Feverish talks over the course of the weekend led to a rhetorical intraparty pressure release, but still left Democrats miles away from a clear pathway forward on their sweeping $4 trillion dual-pronged agenda, according to multiple people directly involved.
The bottom line
Every piece of Biden’s agenda is on the line this week. The vote on his $1.2 trillion Senate-passed infrastructure bill has been delayed to Thursday. The policy gaps in Democrats’ multi-trillion dollar social safety net are significant, even as Democratic leaders say they plan to bring it to the floor this week for consideration. And Republicans are determined to block Democrats’ efforts to have them help raise the debt ceiling Monday night.
It’s a mess, but those three items — despite self-imposed deadlines, promises from leaders and the wishes of various wings of the Democratic party– don’t have to be dealt with this week.
The government funding bill does. And, if we get to the end of the week without a resolution on that one issue, the federal government shuts down.
How government funding plays out
The Senate votes Monday at 5:30 p.m. ET on legislation to fund the government through December 3. The same bill raises the debt ceiling, something Republicans have said en masse they won’t support. The bill is going down (with just a handful of Republican senators who may cross the aisle). But, it’s what happens in the hours and days after that will matter.
Democrats will have three days to fund the government. There is no public Plan B at the moment, but multiple people with direct knowledge say the expectation is the debt ceiling suspension will be ditched and a shorter funding bill will likely move. That shorter-term option could run through early December or be a matter of weeks. Aides have said those considerations are all on the table.
The House Democratic kumbaya (or civil war)
House Democrats will have a caucus-wide meeting at 5:30 p.m. Think of it as a family reunion, an airing of grievances, an opportunity to get every single member on the same page at the same time in the same room. For weeks, moderates and progressives have been lobbing arrows at one another, dancing around each other and this is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s attempt to get everyone in the room to talk it out, to remind them what is at stake before either side draws any more red lines.
How things are set up for the week
The bipartisan infrastructure bill: At this point, the earliest we will see a vote on this is Thursday. The $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill will head to the floor Monday, but there is a long way to go to convince progressives to vote “yes.” Pelosi was strategic about moving this vote until Thursday, however. That is the date that the country’s Surface Transportation bill expires. The infrastructure bill is the road to highway funding, and for a lot of members on the fence, Pelosi is hoping that might move the needle here.
Words matter — and these are a signal
Reading tea leaves can be a faulty endeavor with lawmakers, but it was crystal clear on Sunday that from Pelosi on down there was a clear effort to de-escalate and create space by all the key players involved.
“You know I’m never bringing a bill to the floor that doesn’t have the votes,” she said on ABC Sunday. “I think, any time you put an arbitrary date, well, remember when the Republicans said they were going to overturn the Affordable Care Act on the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act? I knew, right then and there, they were doomed. You cannot choose the date. You have to go when you have the votes in a reasonable time.”
Even moderates who have been saying for weeks that the speaker gave them her word they’d get a vote today seem to to recognize what Pelosi is up against.
“We are going to get a vote early this week,” New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer said. “It is going to be brought to the floor tomorrow. If you start debating it and it rolls over to Tuesday … I think we are all reasonable people.”
Biden, upon returning from Camp David, hit at the same point as House Democrats — this is going to take some time.
“I’m optimistic about this week,” Biden told reporters, adding, “it’s going to take the better part of the week, I think.”
Biden was on the phone with lawmakers throughout the weekend and his lead legislative negotiators Steve Ricchetti, Louisa Terrell and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese have been more or less working straight through the last several days and nights, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Overall, White House officials have been anxious about the path forward even as there remains, in the words of one official, “pretty explicit trust that history shows if the speaker is involved, it’s going to go our way.”
Yet nobody has a clear sense of the exact path forward on the pair of bills that make up not just Biden’s domestic agenda but also the central tenet of his presidency: that showing government can work will serve as the key to calming the rancorous anti-Washington fervor sweeping the country.
Those are the real stakes here for Biden. It’s not a whip count, or a specific policy dispute. He’s made clear, repeatedly, it’s so much bigger than that in his view. In playing the expectations game for these bills, Biden hasn’t hedged. And now it’s all on the line.
Something to note
Biden’s schedule on Monday — and throughout the week — is mostly wide open. That’s intentional.
White House meetings with lawmakers are possible. Calls are a certainty. A trip to Capitol Hill may even be in the cards, officials say.
At this point, things are moving hour-to-hour, according to officials. While nothing is locked in or firm, nothing is really off the table, either.
In other words, Biden is basically set to do whatever is needed to move things forward throughout the course of the week.
Is it shutdown clock time?
There has been an odd lack of shutdown clocks, which is more a reflection of the fact there are so many legislative deadlines converging at the same time that nobody seems to know exactly what to focus on.
That is precisely where the threat lies at the moment.
When Senate Republicans block the House-passed bill Monday night, Democratic leaders will have to act quickly and decide how long they want to drag this debate out. Up until this moment, Democrats have avoided talking about what happens when Republicans vote “no” Monday night on raising the debt ceiling, but over the next 12 hours, we are going to find out just how close to the brink we are going to get to a government shutdown.
White House officials have made clear to their congressional counterparts that taking the shutdown threat off the table as quickly as possible isn’t just preferred, but a necessity given the critical week they face, two people familiar with the matter said.
But things take time in the Senate without an agreement and any one senator can draw things out. The closer you get to the deadline, the more the chances go up that you accidentally fall into a shutdown.
As one senator told CNN last week, Democrats can’t afford a shutdown and won’t let one happen — “unless we stumble into it, which I guess isn’t entirely out of the question.”
About the debt ceiling
If Democrats decouple the debt ceiling from the spending bill, which is expected at this point, the Budget committees in both chambers moving quickly to sketch out a separate vehicle to increase the debt ceiling through the special budget process known as reconciliation. This will allow Democrats to do this with just 51 votes.
This is going to take time.
Treasury estimates the debt ceiling deadline is sometime in mid-October. That’s a rough estimate and it can shift a bit by taking extraordinary measures. But Democrats will need to jumpstart that process sooner than later on the hill in order to ensure they don’t accidentally miss their deadline.
Which brings us back to whole ballgame
Over the weekend, the House Budget Committee passed their own version of the $3.5 trillion social safety net bill. The intention was to try and prove to progressives that leadership was serious about moving it right alongside the infrastructure bill, to prove it wouldn’t get left behind in the wake of demands by the moderates.
The move did little to assuage progressives’ trust gap with their more moderate colleagues. Minutes after Democratic leaders announced they planned to bring the bigger bill to the floor, progressive leader Rep. Pramila Jayapal told reporters that she still wouldn’t vote for the bipartisan infrastructure bill. She viewed it as incomplete until she got assurances from moderate Democratic senators like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona that they would vote for the House bill. The senators have made no such assurance. And Jayapal and dozens of other progressives are still a “no” on the infrastructure bill.
This has been clear from the start, but the reality is that this isn’t going to be worked out this week or probably even next.
This is going to take time and hard-fought negotiations to get everyone on the same page. No one is there yet. The real, intensive negotiations haven’t even begun. And that’s where the long game is important here.
This week is going to be high-stakes, dramatic and it’s going to look like everything is falling apart. It could very well be the beginning of the end of Biden’s sweeping agenda. It could also be the week that the real negotiations begin.