Moment of truth for U.S. Congress on government funding, debt, Biden agenda

FILE PHOTO: A U.S. flag flies outside of the Capitol dome in Washington
An American flag flies outside of the U.S. Capitol dome in Washington, U.S., January 15, 2020.
REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo

The U.S. Congress faces a showdown on Monday over government spending and debt, opening a week that could also include action on President Joe Biden’s sweeping social agenda if Democrats can resolve internal divisions about the package.

The Senate will hold a procedural vote on Monday evening on legislation that has already passed the House of Representatives to fund the U.S. government through Dec. 3 and suspend the nation’s borrowing limit until the end of 2022.

If Republicans block the measure, as expected, Democrats will have to find another way to keep the government operating beyond Thursday, when current funding expires. Lawmakers also will have to figure out how to raise the debt ceiling to head off the risk of default.

Democrats are eager to avoid such drama as they try to project competence after four years of Republican Donald Trump’s chaotic presidency. The Bipartisan Policy Center said on Friday the U.S. Treasury Department is likely to fully exhaust its borrowing authority sometime between Oct. 15 and Nov. 4.

Adding to the complexity, House Democrats are facing a vote on a $1 trillion infrastructure bill passed by the Senate with considerable Republican support on Aug. 10 that will fund road, bridge, airport, school and other projects.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed last month to a request by House moderates to vote on the bill by Monday, but progressives have objected, saying they do not want the chamber to take it up until there is agreement on a larger $3.5 trillion social spending bill.

Pelosi said on Sunday the chamber would vote on the $1 trillion infrastructure bill on Thursday.

“Tomorrow, September 27, we will begin debate on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework on the Floor of the House and vote on it on Thursday, September 30,” she said in a letter to her fellow Democrats released by her office.

Earlier on Sunday, Pelosi had said she would not bring the infrastructure bill to a vote until she was sure it would pass, but voiced confidence about its prospects.

“Let me just say that we’re going to pass the bill this week,” she told ABC News “This Week” anchor George Stephanopoulos, speaking of the legislation that is key to Biden’s economic agenda.

The fate of the Democratic president’s initiatives on everything from healthcare and education to fighting child poverty and climate change hangs in the balance as Democrats quarrel over the content and cost of the larger package.

Democrats have been squabbling over drug pricing provisions in the social spending plan, which they hope to pass using their narrow majorities and without Republican support. Some moderate Democrats, including Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, see the $3.5 trillion price tag as too high. Democratic leaders insist the measure will be paid for with tax increases on corporations and the wealthy.