The New Deadline to Pass Biden’s Agenda is Coming up Fast

The Washington Post

October 13, 2021 6:11 am

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer say they’re aiming to pass the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and a larger package stuffed full of Democrats’ child care, health care and climate change priorities by Oct. 31, when a short-term extension of highway funding is set to run out.

Coincidentally, Oct. 31 is the day before the much-anticipated United Nations climate summit kicks off in Glasgow, where administration officials are eager to show off legislation that would establish credibility in negotiations with foreign governments. White House press secretaryJen Psaki told reporters last month that Biden expected the reconciliation bill — much of which is focused on fighting climate change — would “move forward in advance of that.”

(Asked about it on Tuesday, Psaki said Biden would tout the administration’s commitment to combating climate change in Glasgow “regardless of where the package stands.”)

And two days later, Virginians will head to the polls to elect a new governor in a contest lawmakers and the White House are watching closely. Former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe has implored Democrats in Washington to pass the infrastructure bill by Election Day.

The 18-day sprint

Can Democrats really pass two massive bills in the next 18 days?

“Yes,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) told The Early yesterday evening. “Will it is a different matter. But can it? Yeah. We’re experts at coming right up against the edge and pulling a miracle.”

Pelosi herself has claimed that the expiration of highway funding is the only reason the Oct. 31 deadline matters. So that suggests this deadline might slip as easily as the old Sept. 27 one, when the speaker pledged to moderates that the infrastructure deal would hit the floor. 

“That’s what we’re interested in,” she told reporters on Tuesday when pressed on whether the tandem infrastructure bills needed to be passed prior to Virginia’s Election Day. “It has nothing to do with anything else.”

An emerging rift

The speaker is getting some pushback over an idea that she outlined a “Dear Colleague” letter on Monday: that most of her caucus would rather “do fewer things well” than keep everything currently included in the House’s $3.5 trillion reconciliation package.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) told reporters Tuesday night if the reconciliation bill’s top line number must come down, the Congressional Progressive Caucus favors reducing the number of years programs are funded versus slashing the group’s priorities.

House Democratic leadership, however, is split on the best path forward, according to Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), who said that became apparent during a House leadership meeting last week. 

“I would say the group was split pretty much in half,” Yarmuth, who announced his retirement on Tuesday, told reporters. “The half that wanted — and I’m in that half — who thinks it might be better to focus on a few things, couldn’t agree on what the few would be, and so it’s gonna be difficult either way. But my guess is that we’ll probably try to keep all the elements and pare them down.” 

Jayapal says that it’s still ultimately up to Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). to make the next move on a compromise reconciliation package. 

“It all depends on the two senators who don’t agree with the 98 percent,” Jayapal stated. “We’re waiting on them to come back to us and tell us what’s their counterproposal. The sooner that they come back to us, the better.”

If progressives ultimately agree to slim reconciliation to roughly $2 trillion — a figure Biden has floated as a potential compromise — there remain major points of contention. 

During a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he wouldn’t budge on expanding Medicare benefits to include dental, vision and hearing, which Manchin has resisted.

“These provisions should have been included in the original Medicare bill — they were not,” said Sanders. “The time is now. This to me is nonnegotiable.” 

Forward progress: The House did accomplish one big thing on Tuesday night by raising the debt limit for seven weeks until Dec. 3, a measure President Biden is soon expected to sign. But that new deadline is also when the federal government is set to run out of money again, setting up a special holiday-edition fiscal cliff.

Jan. 6 panel prepares to act if ex-Trump advisers refuse to cooperate

Select committee tings: The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol is prepared to move criminal contempt charges expeditiously in the case that top Trump White House officials do not comply with subpoenas.

Committee members said on Tuesday that the committee is united in moving aggressively to enforce the congressional subpoenas issued to Mark MeadowsKash PatelStephen Bannon and Dan Scavino.

“We’ll see if they show up,” Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) told reporters last night. “If they show up we’ll be prepared.”

Bannon said he is refusing to comply with a subpoena from the committee while Patel and Meadows have been “engaging” with investigators. But lawmakers did not say whether two of the former president’s advisers are confirmed to appear for their depositions scheduled for the end of the week.

“I think we are completely of one mind that if people refuse to respond to questions without justification that we will hold them in criminal contempt and refer them to the Justice Department and unlike the last four years, we expect the Justice Department to adhere to the principle that no one is above the law,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who is serving on the select committee.

Next steps: “The criminal contempt statute outlines the process by which the House or Senate may refer the non-compliant witness to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for criminal prosecution,” according to a 2019 Congressional Research Service report.