COMPASS: Biden’s agenda is all on deck this week

September 27th, 2021

Good afternoon from Capitol Hill. Three weeks ago, five zebras escaped a farm in Maryland, not far from DC. They’re still on the lam.

Congressional Democrats are laying it all on the line this week as infrastructure, reconciliation, government funding, and the debt ceiling come front and center to learn their legislative fate.

None of this is guaranteed. Democrats are at odds with themselves over how infrastructure and reconciliation will be paired, if they are. Progressives have long seeked to link the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill with the far more partisan $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill — that is, the infrastructure bill can only be passed if passage if reconciliation is guaranteed.

The House Progressive Caucus is attempting to leverage their votes to that end, reportedly refusing to back the infrastructure bill unless passage of the full reconciliation bill is guaranteed. It is unclear if there are enough Republicans willing to vote for the bill to offset the progressive revolt.

But the fate of the reconciliation bill lies in the hands of the Senate’s moderates, Sens Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), and potentially some House moderates as well. Even House Speaker Pelosi has said she expects the reconciliation bill will have to be pared down. (For an outline of the issues dividing Democrats, see here.)

And then there is the debt ceiling — the limit on how much money the federal government can borrow; or, to be more precise, the limit on how much the federal government can add to the national debt. This ceiling must be raised to prevent a government default.

House Democrats have already passed a short term Continuing Resolution to fund the government until December 3, which contained the debt ceiling increase. The Senate will likely vote that down today, as Senate Republicans, including minority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have made clear they will not support a government funding bill which increases the debt ceiling.

Oddly, Democrats, who claim that spending trillions of dollars has no net negative impact on the economy (and in fact, only benefits!) for some reason do not want to be on the hook for raising the debt ceiling. They want Republicans to join them, which is a tacit acknowledgement that spending at these insane levels does, in fact, have economic and political consequences.

However, if Republicans do hold to their intent not to vote for the debt ceiling increase, Democrats may have no choice other than to put it in their reconciliation legislation, which will pass along party lines (if it passes at all). The debt ceiling was last raised in 2017, to $22 trillion. But it also allowed for a suspension, during which the US has borrowed roughly $6.5 trillion more. 

The Latest from Around the Conservative Movement