WASHINGTON (AP) – White House-backed Congressional Democratic leaders have said they will push forward with a vote to fund the government and suspend the debt ceiling, all but bold Republicans who say they will vote against despite the risk of a budget crisis.
Congress is rushing headlong into an all-too-familiar impasse: The federal government faces a shutdown if funding ends at the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30. At the same time, the United States risks defaulting on its accumulated debt if the borrowing limits are not canceled or adjusted.
All this while Democratic lawmakers scramble to back President Joe Biden’s massive $ 3.5 trillion program to “build better” in the House and Senate with stiff opposition from Republicans.
“The American people expect our fellow Republicans to live up to their responsibilities and pay off the debts they proudly helped incur,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the leader. Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer in a joint statement Monday.
From the White House, the president supported the plan of the leaders of Congress to organize the votes.
“It’s a bipartisan responsibility, as it was under my predecessor,” Biden said in a tweet. “To block it would be inexcusable. “
The scale of the challenges ahead and the speed required to get the job done is unlike anything Congress has encountered in recent memory, situating Biden’s entire national agenda and the political fate of his Democratic Party. at a crucial time.
As Democrats move forward, Republicans, as a minority party in Congress hoping to regain control in the next election in 2022, plan to sit down, watch, and wait to see if Biden and his allies can succeed through thick and thin – or fail dramatically.
Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has said he is not about to help pay off past debts when Biden is about to rack up more with a set of “reckless taxes and spending.” “.
“Since the Democrats have decided to go it alone, they will not get help from Senate Republicans in raising the debt ceiling. I have been explaining this clearly and consistently for over two months, ”McConnell said in the Senate Monday.
This week’s vote on funding to keep government past September 30 and allow more borrowing will force the political deadlock into the open.
The Treasury Department has warned it will run out of cash soon and will have to rely on incoming receipts to pay off its obligations, which now stand at $ 28.4 trillion. This could force the treasury to delay or miss payments, a devastating situation.
“It would likely precipitate a historic financial crisis,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
Wall Street shares closed sharply lower on Monday, giving the S&P 500 Index its biggest drop in four months as concerns about heavily indebted Chinese real estate developers spill over into markets and investors fear the Reserve Federal government does not signal that it is considering withdrawing some of the support measures it gives to markets and the economy.
Once commonplace, lifting the debt ceiling has become a political weapon of choice for Republicans in Washington since the arrival in 2011 of Tea Party lawmakers who refused it. At the time, they opposed increased spending and the deadlock sparked a budget crisis.
Echoing this strategy, McConnell refuses to provide Republican votes, even though some GOP senators might struggle to vote no.
The package is expected to keep most spending at current levels on an interim basis until the end of the year and include additional funds for the aftermath of Hurricane Ida and other natural disasters, as well as the money to help cover evacuations from Afghanistan. Relying on legislative language to allow more borrowing would cover the country’s debt payments until 2022.
Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana, whose state was hit by the hurricane and is running for office next year, said he would likely vote if “the disaster relief part is acceptable “. He added: “Because my people are in desperate need of help.”
When McConnell controlled the Senate, he relied on Democratic votes to help raise the debt ceiling during the previous administration and Democrats said they expected the same from him now. It typically takes 60 votes to move bills forward in what is now a 50-50 split Senate, meaning at least 10 GOP senators would be needed.
Withholding the votes, Schumer said that “what Republicans are doing is nothing less than a dinner-and-dash of historic proportions.”
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Democrats are negotiating among themselves Biden’s big $ 3.5 trillion package, as the price likely slips to win over skeptical centrist lawmakers who see it as too much.
The size and scope of Biden’s “Build Back Better” initiative cannot be overstated. It touches almost every aspect of American life.
Biden’s plan is not only to rebuild the country after the COVID-19 crisis and economic fallout, but also to begin to change long-standing federal spending patterns in ways that provide more services to more Americans and to try to level the growing inequality of income that permeates the economy.
The proposal would impose tax hikes on businesses and wealthy Americans earning more than $ 400,000 a year and put that money back into federal programs for young and old. It would increase and expand government health, education and family support programs for households, children and the elderly, and boost environmental infrastructure programs to tackle climate change.
While Republicans strongly oppose Biden’s overall vision, Democrats have no voice to spare in the Senate and only a few votes in the House.
Pelosi pledged a September 27 vote on a companion bill, a $ 1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill on public works projects that enjoys broad support from both sides in the Senate, though most House Republicans oppose it.
While this bipartisan bill should be an easy legislative lift, it also faces a political obstacle course. Dozens of Congressional Progressive Caucus lawmakers are expected to vote against if it gets ahead of the broader Biden package. But centrists won’t vote for the larger package unless they are assured that the bipartisan bill will also be included.