defuse the risk of GOP brinksmanship. However, when asked if Senate Republicans would lend their support to that effort, Thune said: "I think that's probably a next year exercise."

What we’re watching: Whether budget negotiations roll through mid-December and into the holiday season.

  • Funding runs out on Dec. 16, but Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters, “I don’t know if we’ll get it done by the 16th … we might be here until Christmas.”
  • Shelby said a resolution to fund the government until Dec. 23 is on the table, but that “serious negotiations” likely won’t begin in earnest until after the Dec. 6 Senate runoff in Georgia, which will determine the size of Democrats’ Senate majority next year.
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