It’s going to be a bumpy ride in Congress this week as Democrats try to keep the government from shutting down on Oct. 1, keep the government from defaulting on its debts later in October, and move the country forward by passing two major infrastructure bills, one of which will have to be passed as a budget reconciliation bill in the Senate. And, of course, all of this will have to happen despite Republican obstruction.
Already, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed back a planned vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill because House progressives will not support that bill until it is paired with the larger reconciliation bill, and the latter isn’t ready yet. A Monday bipartisan infrastructure vote is now planned for Thursday. The bipartisan infrastructure bill focuses $1 trillion in spending, $550 billion of it new, on things like roads and bridges and broadband. The Build Back Better reconciliation package, which is being negotiated with a current baseline of $3.5 trillion but is expected to shrink from that already compromised size, will include more investments in slowing and adapting to climate change, child care, elder care, affordable housing, dental and vision coverage in Medicare, and more.
What is happening on Monday is that the Senate will vote on a bill, already passed by the House, to continue funding the government into December and suspend the debt limit into December 2022. Senate Republicans will filibuster that, because they are happy to wreak havoc and devastation on the economy if it means the Democrats will face added pressure in negotiating the Build Back Better package.
And Democrats already face plenty of pressure in negotiating that from the conservative wing of their own party, despite the popularity of many key provisions in the plan, like long-term care, clean energy, a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, and paying for the bill through tax increases for the wealthiest households and increased IRS enforcement.
So the first major thing that will happen in a definitive legislative vote kind of way this week is that Senate Republicans will filibuster the bill keeping the government open and preventing a catastrophic default. They will do this despite saying they want the government to remain open and they don’t want the government to default on its obligations, and they’ll use as their excuse the claim that Democrats are asking for Republican help to pay their own bills—even though many of the bills the government won’t be able to pay if the debt ceiling isn’t raised were incurred under Donald Trump.
That vote—in which, make no mistake, Republicans will be voting for a shutdown and for a default that could plunge the United States into a recession—will take place as high-pressure negotiations on Build Back Better continue. And the need to pass a debt limit suspension over Republican opposition will add still more pressure—as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell fully intends. A 35-day partial government shutdown in December 2018 and January 2019 cost about $3 billion in economic activity, according to the Congressional Budget Office. This would be a complete shutdown, because no funding bills have been passed yet that would keep some agencies open. And, of course, it would come during a pandemic, with the added need for a functioning government and the still-shaky economy that brings.
Build Back Better negotiations are taking place against that backdrop of immediate threat to the economy, but the investments planned for inclusion in the reconciliation package are also essential to the nation’s future. Republicans have spent decades starving the government, placing more and more burdens onto struggling workers and families, and Biden’s plan would strengthen not just roads and bridges but the systems of care and support that parents and children and elders and workers need to be able to rely on for the economy to function. If that doesn’t motivate the so-called moderate Democrats holding up the process, the fact that this is what voters elected Democrats to do, and that Democrats will be punished at the polls if they don’t get anything done despite controlling Congress and the White House, should concern them.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.