COMPASS: Post BIF, Congress races toward reconciliation

November 15th, 2021

Good afternoon from Capitol Hill. 

The House and Senate are back in session this week. The House returns, coasting on its recent passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, a victory made possible by 13 House Republicans, including two members of the House leadership team. 18 of their Republican Senate colleagues voted for the bill in August.

The passage of the infrastructure bill teed up consideration of the much larger, more partisan Build Back Better agenda, housed in the roughly $1.75 trillion reconciliation bill, which is on the agenda this week. House Democrats can only afford to lose three of their votes. No word on whether House Republicans will again bail Pelosi out of a jam.

The Senate sets its sights this week on passing the National Defense Authorization Act. This is the bill that contains provisions which will extend the registration of the draft to women. Policies to “draft our daughters” passed with the support of both House and Senate Republicans, as Drew White pointed out in The Federalist in September. Conservatives have rallied together to oppose this policy, but it is unclear if the Senate’s amendment process will consider amendments striking the provision, as has been introduced by Sens Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.).

Congress is also setting up a course collision for itself in December. In a letter to his colleagues, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speculated that another short term extension of government funding (a Continuing Resolution) will be needed to push a government funding deadline further into December. This pile up now includes a debt limit extension (Senate Republicans now say they will not help Democrats raise the debt limit, a promise they made and broke in October), as well as an expiration of surface transportation programs, the national flood insurance program, and a reauthorization of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the childcare entitlement to states. 

The $150 billion coronavirus relief fund for states and localities, created in the CARES Act and extended last year, expires on December 31, as does the payroll tax deferral, the employee retention credit, and a host of expiring tax credits. 

In other words, we’re racing toward a giant, several thousand page omnibus, likely passed close to Christmas, containing all of these extensions and then some. Don’t expect anyone to have read it, and no one will be able to amend it. This is congressional governing in 2021 — an intended feature of the modern congressional leadership, not a bug.

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