WASHINGTON (AP) – The House rushed into a vote on Tuesday on legislation to fund the government, suspend the federal debt limit and provide disaster and refugee relief, forcing a showdown with opposing Republicans to the package despite the risk of a budget crisis.
The federal government faces a shutdown if funding ends at the end of September 30 of the fiscal year, at midnight next Thursday. At the same time, the United States risks defaulting on its accumulated debt if its borrowing limits are not lifted or adjusted.
The package unveiled on Tuesday would provide stopgap money to keep the government funded until December 3 and extend the borrowing authority until the end of 2022. It includes $ 28.6 billion in disaster relief. in the wake of Hurricane Ida and other extreme weather events; and $ 6.3 billion to support Afghan evacuees in the fallout from the end of the 20-year war.
“It is essential that Congress passes this legislation swiftly,” Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., Chair of the Appropriations Committee, said in a statement. The vote was expected Tuesday evening.
Backed by the White House, Democratic Congressional leaders have moved forward at a time of great uncertainty in Congress. With lawmakers already weighing the $ 3.5 trillion price tag for President Joe Biden’s sweeping “build back better” program, immediate attention has shifted to the next deadlines to avoid more serious problems if votes targeting to strengthen government funding fail.
Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said he was not about to help pay off past debts when Biden was about to rack up more with a set of ‘reckless taxes and spending. “. He said that since Democrats control the White House and Congress, it is their problem to pay past debt.
âThe debt ceiling will be raised as it always should be, but it will be raised by Democrats,â McConnell said.
Even if Tuesday’s vote is approved by the House, which Democrats control, it is expected to languish in the Senate at 50-50 where Democrats will struggle to find 10 Republicans to meet the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome an obstruction.
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.
Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, warned that if lawmakers allowed federal debt default, “this economic scenario is cataclysmic.”
In a report released by Democrats, Zandi warned that a potential slowdown in government funding cuts would cost 6 million jobs and wipe out $ 15 trillion in household wealth.
Once a routine affair, raising 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 to allow the increase. 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 he also relied on Democratic votes to help raise the debt ceiling when his party was in a majority. He explained his current thinking to senators during a private lunch on Tuesday.
Still, some GOP senators might find it difficult to vote no.
Republican John Kennedy of Louisiana, whose state was hit by the hurricane and who is running for office next year, said he would likely vote for the increase.
My people are in desperate need of help, âhe said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that “in our opinion this should not be a controversial vote.” Psaki said Congress has raised the debt ceiling several times on a bipartisan basis, including three times under President Donald Trump.
Representative DeLauro was forced to present another version of the bill on Tuesday after some members of the Democratic caucus opposed the inclusion of a billion dollars for Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, which uses missiles to intercept short-range rockets fired into the country.
The issue of Israel’s defense divides Democrats, but DeLauro assured colleagues that money for the weapons system would be included in the annual defense spending bill for the next fiscal year, which begins on October 1st.
Republicans were very critical of the change and vowed to remain allies of Israel.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Democrats were negotiating with each other over Biden’s big ‘build back better’ package as the price probably slips to win over skeptical centrist lawmakers who see it as too much.
Publicly, the White House has remained confident that the legislation will be passed soon, despite strong differences between progressives and moderates in the party over the final size of the package and a bipartisan $ 1,000 billion infrastructure bill.
There was a wave of awareness from the White House of Democrats on Capitol Hill, and Biden himself received a call sheet from lawmakers to cajole, even though his week was dominated by foreign policy, including his speech to the United Nations General Assembly.
The president has spoken to a large number of lawmakers beyond his recent meetings with Sens. Joe Manchin, DW. Va., And Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, two key centrist votes, according to a White House official familiar with the calls and granted anonymity to discuss them.
Biden’s grand initiative touches almost every aspect of American life. It 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 rise and expand government health, education and family support programs for households, children and the elderly, and stimulate environmental infrastructure programs to combat climate change.
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 income inequalities.
With Republicans opposed to Biden’s vision, Democrats have no voice to spare in the Senate and only a few marginal votes in the House.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pledged a September 27 vote on the Complementary Bill, a $ 1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill on public works projects that enjoys broad support from both sides in the Senate, although House Republicans are mostly opposed.
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. And centrists will not vote for the larger package unless they are assured that the bipartisan bill will also be included.