Shutdown Averted; Reconciliation and Infrastructure Votes Now Expected by October 31
October 4, 2021
Congress avoided a government shutdown last week, voting 65-35 in the Senate and 254-175 in the House to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government open through December 3.
However, Biden’s agenda sputtered as a planned vote last Thursday on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (BIF) was cancelled, causing a subsequent lapse in Congressional authorization for surface transportation. Around 3,700 Department of Transportation employees were temporarily furloughed on Friday and Saturday until the House voted late Friday to extend surface transportation programs until October 31, and the Senate stayed in Washington on Saturday for a similar vote.
A five-year reauthorization of surface transportation programs was included in the $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure legislation, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) delayed a planned Thursday vote to Friday, and then indefinitely.
Infrastructure and Reconciliation Linked
Last week looked to be on track in Congress to pass infrastructure. But at the last minute, a planned vote was delayed as Pelosi engaged in hours of frenetic negotiations hoping to strike a bicameral deal with Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) on President Joe Biden’s broader social spending package. Progressives demanded a vote on a reconciliation bill in exchange for their votes on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill. That effort succeeded, but Axios describes how progressives now risk “getting blamed if President Biden’s agenda ultimately tanks.”
In a weekend letter, Pelosi said Congress, “will and must pass both bills soon.”
Biden Capitol Hill Meeting
President Joe Biden visited Capitol Hill on Friday to meet with the House Democratic Caucus in a closed-door meeting. Biden made clear in the meeting that House Democrats won’t vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package until there’s a bicameral deal on reconciliation (a progressive demand) and also acknowledged the reconciliation package will be less than $3.5 trillion, estimating the reconciliation will be no more than $2.3 trillion (a moderate demand).
Biden’s Capitol Hill meeting capped an unprecedented week of uncertainty over the infrastructure bill, reconciliation bill and continuing resolution. Politico went so far last week as to update the Schoolhouse Rock! “I’m Just A Bill” cartoon to account for today’s convoluted process, rather than the linear path the original "Schoolhouse Rock" video outlined.
Now, a vote on Biden’s signature Build Back Better Act is expected by October 31, along with a vote on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (although no timeline has been set). Details of the Build Back Better Act are expected to be significantly narrowed into three buckets: (1) family issues (e.g. child care and paid leave), (2) health care (locking in subsidies for Obamacare) and (3) climate change. Progressives have signaled they are okay with a smaller-sized reconciliation bill. "Our idea now is to look at how you make [programs] funded for a little bit of a shorter time," Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) told CNN over the weekend.
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