by Gabe Fleisher
Good morning! It’s Tuesday, November 30, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 343 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,071 days away.
Get ready for a long December in DC
November has been a fairly eventful month in Washington: there was a closely-watched election, a bunch of subpoenas, an indictment and a censure, plus a bill signing and a vote advancing President Biden’s agenda.
But as the calendar turns to December tomorrow, lawmakers are gearing up for an even more action-packed few weeks — and the possibility that a glut of key deadlines will keep Congress in session over the holidays. Let’s unpack the deadlines and packages that will be driving DC in the month ahead:
1. Government funding (deadline: December 3). The first item on the agenda is funding the government, since the most recent continuing resolution (CR) is set to expire at the end of the day on Friday. If a funding bill is not passed by then, the government will shut down, which means all non-essential government employees are furloughed and all non-essential government services will cease to continue.
- Democrats are currently putting together a new CR, which is DC-speak for a temporary funding measure, that would extend government funding through mid to late January. The resolution could receive a vote in the House as early as Wednesday; it would then go to the Senate, where at least 10 Republicans would have to support it to overcome a filibuster.
- It’s not yet clear, though, whether Republicans will support the Democratic proposal to fund the government through January: “I’d like February,” Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Richard Shelby (R-AL) told reporters on Monday, advocating for a longer extension. “March would suit me, April, May... I think it gives us more time to seriously sit down.”
2. Debt ceiling (deadline: December 15). Next up is the debt ceiling, that pesky requirement that Congress increases the amount of money the executive branch is able to borrow so the government is able to pay its bills and keep on humming. Lawmakers last dealt with this issue back in October, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has indicated that short-term fix will only allow her agency to finance the government through December 15. If no solution is found by then, the government will go into an unprecedented default, which would mean the U.S. would no longer be able to fulfill its financial obligations — and could quite possibly spark a global financial crisis.
- With that happy thought in mind, you’ll be glad to hear that the two parties have yet to agree on a way to lift the debt limit. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have opened discussions on the matter, however, which at least suggests a more conciliatory process than in October.
- Last time around, McConnell ended up rescuing Democrats by assenting to a short-term fix — but now both leaders have returned to their original negotiating positions. McConnell wants Democrats to raise the debt ceiling using the reconciliation process, which would not require any Republican votes; Schumer wants to go through “regular order,” which would need support from 10 GOP senators or face a filibuster.
- Although he did not divulge any details on their talks, Schumer reportedly told his deputies Monday that his negotiations with McConnell are ongoing and that the Senate is likely to consider a debt ceiling fix next week. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) suggested that the two parties may reach an agreement to raise the debt ceiling through reconciliation, if Republicans agree to allow the process to be expedited, although it’s unclear if both party leaders have embraced that plan quite yet.
3. National Defense Authorization Act (deadline: December 31). Every year since 1961, Congress has passed the NDAA — a package setting policies and funding levels for the Department of Defense. The process is usually a fairly bipartisan one; this year, lawmakers are going down to the wire in sparring over the bill, which includes some controversial provisions to repeal the 2002 authorization of military force against Iraq and require women to register for the draft.
- Schumer attempted to move forward with the package on Monday, but McConnell led his caucus in blocking action on the bill: a cloture vote to advance the measure went down 45-51, with one Republican voting in favor, five Democrats voting against, and four Republicans not voting.
- McConnell is pushing for more amendments to be voted on before he’ll allow the NDAA to advance; Schumer has protested, noting that it was GOP senators who blocked a plan to hold 19 amendment votes before Thanksgiving recess. However, without buy-in from Republicans, the package won’t go anywhere: that’s bad news for Schumer, who has a lot of other priorities to deal with in December and was counting on the defense bill being the “easy part.”
4. Build Back Better Act (self-imposed deadline: December 31). This one doesn’t have a statutory deadline, but Democrats would really like to clear the Build Back Better Act — the $1.85 trillion cornerstone of President Biden’s domestic agenda, which passed the House before Thanksgiving — through the Senate by the end of the year.
- Democrats are using reconciliation to pass the package, so only the majority party is involved in this legislative process. That hasn’t stopped there from being bitter divisions over the legislation, however: the bill is expected to undergo significant changes in the Senate, with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) opposing the paid leave provision and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) calling for more expansions to Medicare and changes to the state and local tax (SALT) deduction.
- Schumer is hoping to bring the package to the Senate floor next week, as soon as Democrats are done discussing the bill with the chamber’s parliamentarian (who must rule on whether each provision is in line with the Senate rules). However, Manchin reiterated Monday that he’s yet to agree to voting on the bill by the end of the year, so Build Back Better could get pushed to 2022 if Democrats don’t come to a consensus soon.
So, to sum up: Lawmakers have the next four weeks to avert a government shutdown, stave off a catastrophic debt default, and set policy for the Pentagon — plus, Democrats are hoping to pass their expansive social spending package in that same timespan.
There’s no doubt that will be a heavy lift, but there’s one factor that could lead to action: the holiday season. No one wants to be stuck in Washington for the holidays, and members of both parties are anxious to finish up and get out of town before Christmas.
That may sound silly, but it wouldn’t be the first time Congress has sped through important pieces of legislation so they could preserve their holiday break. “It’s overwhelming. It’s uncertain,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) told Politico, describing the year-end sprint. “But my sense is there’s no forcing mechanism like the end of the year.”
What else you should know
→ Omicron’s origins. “Dutch health authorities announced on Tuesday that they found the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus in cases dating back as long as 11 days, indicating that it was already spreading in western Europe before the first cases were identified in southern Africa.” CBS News
→ Another House Democrat looks elsewhere. “Representative Thomas Suozzi, a Long Island Democrat, announced on Monday that he would enter the race for governor of New York, broadening the field of candidates running against the incumbent, Kathy Hochul, and becoming the first Democrat to take direct aim at her support among moderate suburban voters.” New York Times
→ Cuomo helping Cuomo. “CNN host Chris Cuomo used his sources in the media world to seek information on women who accused his brother Andrew Cuomo, then the governor of New York, of sexual harassment, according to documents released Monday by the New York Attorney General’s Office.” CNBC
→ Trump allies in election posts. “A year after local and state election officials came under immense pressure from Trump to subvert the results of the 2020 White House race, he and his supporters are pushing an ambitious plan to place Trump loyalists in key positions across the administration of U.S. elections.” Washington Post
Policy Roundup: Education
Every Tuesday, Wake Up To Politics contributor Kirsten Shaw Mettler offers a briefing on the week’s top news in education policy:
The Build Back Better Act passed the House with funding set aside for both early childhood and higher education. The Democratic spending package, which passed the lower chamber on November 19, includes $4 billion for implementing universal pre-K and expanding access to affordable healthcare, $6 billion for minority-serving institutions of higher education, and an increase to the maximum Pell grant.
Colleges are hoping for recovery after a number of low enrollment years. According to a recently released report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, undergraduate enrollment sank by 3.5% this fall, with much of that loss being driven by declines at for-profit institutions and public, two-year colleges. But schools may have reason to be optimistic: preliminary data from the Common Application seems to indicate that students are beginning to once again apply to colleges at pre-pandemic levels.
The pandemic is highlighting the intersection between health care and education. School nurses report feeling overstretched as they have juggled their medical responsibilities with parental desires, and this burnout is only exacerbating the already existing shortages in the field. The Biden administration announced $1.5 billion in funding last week to address doctor and nurse shortages in underserved communities by providing scholarships and targeted student loan forgiveness.
More education policy headlines, via Kirsten:
International tensions between China and the United States are playing out on college campuses across the country as officials raise concerns over espionage.
College students returning to campuses after Thanksgiving are facing wildly different Covid-19 safety policies at different institutions.
- Listen to this podcast from the New York Times on the increased tensions school boards are facing.
All times Eastern.
→ President Joe Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 9:30 a.m. Then, at 10:45 a.m., he will deliver remarks and sign four pieces of legislation into law: S. 796, the Protecting Moms Who Served Act; S. 894, the Hire Veteran Health Heroes Act; S. 1095, the Colonel John M. McHugh Tuition Fairness for Survivors Act; and S. 1031, a bill to require the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct a study on disparities associated with race and ethnicity with respect to certain benefits administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Biden will then travel to Minnesota, departing at 11:30 a.m. and arriving at 2:25 p.m. Once there, at 3:50 p.m., he will visit Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount, “which has programs to train the next generation of workers to build, operate, and maintain infrastructure supported by the bipartisan infrastructure law.” At 4:30 p.m., he will deliver remarks on “how the bipartisan infrastructure law will deliver for the American people, create good-paying union jobs, and lower prices by improving the infrastructure for our supply chains.”
The president will depart Minnesota at 5:45 p.m. and arrive back at the White House at 8:05 p.m.
→ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press gaggle aboard Air Force One during the flight to Minnesota.
→ U.S. public health officials will hold their weekly COVID-19 press briefing at 12:30 p.m.
→ The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. and resume consideration of H.R. 4350, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The chamber will recess from 12:30 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. for the weekly party lunches. Votes are possible during the day, but none are currently scheduled.
→ The House will convene at 2 p.m. and vote under “suspension of the rules” on 11 pieces of legislation:
- H.R. 2685, the Understanding Cybersecurity of Mobile Networks Act
- H.R. 4045, the FUTURE Networks Act
- H.R. 4055, the American Cybersecurity Literacy Act
- H.R. 2355, the Opioid Prescription Verification Act
- H.R. 2364, the Synthetic Opioid Danger Awareness Act
- H.R. 3743, the Supporting the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health and the Reagan-Udall Foundation for the Food and Drug Administration Act
- H.R. 3894, the CARING for Social Determinants Act
- H.R. 4026, the Social Determinants of Health Data Analysis Act
- H.R. 550, the Immunization Infrastructure Modernization Act
- H.R. 951, the Maternal Vaccination Act
- H.R. 1550, the PREVENT HPV Cancers Act
→ The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. on “building a resilient economy,” featuring testimony from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.
→ The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two cases today: Cummings v. Premier Rehab, at 10 a.m., and American Hospital Association. v. Becerra, at 11 a.m.
The first case considers whether plaintiffs should receive compensation for emotional distress when they prove violations of certain federal anti-discrimination laws, while the latter case involves a technical dispute over how Medicare pays for chemotherapy and other expensive anti-cancer drugs that hospitals give to patients.
→ The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear oral arguments at 9:30 a.m. in Trump v. Thompson, which is former President Donald Trump’s attempt to stop the House select committee investigating the January 6 riot from obtaining his White House call logs and other records from the National Archives.