What to Know in Washington: Stopgap Talks Slow as Deadline Nears

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Two quickly approaching deadlines are top of mind for congressional leaders today after talks to craft a continuing resolution to fund the government past Friday stalled yesterday, and as Senate leaders continue negotiating a debt ceiling solution—despite fresh warnings from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and the Congressional Budget Office. Across the street from the Capitol, the most consequential challenge in decades to Roe v. Wade begins at the Supreme Court.

Here’s what Bloomberg Government is tracking for Wednesday.

Congress’ Agenda:

  • The House meets at 10 a.m., as leaders look to find a path forward on a stopgap spending measure. The chamber could also consider a collection of broadly bipartisan bills under expedited procedure.
  • Senators convene at noon to continue debate on the annual defense policy bill, which has stalled amid procedural hurdles.
  • A Facebook whistleblower will appear before a House committee to testify on legislation to overhaul technology platforms’ legal liability shield. Click here for a complete list of today’s hearings and markups.

Biden’s Schedule:

  • President Joe Biden will speak at 12:35 p.m. on efforts to strengthen supply chains during the holiday season.
  • Biden also plans to give remarks at 2:30 p.m. along with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to commemorate World AIDS Day, and launch a national HIV/AIDS strategy.
  • The president, First Lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff will hold a Menorah Lighting at 5:30 p.m. in celebration of Hanukkah.

Stopgap Spending Bill Stalls as Deadline Nears

Talks to fund the government and avert a weekend shutdown stalled yesterday as House lawmakers waited for their Senate counterparts to decide on the length of the stopgap, Democrats said. Lawmakers will have to act quickly to pass a stopgap and avoid a shutdown after midnight Friday night, Jack Fitzpatrick reports.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters yesterday the House could vote as early as today on a continuing resolution. But later in the day, he said talks with the Senate are holding up the bill. Possible consideration of a continuing resolution is listed on Hoyer’s House floor schedule for today.

Even if the House passes a stopgap measure today, the Senate will have limited time to pass the measure before Friday night’s deadline. Advancement in the Senate will need cooperation from Republicans, who may not lend assistance as Democrats rush to expedite a vote.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in floor remarks yesterday that Democrats are “ready to pass this legislation and to get it done as quickly as possible.” But, he acknowledged he’ll need help from the GOP, adding that “to avoid a needless shutdown, Republicans will have to cooperate and approve the government funding legislation without delay. If Republicans choose obstruction, there will be a shutdown entirely because of their own dysfunction.”

Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg
Schumer speaking at the Capitol yesterday.

Another deadline quickly approaching is Dec. 15, when Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and the Congressional Budget Office say the U.S. will likely run out of money to pay its obligations. Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said yesterday they are still working on a solution for raising the federal debt ceiling. “What we need to do is come up with an agreement that doesn’t risk the full faith and credit of the United States,” Schumer told reporters. “It’s never been risked before, in a way that both parties can support. And that’s we’re trying to achieve.”

McConnell said, “The government will not default,” and added that the two leaders have had “useful discussions.” But there was no public signal that either had budged from previous positions that have left action on raising the debt limit in a partisan limbo. The talks between the Senate’s top two leaders are aimed at finding a smoother path to addressing the debt limit following an October clash in the chamber that rattled markets before a short-term hike was approved. Read more from Laura Litvan and Christopher Condon.

  • The U.S. may be able to delay hitting the debt ceiling by changing the timing of a required highway funding transfer, federal agencies indicated. The U.S. risks defaulting on its debt obligations around mid-December, timing based in part on a scheduled $118 billion transfer from the Treasury to the Highway Trust Fund on Dec. 15. But the Treasury Department could defer part or all of that transfer, the CBO said yesterday. It said transferring only amounts needed for immediate use would push the debt limit back by weeks, to “sometime in January,” Lillianna Byington reports.

ALSO HAPPENING ON THE HILL:

  • The whistle-blower who revealed thousands of internal Facebook documents will renew her call for regulation of a social-media business model that she says puts profits over the health of its users and global democracies. Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager, returns to the Capitol to testify today before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on technology, as lawmakers weigh proposals to reduce the liability shield enjoyed by online platforms under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. While there’s remarkable bipartisan support for tougher internet regulation, there’s scant consensus on the best way to set guardrails for a complex and ever-changing industry. Four of the bills to change Section 230 will be part of today’s discussion. Anna Edgerton has more.
  • Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act has been credited with the creation of social media and the rise of services such as Twitter and Meta Platforms‘s Facebook. Judges have interpreted the liability protections broadly, shielding companies even in cases where they allegedly helped develop unlawful content. For more on the law and proposals to change it, download the updated BGOV OnPoint: House Panel Examines Reining in Big Tech Immunity.
  • Major corporate leaders including Apple CEO Tim Cook warned lawmakers that time is running out for them help spur the return of critically important semiconductor manufacturing to the U.S. Executives from more than 50 U.S. companies in letter today called on congressional leaders to pass legislation that provides $52 billion in grants and incentives for domestic chip production, as well as a separate bill to encourage semiconductor design and manufacturing. The CHIPS Act was included in a large package of legislation aimed at countering China that was passed by the Senate in June. That legislation, called the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, has since stalled in the House. Read more from Daniel Flatley and Ian King.
  • A Republican senator asked Biden to withdraw nomination of Gigi Sohn to join the Federal Communications Commission, calling her “an anti-copyright activist.” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) cited Sohn’s 2012 congressional testimony regarding online music and her service on the board of Locast, a company that streamed TV broadcasts before shutting down this year after a court battle with broadcasters, Todd Shields reports. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee plans a hearing today on Sohn’s nomination.

Abortion Showdown Begins at Supreme Court

The most consequential abortion case in a generation comes before the Supreme Court today, as the justices weigh Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy and consider gutting the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling.

Even if the court doesn’t explicitly overturn Roe v Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, a decision upholding Mississippi’s law would have a far-reaching impact. It would give states new license to curb abortion access, guaranteeing tighter restrictions in much of the country. The argument, which starts at 10 a.m., centers on a law that is far harsher than anything the court has previously upheld and all but impossible to square with Roe and other abortion precedents.

With a 6-3 conservative majority on the court, abortion opponents have a chance to achieve their long-sought goal of reversing Roe and putting the issue back under state control. Mississippi contends that Roe and the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling are “egregiously wrong” decisions that have proven unworkable and only inflamed the debate on abortion. “Nothing in constitutional text, structure, history, or tradition supports a right to abortion,” Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch wrote.

The 7-2 Roe decision said abortion protections were covered by the “right to privacy,” a doctrine the court established in earlier cases, though the Constitution doesn’t expressly use those words. The court re-affirmed Roe in Casey, while modifying the legal test. Casey said states can’t impose an “undue burden” on abortion access until fetal viability, a point the court suggested was around 23 or 24 weeks at the time. Read more from Greg Stohr.

  • In the years since Roe v. Wade, opponents have successfully passed laws limiting abortion access, including barring U.S. funding and restrictions on clinics. They convinced the Supreme Court to abandon Roe’s trimester framework and limit so-called partial birth abortion. “The idea was that you would introduce more and more restrictions and get the Supreme Court to say that some or all of them were okay,” said Mary Ziegler, a professor at Florida State University College of Law. “By the time you actually got around to telling the court to reverse Roe, there would be very little of the abortion right left.” Jordan S. Rubin has more.

Vaccine Debate Clouds Omicron Threat

A rift among drugmakers over just how well Covid-19 vaccines will work against the omicron variant served yesterday as a reflection of how an information vacuum around the new pathogen is creating fresh anxiety about the pandemic. Pharma executives and other experts lined up to say there’s little evidence so far that the newly discovered variant will erode the protective power of Covid-19 shots.

The University of Oxford, which helped develop the widely used vaccine sold by AstraZeneca, said there’s no indication that existing shots won’t provide some protection from the newly discovered variant. Additionally, the head of BioNTech, Pfizer’s vaccine partner, told the Wall Street Journal that the current crop of shots is likely to shield against severe disease in people infected with the variant. Those remarks followed comments from Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel, who said the surprising number of mutations in omicron suggested new shots would be needed to keep it from infecting people.

The apparently quick discovery of omicron has cheered some public-health experts who say that it gives time for scientists and policy makers to study it and prepare appropriate countermeasures. But it also has created a knowledge gap while omicron remains under the microscope, making markets especially sensitive to any new commentary that suggests the variant could be a threat to global growth. Read more from Robert Langreth.

  • Biden plans to tighten travel rules to combat the omicron variant by requiring all air travelers to the U.S. to be tested within a day of their departure regardless of vaccination status, according to a person familiar with the matter. Biden plans to announce the new requirements tomorrow in a speech detailing his plan to contain the pandemic through the winter. Currently, vaccinated travelers must get tested within three days of boarding their flight to the U.S.; under the change, that would be cut to one day. Read more from Josh Wingrove.
  • A federal court in Louisiana blocked the Biden administration from enforcing a vaccine mandate for health-care workers nationwide—except for in 10 states that already face an injunction order. The preliminary injunction yesterday by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana marks the second victory for opponents of the mandate, which requires health workers to get vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022. Allie Reed and Alexis Kramer have more.
  • The U.S. government’s ability to stop the spread of a whole host of diseases in health facilities could be threatened if the reasoning behind a federal court’s decision to block Biden‘s vaccine rule for health-care workers is adopted by other courts. Legal scholars say the government has long used Medicare and Medicaid funding to set safety standards that health facilities must follow. But a federal judge in Missouri undermined that power when it said CMS needs congressional approval before it can require Covid-19 vaccines, they say. Read more from Lydia Wheeler and Allie Reed.
  • Separately, a Kentucky federal court said Biden doesn’t likely have the power to mandate vaccines for federal contractors and their subcontractors, halting the order issued by the administration for the conservative-led states challenging it. Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee sued the Biden administration arguing that the mandate for companies that do business with the U.S. government violated the U.S. Constitution. Read more from Erin Mulvaney.
  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin yesterday ordered members of the U.S. National Guard and Reserve forces to be vaccinated against Covid-19 or face loss of pay and be considered absent from drills and training. The defense chief’s order comes after Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt (R) asked Austin to rescind the vaccine mandate for his state’s National Guard. Read more from Roxana Tiron.

What Else We’re Reading

  • The president’s pick to lead a Department of Homeland Security team that helps root out domestic extremism faces calls to salvage the office after a series of high-profile missteps. DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis has been excoriated for failing to sufficiently warn against the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, denounced as incompetent and abusive by a key senator, and snubbed as a backwater within the intelligence community. Now former intelligence officials are hopeful Ken Wainstein, nominated as under secretary for intelligence and analysis, can restore I&A’s credibility and prove it belongs on the counterterrorism scene. Read more from Ellen M. Gilmer.
  • Jerome Powell’s appetite for a faster tapering of Federal Reserve stimulus is casting him in a role financial markets haven’t seen since 2018: hawk. Stocks slid, short-term interest rates rose and measures of equity volatility surged yesterday after the central bank chairman warned that elevated inflation could justify ending asset purchases sooner than planned. Buffeted also by anxiety around the coronavirus, the S&P 500 just endured its worst stretch of turbulence in more than a year. Read more from Lu Wang and Vildana Hajric.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov tomorrow, the first direct contact between officials of the two countries in weeks as tensions grow amid western fears Russia may be planning to invade Ukraine. Lavrov will hold talks with Blinken on the sidelines of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe meeting in Stockholm, a U.S. official said. Before Blinken meets the Russian official, he will meet Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba separately, he said. Read more from Henry Meyer and Nick Wadhams.
  • The American public’s confidence in the U.S. military has dropped sharply, a national defense survey from the Ronald Reagan Institute found for the first time in the report’s three-year history. The number of Americans surveyed who say they have a great deal of trust and confidence in the military has fallen by 25 percentage points, to 45% from 70%, since 2018, according to a release summing up the survey results. Read more from Roxana Tiron.
  • The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled it doesn’t have the authority to address fairness or perceived gerrymandering when it decides final state legislative and congressional redistricting maps, a decision that likely will help Republicans retain their majorities in both chambers of the Wisconsin Legislature. The order spells out how the court will rule on existing disputes about completing new maps following the release of 2020 U.S. Census Bureau data. Stephen Joyce has more.
  • Lawmakers are the closest ever been to reforming private companies’ treatment of sexual assault and harassment cases, Politico reports. The Senate and House Judiciary committees have approved bipartisan legislation that would put an end to private employers’ use of forced arbitration by allowing victims to decide whether they want to take their sexual harassment or assault claims to court instead. But the path to Biden’s desk still remains unclear. Politico’s Marianne Levine has more.
  • Hostilities between the Republican far right and its center burst into the open yesterday, highlighting divisions that could stunt party’s leaders if they capture a narrow majority in the House next year, the New York Times reports. Initially prompted by the anti-Muslim comments of Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), the Republican-on-Republican war of words turned bitter and an indication of a brewing power struggle between an ascendant faction that styles itself after President Donald Trump and a quieter one that is pushing back. NYT’s Jonathan Weisman takes a look at what’s at state for the House GOP.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

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

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