What to Know in Washington: Senate Democrats Ready Funding Vote

Senate Democrats are seeking a vote today on a stopgap funding bill to avert a government shutdown, but without a provision to increase the federal debt limit.

The temporary funding measure also does not include additional money for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which was part of an earlier proposal, according to a copy of the bill obtained by Bloomberg.

Democrats are seeking consent from all senators to bring the bill to the floor as a way to expedite passage before funding for the government runs out after the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year. The bill extends funding through Dec. 3 and includes disaster aid as well as money for Afghan refugees.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and senior Democratic lawmakers at a press conference yesterday.

Republicans on Monday thwarted an attempt by Democrats to include a debt ceiling increase with the temporary funding. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) yesterday blocked Democrats from advancing a stand-alone debt ceiling increase. Democrats, having failed to use the must-pass funding and disaster aid bill, to drum up any GOP votes for the debt ceiling are now delinking the two.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen yesterday warned Congress that her department will effectively run out of cash around Oct. 18 unless Congress suspends or increases the debt limit. Read more from Erik Wasson.

Democrats Get Creative to Solve Debt Limit: A $1 trillion coin, a “gazillion” dollar debt limit, and removing Congress from the equation are among Democrats’ proposed solutions to the debt ceiling standoff, in a wellspring of creativity inspired by Republicans’ insistence that Democrats increase the limit on their own. Democrats insist Republicans join them in a bipartisan vote to suspend the debt limit, but Republicans are pressing them to use the budget reconciliation process. With a shrinking window to raise or suspend the debt limit before the U.S. would default on its debt, far-fetched ideas appear to be more preferable to Democrats than raising the limit alone through reconciliation. Jack Fitzpatrick runs down the list of ideas from Democrats.

Biden’s Luster Dims as Stumbles and Congress’s Sniping Take Toll

Across the Capitol, House progressives lined up to defy Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) by opposing a bipartisan infrastructure bill scheduled for a vote tomorrow, potentially endangering President Joe Biden’s economic agenda.

The longer the deadlock drags on the major pieces of legislation, government funding and debt, the greater the risk a narrative of a broken nation and hapless president takes hold. Biden, despite plenty of closed-door meetings and phone calls, has been largely absent from the public battle over his own economic plan.

Biden and congressional Democrats have a plausible, even likely path past a perilous political moment. In Congress, the shouting often gets loudest right before the deal, and no one is better at closing than Pelosi. Wall Street’s smart money is unfazed in its confidence in U.S. creditworthiness.

The White House dismisses any notion that Biden is a bystander in the dramas. Press Secretary Jen Psaki pointed to meetings he had yesterday with moderate Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and said his senior aides completed more than 260 “engagements” with lawmakers on the economic agenda.

Late last night, he canceled a planned trip for today to Chicago to focus on lobbying lawmakers.

But Biden already has taken damage. His job approval in the Gallup Poll is down 13 points since June, setting a new low of 43% in a survey ended Sept. 17, as he fails to show the public the competence that helped distinguish him from his erratic predecessor.

The best thing Democratic leaders may now have going for them is the obvious danger ahead in next year’s congressional elections. Midterms are always challenging for the president’s party, more so for Democrats with their slim majorities and Democratic-leaning states losing House seats in the Census reapportionment. Moderates and progressives alike understand failure to deliver on Biden’s economic agenda would sap supporters’ enthusiasm to turn out to vote.

If Biden’s agenda passes, even trimmed down from its current scale, public memories of the squabbling along the way may fade. The internal party fights have focused public attention on controversies over the size of the price tag, who gets hurt by potential tax increases and what priorities get short shrift. Read more from Mike Dorning.

Moderates Pitch Income Limits on Medicare Benefits: Centrist Democrats are weighing whether new Medicare benefits should go only to lower-income Americans as they look for ways to cut the cost of their party’s sweeping domestic spending bill. Manchin told reporters he wants to means-test “everything we can” to reduce the size of the once-$3.5 trillion spending package being debated by congressional Democrats. Other centrists have said new Medicare benefits — vision, dental, and hearing coverage — specifically need to be limited by income. “We have to have means-testing to bring it in,” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Democrats Ready Alternative Immigration Plans: Democrats are weighing substitute immigration measures that don’t offer permanent residence in a sweeping social spending package if their latest preferred back-up plan falls short. Senate leaders, strategizing after a Senate rules official last week rejected their initial proposal to offer a broad legalization path for millions of immigrants, are already looking at updating a registry provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act to allow some foreigners in the U.S. to apply for green cards and gain protection from deportation. Read more from Ellen M. Gilmer.

Happening on the Hill

Today’s Agenda:

  • The House plans to consider five measures under expedited procedure. The chamber could possibly consider separate measures providing government funding and in relation to the debt limit.
  • Senators are scheduled to vote on two of Biden’s nominations for the Interior and Homeland Security departments. The chamber could also vote on a measure providing government funding.
  • Click here for a complete list of today’s hearings and markups.

Furloughs, Program Halts Loom on Highway Funds: Lawmakers are banking on the House to pass a major infrastructure bill tomorrow that would reauthorize expiring surface transportation programs and avert thousands of furloughs and halted payments. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said he is “not speculating on failure” of the legislation, which is up for a vote the day of the deadline to reauthorize highway, transit, and safety programs.

More than 2,500 Federal Highway Administration employees would be furloughed and federal highway programs “would cease” after Sept. 30 if the highway bill authorization expires, the Department of Transportation said in a contingency plan released yesterday. Read more from Lillianna Byington and Emily Wilkins.

House Clears Bill to Give Teacher Grants Flexibility: House lawmakers yesterday passed a bill 406-16 to overhaul a problematic grant program designed to help educators pay for their own college or graduate school if they agree to teach high-need subjects in low-income schools. The bill passed the Senate in April and will now be sent to the White House, Andrew Kreighbaum reports.

Khan Urges Antitrust Legislation for Gig Workers: FTC Chair Lina Khan urged Congress to consider passing legislation to give gig workers greater protections to organize under antitrust laws. Employees’ labor organizing is exempted from the Clayton Act’s purview. But collective actions by workers classified as non-employees may be susceptible to prosecution under antitrust laws and private lawsuits, Khan said in a letter yesterday to the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee. Read more from Siri Bulusu.

Around the Administration

Today’s Agenda: Biden at noon will attend the memorial of former Indiana First Lady Susan Bayh at the Washington National Cathedral.

Environmentalists Urge Biden to Toughen Auto Emission Proposal: Environmental groups are urging Biden to floor it on his plans to place higher limits on greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks as some carmakers argue the current proposals are good enough. The EPA announced plans in August to mandate fleet-wide vehicle mileage of 52 miles per gallon by 2026, up from 40 mpg this year. In comments submitted to the agency ahead of Monday’s deadline, the Environmental Protection Network, an organization comprised of former EPA employees, said the Biden administration’s proposal “makes the minimum progress needed to lay a strong foundation for reaching the longer-term electrification goals.” Read more from Keith Laing.

Justices to Weigh Pipeline, Climate Petitions in Upcoming Term: The Supreme Court will kick off a new term next week with an environmental docket that could wade into big-ticket climate, water, and pipeline issues. The justices gathered yesterday for their long conference to debate what issues to take on in the coming months. The environmental case list is light, but court watchers are paying close attention to a few major issues, including petitions over power plant emission rules. Read more from Maya Earls and Jennifer Hijazi.

Labor Secretary’s Calendar Reveals Covid-19 Rulemaking Crunch: In Marty Walsh‘s early weeks as U.S. labor secretary, he was thrust into White House meetings over a controversial virus workplace-safety regulation and immediately began working to sell the president’s jobs agenda—all while learning a new bureaucracy via virtual staff briefings from his Boston home. That’s the depiction of the trial-by-fire Walsh endured after he was sworn in atop the U.S. Labor Department on March 23, according to daily calendar entries from late-March through the end of July that the agency posted on its website yesterday. Read more from Ben Penn.

NK Says New Missile Has Hard-to-Stop Hypersonic Glider: North Korea said its latest rocket launch was a successful test of a “hypersonic missile,” suggesting the regime had come closer to putting nuclear warheads in high-speed gliders that can evade U.S. missile defenses. The new missile launched by North Korea added a weapon of “great strategic significance” to the country’s arsenal, the official Korean Central News Agency said today regarding the test a day earlier. State media also released a photo of a rocket that weapon experts said appeared to be a modified version of an intercontinental ballistic missile first launched in 2017, with what looked to be a winged glider perched on top. Read more from Jon Herskovitz.

U.S., Russia Resumed Cybersecurity Cooperation: Russia and the United States resumed cooperation on information security frozen since 2014, Kommersant reports, citing unidentified officials from the Russian side. Over the past three months, negotiators have made progress in some areas, and parties have restored cooperation within the framework of the U.S.-Russian Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters of 1999. The U.S. sent Russia information on a number of international cyber groups, in particular Evil Corp., TrickBot and REvil, while Russia requested information from American colleagues about the activities of a group of hackers associated with the use of malicious software REvil/Sodinokibi, Evgenia Pismennaya reports.

EU Unites Behind Narrower Trade Objectives for U.S. Meeting: European Union countries agreed on a joint statement for its pivotal trade meeting with the U.S. scheduled for today, with France successfully watering down aspects of it, including on semiconductors. The draft was endorsed by all 27 member states just hours before the start of the meeting, according to officials familiar with the decision, who asked not to be identified because the procedure was private. The conclusions for the Trade and Technology Council, seen by Bloomberg, aim to deliver guiding principles on screening investments, export controls, artificial intelligence and semiconductor supply chains. Read more from Alberto Nardelli and John Follian.

To contact the reporters on this story: Michaela Ross in Washington at mross@bgov.com; Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com