Busy September Ahead For Congress

[ Posted Monday, August 30th, 2021 – 16:27 UTC ]

Next month could wind up being a very productive one for Congress, although since we are talking about Congress we have to include the standard disclaimer: "but of course there is no guarantee." But the fact that there are several deadlines looming may actually prod them into action. The big question is whether they can manage to walk and chew gum at the same time, since there is so much on their "to do" list and so little time to accomplish it all.

This is all in addition to all the other work Congress does, I should point out. The investigation into January 6th will likely make significant progress, as they have requested an enormous amount of records from multiple federal agencies and departments. They could also schedule hearings, both private and public. This may not even be the only congressional investigation to make news, as it is quite likely a new investigation into the end of the American military presence in Afghanistan will get underway as well.

There are also deadlines that won't explicitly force Congress to act, but may politically become imperative. The additional COVID-19 unemployment benefits will end the first week in September (they already have ended, in many Republican-controlled states), right in the midst of the fourth Delta-driven wave of the pandemic. Congress could act to extend these benefits, but at this point that outcome has to be seen as doubtful at best.

There are four big areas, however, that Congress needs to act upon next month. All have deadlines of one sort or another. So let's take a look at what will be on deck for Congress when it returns from its monthlong vacation.


Voting rights

This one doesn't have a discrete deadline, but the window to act is indeed closing fast. If nothing happens, the 2022 election will be held with the rules that are in place now -- including all the new voter-suppression and election-meddling laws Republicans have passed since the 2020 election.

Also, the states have already begun the process of redistricting. This is the biggest deadline there is, really, although any changes in election laws will need to be passed early enough to give the states time to implement them before next November. Primaries will be happening early next year, and the real deadline has to be seen as "before the deadline for candidates to file for these races, with enough time allowed for the states to make any necessary changes." Both redistricting and state elections will begin to happen anyway if Congress doesn't act early enough, to put this another way.

There are two voting rights bills that would change all this by ushering in significant reforms. One is the For The People Act (or some new draft of it acceptable to Senator Joe Manchin), which would make sweeping changes to election law and hold the states to federal minimums for how they conduct their elections. This bill already failed to get enough Republicans to vote for it once, which was done to prove to Manchin that bipartisanship on voting rights simply isn't possible right now, since the Republican Party is waging such a full-fledged attack on the right to vote at the state level.

The second bill is named for the late John Lewis, and would restore all the parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court has recently struck down. This would once again require states to get preclearance from the federal government for changes to their election laws, which would stave off some of the laws Republicans are passing and have passed at the state level.

These two bills should be seen as companions -- both are really needed, although even one or the other of them on its own would certainly improve things. But the sticking point is going to be whether Joe Manchin and fellow Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema allow the Senate filibuster rules to be amended to allow passage of civil rights bills with a simple majority. Both bills may be brought up in the Senate only to fail, to give these two Democrats conclusive proof that bipartisanship is a fool's errand right now. Perhaps if they do see the bills fail to win 10 Republican votes, they will reluctantly come to the conclusion that the only way to ensure voting rights is through a partisan bill. But as of now, neither one is budging.


Debt ceiling

At some point in the next few months, the United States will hit its debt ceiling once again. The timing is slightly vague, because even once the money theoretically runs out there are still plenty of accounting tricks which can be used to keep things running for awhile longer. The Treasury uses these tools to give Congress more time to act. So there isn't a more-exact deadline than "sometime this fall."

But the deadline is a very hard one. If the U.S. defaults on its debt, it would crush the economy (perhaps even worldwide). So some sort of bill must pass. If Democrats were smart, they'd take the bull by the horns and pass a law which eliminated the debt ceiling once and for all (with language like "any time Congress appropriates spending they also agree to raise the debt level to whatever is necessary to pay for it"). But they probably won't.

Enough Republicans (46 of them) have already lined up against this. They demand "reforms" which is a fancy way of saying "destroying the Democratic agenda by stripping things from the budget." Raising the debt ceiling used to (a long time ago) be non-controversial and almost automatic, but now it is seen (especially by Republicans, although not exclusively) as a way to take legislative hostages.

This may not matter, however. Even if Republicans remain against it, Democrats could always attach a debt ceiling hike to their budget reconciliation bill, which can pass the Senate with only 51 votes. So far Democrats have been reluctant to do so, but they may be forced into it if the Senate GOP caucus hangs together.


Budget (of some sort)

Of the list of things Congress has to do in September, this is the one that absolutely has to happen. The federal government's fiscal year ends at the end of the month, so some sort of budget must be passed before then or else the government shuts down. And, hopefully, no Democrat wants to see that happen.

Of course there is an actual budget being prepared (more on this in a moment), but Congress may not be able to finish it in time. This is (sadly) fairly routine, but it's (usually) not the end of the world. What may happen is Congress kicks the can down the road a bit by passing a "continuing resolution" which essentially says "we'll keep spending money at the same rate as we did last year, until this future date." That date can be set whenever Congress wishes, although it is usually set to give just enough time to resolve the actual budget (continuing resolutions can be as short as a few days, although a few weeks to a few months is more common).

If a continuing resolution is passed, it will likely be done at the last minute, at the very end of the month. That's the way it usually goes, at any rate.


Budget reconciliation bill

This is the real prize. This will be the third leg of President Joe Biden's three-legged domestic policy agenda. The first was the COVID-19 relief bill, which passed soon after Biden took office. The second was the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which passed the Senate and is awaiting a vote in the House. The third will be a $3.5 trillion plan to revamp what the federal government does to help average American families out in a very big way.

Both Senate and House committee chairs have been instructed to work together (the House insisted on only voting on a bill that could also pass the Senate, which should save a lot of time), and they've been given a deadline of September 15th to produce a final draft. All of these individual committees' drafts will then be merged into one giant bill.

As usual, Senators Manchin and Sinema are already objecting. The progressive faction is in no mood to make many further compromises, though, so this is really the big showdown. Once some sort of compromise is reached, the bill will be voted on in the Senate. Vice President Kamala Harris will cast the tie-breaking vote, and the bill will move to the House.

Nancy Pelosi will schedule both a vote on this bill and a vote on the infrastructure bill on the same day. The moderates and the progressives will bury their distrust of each other and vote for both bills. Joe Biden will sign both into law, and the Democratic Party will have a great platform of accomplishments to take to the voters in 2022 and 2024.

That's the plan, at any rate.

Obviously, this is going to be the most complex bill Congress passes this year, and that is an awfully short time frame. Pelosi has agreed to bring the infrastructure bill up for a vote in the House on September 27th. If the Senate hasn't acted by then, everything may fall apart. The Senate's at least got to be in the "we've almost reached an agreement, just working over the final details" phase of negotiations (between the fiscal conservative Democrats and the rest of the Democratic caucus). In that case, with a bill imminent, the House conservatives might give Pelosi the slack of a day or two. But both bills really have to pass by the end of the month, when the federal fiscal year runs out.

This bill will be the one which will likely get the most political attention, which should increase the pressure on all Democrats to produce some final results. President Biden is heavily invested in the success of his agenda, so the White House can be expected to lean on any holdouts when necessary.

Sometimes in Washington there are bills which become politically "too big to fail." That's how the budget reconciliation bill has shaped up. This is the whole ball of wax, for Democrats. If they can manage to get it done, they'll have a decent chance in the midterm elections. They can make a very clear case of: "This is what Democrats can do for you and your family if you elect us, while Republicans are fighting us every step of the way." If, however, the whole effort falls apart somehow, then Democrats won't just be in political jeopardy next year, they'll have earned it.

By the end of September, the answer will be clear. Either Democrats stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park or went down swinging. One way or another, next month is shaping up to be pivotal to the overall success of the Democratic Party.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


15 Comments on “Busy September Ahead For Congress”

  1. [1] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    ...if they can manage to get it done, they'll have a decent chance in the midterm elections. They can make a very clear case of: "This is what Democrats can do for you and your family if you elect us, while Republicans are fighting us every step of the way." If, however, the whole effort falls apart somehow, then Democrats won't just be in political jeopardy next year, they'll have earned it.

    Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were DINO Presidents, content to keep the status quo while letting us fight over social issues.

    Elizabeth, you know that I'm more of a fan of Joe Biden now that I've seen some positive results. But Joe has to get this done -- whatever it takes. Otherwise he's just another tool of the rich bastards.

    And I shall spend the rest of my life working for the Democratic Socialists of America.

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    War Is Over!

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Well, Don ...

    I think the war is over and I think the US can reasonably say that its mission was a success - in the sense that a very heavy price was paid by those who planned the 9/11 attacks and those who gave safe harbour for the terrorists.

    The US was never going to remake Afghanistan in its own eyes ... I knew THAT about 18 or 19 years ago when a reporter showed a bunch of Afghan elders the devastating pictures of the rubble in the aftermath of 9/11 and asked them if they knew where this was ... their near mmediate consesus? The pictures were of ... Kabul!

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Could very possibly be prophetic ...

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Don, it was successful in the sense that the mission was accomplished a decade ago at which time the US military should have left Afghanistan.

    I think there were two major errors since OBL was killed. Number one, diplomacy never outweighed the military aspect of this mission and, number two, Obama was not nearly strong enough to stand up to the generals.

  7. [7] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    the graveyard of empires moniker really is apt. no president would have come out of this looking good, but even so there have been way more unforced errors than there should have been. it's pretty clear to me that the president knows this and was taken by surprise initially. the measure of his presidency isn't going to be what just happened, but how he recovers from it and soldiers on.

    i recommend the pie vaccine. it's the cure for all that ails our nation. it's tasty, and it will work!

  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    I couldn't agree more.

    I would just add that it took a president who is extremely competent and knowledgeable and, as such, comfortable in his own skin, to get the US out of Afghanistan. Obama was not equipped to do it. He could not override the generals. Biden could and did.

    Now, I will be more interested than words can say to watch the diplomatic mission as it unfolds. The US wants to extract all of its citizens and Afghan allies and the Taliban leadership and the government they hope to preside over is wholly dependent on international aid and assistance. This could work out very well for both the US and the Taliban. The only question is what will the Taliban do ...

  9. [9] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    I dunno, Elizabeth. I'd like you to read Biden’s Long Trail of Betrayals --
    Why is the president so consistently wrong on major foreign-policy matters?
    and comment. This Atlantic article is pretty hard on Joe, so I'd like your take on it, please.

  10. [10] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Slightly off topic:

    I really like this blogger who calls himself Wartard ("Because Humans are Retarded by War") here's a highly useful post that I recommend as a primer on The idea of ISIS: The history and future of the Islamic State.

    Don Harris, you'll really like this guy!

  11. [11] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Caddy, do I have to pay for it?

  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    I got as far as the Vietamese issue. Which the author you cite got completely wrong. Not surprising since the assertions made about Biden were based on a book by Donald Rumsfeld. Say no more.

    I recalled the following op-ed by Biden on the issue during the 2020 presidential campaign ...

  13. [13] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Here is another interesting read that has some relevance to what is happening now. It's a declassified transcript of a meeting between president Ford and others, including Biden, then a senator and member of the Foreign Relations committee ...

    The author of the Atlantic piece is not a student of history, obviously.

  14. [14] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    This Atlantic author is dead wrong on Biden's stance on Iraq. I've been over and over and over on that in this blog too many times already.

    I don't have any more time for this ... article.

  15. [15] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Context is ALWAYS important but, especially so when it comes to foreign policy and related issues. Most analysts don't get this, for any number of reasons.

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