US Congress seeks to avoid government shutdown as Biden agenda threatened


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic divisions were jeopardizing President Joe Biden’s agenda to invest in infrastructure, expand social services and tackle climate change as the US Congress simultaneously faced a deadline on Thursday to avoid a government shutdown.

The US Capitol seen through a skylight at dusk on Capitol Hill in Washington, United States, September 29, 2021. REUTERS / Tom Brenner

Congress was set to approve new government funding until Dec. 3 as moderate and progressive Democrats fight to spend trillions of dollars to fund extended family leave, medical care for the elderly and better support for children.

The Democratic-controlled Senate and House of Representatives were to pass the temporary funding bill by midnight Thursday, avoiding a partial government shutdown like the one in late 2018 and early 2019 that lasted 35 days.

Meanwhile, the House was due to vote on a $ 1 trillion infrastructure investment bill that passed the Senate last month in a bipartisan vote. Since then, House Republicans have backed away from the bill in an attempt to deny Biden victory.

However, it was not clear whether this vote would actually take place. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi faced a revolt from an influential group of Progressive Democrats who warned she had to hold her back until a larger domestic investment bill of 3 500 billion dollars is fixed.

The moderates were pushing for a smaller package, and negotiations over it could stretch for weeks or more.

In addition to maintaining government operations, the interim spending bill would provide assistance to communities hard hit by hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters. Money to help Afghan refugees is also included.

Yet another battle was unfolding in Congress.

Democrats and Republicans have continued to fight to give the Treasury Department additional borrowing power, beyond the current legal limit of $ 28.4 trillion. A historic default could occur around Oct. 18, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said if Congress does not act.

Republicans don’t want any part of the debt limit increase, saying it’s the Democrats’ problem since they control Congress and the White House.

The House on Wednesday night approved a bill suspending the debt ceiling until December 2022. It is expected to be blocked by Republicans in the Senate, possibly Thursday.

On Wednesday, anger flared up on the Capitol.

House Democrats have urged moderate Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to say what they want publicly, after rejecting the size of Biden’s $ 3.5 trillion social investment bill.

“They have to come up with their counter-offer, and then we sit down and negotiate from there,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal, chair of the House Progressive Caucus.

The two have so far declined to expose the size and scope of what they might support.

Manchin released a statement Wednesday evening saying: “Spending trillions more on new and expanded government programs, when we cannot even pay for essential social programs like social security and medicare, is the definition of fiscal madness.

He also told reporters on Wednesday that negotiating the major “social infrastructure” bill could take weeks or more, further complicating Democrats’ hopes to pass the infrastructure bill that would pay for road construction. and bridges and other projects supported by the business community.

The looming debt crisis is shaking Americans on both sides of the political spectrum, according to a national Ipsos opinion poll conducted for Reuters on Tuesday and Wednesday.

He showed that 65% of adults, including eight in 10 Democrats and five in 10 Republicans, are “very” or “somewhat” concerned that Congress will not reach a debt deal on time.

The poll also found that 30% think Republicans in Congress deserve the most blame if there is a government shutdown, while 21% would blame Democrats in Congress and 16% would blame Biden.

Reporting by Richard Cowan; additional reporting by Chris Kahn; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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