Congress in for dramatic December, with drastic deadlines from debt limit to defense

No update on key debt ceiling talks, according to McConnell's office

Members of Congress are returning from Thanksgiving with a raft of urgent deadlines and major issues in front of them – including two bills to avert economic crisis and the biggest piece of President Biden's economic agenda. 

Here's what the Senate and the House face in a high-stakes December.

Government shutdown

The government shutdown deadline is the most immediate deadline Congress faces but also is likely the easiest hurdle to clear. 

Government funding expires on Dec. 3, which is Friday, meaning that Congress will have to pass a continuing resolution before then to keep the government funded. The consequences of this failing will be the same as past shutdowns – federal workers will be furloughed and government services cut until Congress can get a funding bill to Biden's desk. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to reporters after a Democratic policy meeting at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite / AP Newsroom)

Democrats in both chambers – and Republicans in the Senate – broadly supported the last continuing resolution in September and are expected to do so again. 

There could be some political grandstanding, however, like when "Squad" members in the House blocked Iron Dome missile funding for Israel in the last continuing resolution, but congressional leaders are likely to find a way to overcome that.

Debt ceiling

The debt ceiling battle has the highest stakes of any issue Congress faces in December, as a debt default would likely lead to catastrophic economic consequences.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that the government has the money to cover its expenses until Dec. 15. It is possible she may be able to stretch that timeline even longer, but it is not clear by how much. 

Republicans demanded earlier this fall that Democrats pass a debt ceiling hike on their own, with no GOP votes. This would require them to use the reconciliation process in the Senate, which Republicans argued was fair because Democrats are using the same process to avoid a filibuster and pass their massive spending bill on party lines. Democrats staunchly opposed this, demanding a bipartisan vote.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (Associated Press)


But as Congress marched to a potential government shutdown with Democrats refusing to cave, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., changed his stance and found some Republican votes to raise the debt ceiling. He swore Republicans would not help Democrats raise the debt limit again. 

"This will moot Democrats’ excuses about the time crunch they created and give the unified Democratic government more than enough time to pass standalone debt limit legislation through reconciliation," McConnell said in a statement in October. 

He added: "If Democrats abandon their efforts to ram through another historically reckless taxing and spending spree that will hurt families and help China, a more traditional bipartisan governing conversation could be possible."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., meanwhile, hasn't budged from his stance that any debt limit increase should have 60 bipartisan votes in the Senate. McConnell's office says it has no updates on debt ceiling talks. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., leaves the chamber as the Senate advances to formally begin debate on a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure plan, a process that could take several days, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, July 30, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Sc (Associated Press)

Some Republicans say they are willing to make the reconciliation process to raise the debt limit easy for Democrats. And McConnell has refrained from too many bombastic statements on the debt limit in recent months. 

But other Republicans are not happy with how McConnell handled the debt limit issue the last time, making it unclear whether the minority leader has the votes pass a debt limit bill if he decided to change his stance again. 


Someone will have to back down soon, or else the U.S. is headed for economic catastrophe. It is just not clear who that will be. 

Reconciliation bill 

House Democrats finally passed their massive reconciliation spending bill earlier this month after blowing past arbitrary deadlines at the end of September and October. Now Democrats hope to get the bill across the finish line by Christmas. 

But they'll face a major hurdle in the Senate because they did not "pre-conference" the bill – a process during which majorities in the House and Senate agree to a bill before either takes a vote.

This means key votes like Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have not agreed to vote for anything yet – and they can tank the bill if they want to in the 50-50 Senate.

"I have a lot of concerns," Manchin told Fox News' "Special Report" earlier this month. "They're working off the House bill. That's not going to be the bill I work off of." 

Manchin also raised inflation concerns earlier this month and previously said massive spending would increase inflation. 

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks to the Economic Club, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021, in Washington. Manchin is the key vote for Democrats' reconciliation bill in the Senate.  (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin / AP Newsroom)

Democrats almost certainly need to cut a lot from the bill to get Manchin and Sinema to back it. But how much can they cut without losing votes from progressives in the House? 

"Our work will not stop until the Build Back Better Act passes the Senate without any weakening of these popular provisions," Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said after reconciliation passed the House. 


Defense spending bill 

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is a mammoth bill Congress passes every year to set the United States' military priorities. The Senate took it up relatively late this year and now both chambers have just one month to work out their differences and pass the bill.

Many Republicans are likely to use the must-pass bill as an opportunity to force Democrats into tough votes. Some policy flare-ups on issues from women in the draft to Israel are likely, as well as objections from progressives to the overall funding level.

Congress has passed an NDAA every year since 1961, and lawmakers will be motivated not to fail this year. 

More drama

Complicating matters further, there is a potpourri of other smaller issues that lawmakers will want to get to before the end of the year. 

Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., campaigns on October 22, 2020. She's facing criticism over comments she made about Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)


It is possible Democrats will strip Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., of her committee assignments over comments she made about Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., but then apologized for. 

The House Jan. 6 committee is trying to pry loose documents and testimony from former Trump officials. It is involved in a court case this week over executive privilege of the former president, and is set to tee up contempt votes for other Trump officials who are ignoring subpoenas.

Fox News' Chase Williams and Caroline McKee contributed to this report.