What is behind all the drama in Congress?

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WASHINGTON (AP) – The drama and timelines leading to the action on Capitol Hill right now can be confusing. Democrats are trying to put more than $ 4 trillion in infrastructure and social programs at the center of President Joe Biden’s agenda – and at the same time avoid a government shutdown and prevent a federal default that could cause the financial markets to collapse.

“The next few days will be a time of intensity,” wrote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a letter to her colleagues over the weekend. Perhaps that is an understatement.

Added to the challenges for Democrats are their meager benefits in both chambers, the end of the fiscal year, and party disagreements over the size and scope of Biden’s signature social spending and climate legislation. Republican leaders encouraged their members to reject almost everything, leaving Democrats alone.

Biden has met other Democrats as they navigate the political obstacle course.

“We have three things to do: the debt ceiling, the ongoing resolution and the two laws,” Biden said Monday. “If we do this, the country will be in great shape. “

A guide to understand everything:

GOVERNMENT FINANCING

Avoiding a government shutdown at midnight on September 30 – the end of the fiscal year – has become an anxiety-provoking ritual in Washington. This year is no different.

The House last week passed a measure to keep government open and suspend the debt limit with a party line vote of 220-211. The Senate was due to hold a procedural vote on the bill Monday night, but Republicans were expected to block it after Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said his members would not help raise the debt limit .

One possible way to avoid a shutdown: Democrats could separate government funding from the debt limit. McConnell says Republicans would support this.

The interim spending legislation includes bipartisan priorities, including $ 28.6 billion for disaster relief for Hurricane Ida and other extreme weather events and $ 6.3 billion to support evacuees from Afghanistan after the end of the 20 years war.

DEBT LIMIT

Congress has a little more time to resolve the debt limit issue, as the United States is not at risk of defaulting on its accumulated debt of around $ 28 trillion for a few weeks. But it is not known, for the moment, how the Democrats will circumvent the Republican opposition.

The United States has never defaulted on its debts in the modern age, and historically both sides have voted to increase the limit. Democrats have joined the Republican majority in the Senate on several occasions during Donald Trump’s presidency, including a suspension of the debt ceiling that expired in August.

But now that Democrats have unified control of Washington, McConnell has ruled out reciprocating.

McConnell blamed the $ 3.5 trillion spending and tax bill and other Democratic priorities for the need to raise the debt limit. But this formula has it back. Raising the debt ceiling is necessary to meet past spending decisions – not future ones – including Republicans’ $ 1.5 trillion, the deficit-funded tax review Trump enacted in 2017, and trillions additional coronavirus relief that was passed with GOP support.

Legislation passed by the House so far would cover borrowing power until the end of 2022.

BIPARTICAL INFRASTRUCTURE INVOICE OF $ 1,000 BILLION

Democrats and Republicans in the Senate gathered in a rare bipartisan moment over the summer to pass the public works measure. It has been bottled in the House ever since, as the moderate and progressive wings of the Democratic Party fought over the details of the much larger separate package, which would spend $ 3.5 trillion over a decade.

Progressives in the House say they will not vote for the infrastructure bill unless there is agreement on the larger bill. With no deal in hand, Pelosi postponed the vote on the infrastructure bill to Thursday to buy time for negotiations.

Despite the 19 Senate Republicans who voted for the $ 1 trillion measure – and the money it would bring to their districts – Republican House leaders are encouraging their members to oppose it. That’s because Democrats associate it with broader legislation with social and environmental priorities.

The infrastructure measure would authorize nearly $ 550 billion in new spending over five years on public works across the country. There is money to rebuild roads and bridges, strengthen coasts against climate change, protect utility systems from cyber attacks, and modernize the power grid. It would also fund new transit projects, improvements and repairs to airports and railroads, and the replacement of lead drinking water pipes.

3.5 TILLION DOLLARS IN SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL PROGRAMS

Democrats are trying to pass the separate $ 3.5 trillion measure on their own using an elaborate process called budget reconciliation. Its use allows the bill to bypass an otherwise certain GOP filibuster. But Democrats can’t move forward until they come to an agreement among themselves on what the legislation should contain.

The bill as drafted includes an assortment of long-standing Democratic priorities, including an expansion of existing health, education and child care programs for Americans young and old. Republicans are strongly opposed to the plan, which would be paid off by raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 26.5% for companies earning more than $ 5 million a year, and by raising the maximum rate for them. individuals from 37% to 39.6%. for those earning over $ 400,000 per year, or $ 450,000 for couples.

Besides disagreements in the House, moderate Democratic senses Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona take a stand, saying they can’t back a package totaling $ 3.5 trillion even if Democrats manage to cover it up. the cost. with tax increases and other revenue. Manchin has already proposed spending between $ 1,000 billion and $ 1,500 billion.

When asked Sunday on ABC if she agreed that the final figure for the alleged reconciliation bill would be “a little less” than $ 3.5 trillion, Pelosi replied, “It seems obvious.”

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Associated Press editors Lisa Mascaro, Alan Fram, and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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