WASHINGTON — If Congress runs on deadlines, lawmakers face a series of simultaneous sprints this fall that could reshape the U.S. economy and reverberate into next year’s campaigns to determine which party controls the House and Senate.
The most immediate of three major priorities is that the government will partially shut down on Oct. 1 unless Congress does something in the next three weeks to keep appropriations flowing past the end of the fiscal year, on Sept. 30.
The government might also not be able to meet its financial obligations as early as October unless Congress raises or suspends its borrowing authority known as the debt limit, as outlined in a series of increasingly dire letters from Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen to congressional leaders.
And Democrats set up a quick timeline for a two-track legislative strategy for jobs and infrastructure bills. That would entail passing a bipartisan infrastructure measure that has already passed the Senate, and coupling that with a sweeping $3.5 trillion package of social spending for health care, environment, education, job training and more through the budget reconciliation process — which is not subject to the Senate filibuster and hence prevents Republicans from blocking it.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Sept. 8 that she was “so proud” when the Senate passed an infrastructure bill but that “they recognized that that was not the totality of the president’s vision.”
“That was important, and we will pass that legislation,” the California Democrat said. “But we can only do so as we recognize that if we’re going to build back better, we have to do so including many more people.”
That creates a slog through September as House and Senate lawmakers write, negotiate and advance what will amount to a giant package — which represents the heart of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda — through the reconciliation process.
“Is it going to be easy on reconciliation? Absolutely not,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer told reporters last month. “But if past is prologue, we have a chance, a good, decent chance.”
But wait, there’s more. All that arrives simultaneously with contentious issues that will require time and attention, including oversight of Biden’s withdrawal from the Afghanistan War and increased action with the House select committee that is looking into the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. That comes as right-wing extremist groups are planning to attend a Friday rally at the Capitol to demand “justice” for those charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the building.
To that, add pressure on Democrats to respond to the end of the eviction moratorium related to the coronavirus pandemic, more restrictive state voting laws and a new Texas law that ends most legal abortions in that state. A smaller group of negotiators is still trying to hammer out a deal on an overhaul to policing policies.