Biden’s massive spending bill set to collide with debt ceiling, funding fights after CBO score delay
Defense authorization bill, government funding, debt ceiling and social spending bill will make December hectic, high-stakes month in Congress
After months of trying to force their massive social spending bill onto President Biden's desk, congressional Democrats are confronting the reality that the effort will drag past Thanksgiving and collide with other major issues that could put its passage in doubt.
A major reason for this is that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is likely to take at least a few more days, and potentially into next week, to produce a score for the nearly $2 trillion bill.
House moderates say they won't vote on the bill without enough information from the CBO on it – it is not clear how much is enough, though they said they intend to vote on the bill this week. And the Senate cannot even take up the bill without a CBO score because of its rules under budget reconciliation, the process Democrats are using to circumvent a GOP filibuster.
"Timing of consideration of the [Build Back Better Act] in the Senate will largely depend on when the House sends us the bill and when CBO finalizes their scores for all of the committees, which are needed to complete the ‘Byrd Bath’ process," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told Senate Democrats Sunday.
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Schumer previously said he wanted the Senate to work on passing the bill this week, but it is now clear that will be impossible. That means after the holiday, both chambers will face down a crush of high-stakes issues that could make or break Biden's presidency, buoy or tank the economy, and potentially keep lawmakers in the Capitol deep into the holiday season.
"I ask that you please keep your schedule flexible for the remainder of the calendar year. As you can see, we still have much work to do to close out what will be a very successful year of legislative accomplishments," Schumer added in a letter.
If the House manages to pass reconciliation, it will go to the Senate, where Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., says he is concerned about sky-high inflation numbers.
"By all accounts, the threat posed by record inflation to the American people is not ‘transitory’ and is instead getting worse. From the grocery store to the gas pump, Americans know the inflation tax is real and D.C. can no longer ignore the economic pain Americans feel every day," Manchin said last week.
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The senator previously said he wanted a "pause" on big government spending bills because of inflation.
Meanwhile, government funding expires on Dec. 3, and both houses will have to advance an appropriations bill or yet another continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown.
Looming large above everything else is the debt ceiling increase.
Senate Republicans said they would not vote to increase the debt limit earlier this year before reversing course at the last minute when Democrats appeared to be marching toward default.
They voted for a temporary debt ceiling increase to prevent economic calamity, but the government is set to hit the debt limit again in the coming weeks. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has promised that Democrats won't get any Republican help to raise the debt limit again.
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"I will not be a party to any future effort to mitigate the consequences of Democratic mismanagement," McConnell said in a letter to Biden last month. "Your lieutenants on Capitol Hill now have the time they claimed they lacked to address the debt ceiling through standalone reconciliation, and all the tools to do it."
Exactly when the government will hit the debt limit is unclear. The temporary increase was initially targeted at Dec. 3, the same day as government funding legislation expires. But most experts expected it would last longer.
After Congress passed the infrastructure bill, however, that timeline could slide back up, and leaders of both parties have been almost completely silent on how they expect to raise the debt limit this time.
Adding to the legislative morass will be the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Senate plans to advance that bill this week, but after Thanksgiving the two chambers will be forced to sync up their two versions of the bill, which could present some challenges.
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All of this is assuming that the House actually passes the reconciliation bill this week. That could be put in jeopardy if the CBO numbers depart from the White House's estimates. Moderates could cite that as a reason to continue their blockade of the bill. In fact, moderates may be emboldened after progressives lost their biggest leverage over them in the infrastructure bill.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Friday she expects more information from the CBO Monday.
FOX Business' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.