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November 29, 2021

What to expect in Washington (November 29)

Congress is back, with several pressing agenda items and deadlines to address before the Christmas break: the defense authorization bill, the House-passed Build Back Better reconciliation bill, government funding, the debt limit, and possibly supply chain-focused legislation. On ABC’s This Week, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said, “When I look at this drama in the next month, I break it down into a miniseries. And the first part is the defense bill and a bridge to the budget. Vast majority of senators support that. We’ll get that done. Second thing, the debt ceiling… And the third as I mentioned, voting rights, fundamental to our country… And, finally, what we just talked about, the Build Back Better bill. We can get this done.”

NDAA – The Senate will take a procedural vote at 5:30 p.m. today on a National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4350) substitute amendment that seeks to fold in noncontroversial amendments, clear up Republican concerns with the bill, and lead to passage this week. The bill has been delinked from the United States Innovation and Competition Act (S. 1260) supply chain bill, which Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wanted attached to the NDAA. That move faced opposition from Republicans, and Senator Schumer announced with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) that a conference committee would resolve differences between the USICA and House National Science Foundation for the Future Act (H.R. 2225).

Build Back Better – The Senate could next turn to the BBBA (H.R. 5376). Leaders and the parliamentarian are expected to move forward this week with the “Byrd bath” process to determine whether provisions are within the bounds of reconciliation rules that allow passage with a 51-vote majority and generally require provisions to have a non-incidental revenue impact, but not beyond the budget window. As the Wall Street Journal reported November 27, “Republicans can make a case that a provision runs afoul of those rules, and Democrats can defend the measure in a process that is expected to take weeks. Those disputes, which the nonpartisan Senate parliamentarian adjudicates, have complicated Democrats’ previous attempts at including immigration measures in the legislation.” Bolstering labor standards might also face challenges.

A preliminary meeting to determine whether immigration-related changes can stay within reconciliation rules was held over the recess, and Axios reported that the inclusion of provisions to “allow millions of undocumented immigrants to apply for work permits, permission to travel and to receive temporary protection from deportation” was not ruled out.

The Senate is near certain to change the House reconciliation bill, reflecting policy differences or at least because of reconciliation rules that allow the bill to pass with a simple-majority vote and the “vote-a-rama” capping debate on reconciliation bills. On policy differences, the House bill’s four weeks of paid leave could be cut at the behest of Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). The House increase in the state and local tax (SALT) deduction to $80,000 through 2030 will likely be changed because Senate Democrats have other ideas on the issue; some want an income cap. Senator Schumer has said he wants the BBBA finished by Christmas.

Government funding – Congress is also facing a December 3 deadline on government funding. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said a patch could extend into the new year, an approach seen likely to win out over the desires of top Democratic appropriators Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Pat Leahy (D-VT) to extend funding only until sometime before Christmas to try complete work on some appropriations bills. “It’d be wrong if we don’t get any of our bills,” Senator Leahy said in Roll Call. “Otherwise, if we don’t, we’re just going to do continuing resolutions (CRs) and that’s going to be cutting everything, including cuts to defense.” The Washington Post said November 28, “In recent days, Democratic leaders have eyed late January as a potential end date for a new spending arrangement.”

Debt limit – The Treasury Department has suggested December 15 is the must-act date for the debt limit, though outside groups have suggested it could be later. Republicans have suggested they won’t provide votes due to Democratic spending plans. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) said on Fox News Sunday, “This is all about Democrat spending. This is 100% on them. If you get rid of all of the gimmicks of accounting, this bill that the Democrats are proposing is $4 trillion in additional spending. There’s not a single Republican who's going to vote for the bill or to raise the debt ceiling. This is on the Democrats.”

However, there have been reports of talks between Senate Leader Schumer and Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) over ways Republicans may facilitate Democrats taking care of the issue on their own. The WSJ reported, “Possible paths forward include Republicans agreeing to let Democrats raise the debt limit along party lines through regular order—rather than through reconciliation—or Democrats raising it through reconciliation in an expedited process that the GOP endorses.”

There’s only one hearing in tax-writing committees this week. The House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee will hold a hearing on “Supporting U.S. Workers, Businesses, and the Environment in the Face of Unfair Chinese Trade Practices” on Thursday, December 2, 2021 (10:00 a.m.). 


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