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Legislative Update

Senate. The Senate is in recess until Oct. 18.

House. The House was not scheduled to be in session this week but reconvened this afternoon to approve an increase in the debt limit. The House will continue to conduct committee work this week and next.

Debt Limit. This evening the House approved a rule providing for consideration of several bills. More significantly, passage of the rule meant that the House approved the Senate-passed debt limit bill, sending it to the President for his signature.

Action last week in the Senate on the debt limit was basically a three-step process: 1. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed that the Senate would vote on a measure to raise the debt ceiling by $480 billion, an amount chosen so that further congressional action on the debt limit would be needed by approximately Dec. 3, when the continuing resolution expires. 2. McConnell rounded up 10 other Republicans to join him in voting with all Democrats, 61-38, to cut off debate on the motion to proceed to the debt limit measure. 3. The Senate then passed the $480-billion increase on a party-line vote of 50-48.

In a letter to President Biden, McConnell vowed that he will “not provide such assistance again if your all-Democrat government drifts into another avoidable crisis.” McConnell has made it clear that he wants Democrats to use the reconciliation process to increase the debt limit without any Republican votes and the $480-billion increase will give Democrats ample time to accomplish that. Schumer, in turn, remains adamant that Democrats will not use the reconciliation process.

While some Democrats support using the “nuclear option” to change the filibuster rules in order to suspend the debt limit, the votes aren’t there now for this approach. Changing the filibuster rules would require only a simple majority, but that means all 50 Democrats would have to be on board and Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) last week reiterated his opposition to changing the rules.

Reconciliation. Democratic leaders are discussing how to cut back their plans to pass a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, but there is still no agreed-upon topline number for the new measure. In an Oct. 11 letter to her House colleagues, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “it is essential that difficult decisions must be made very soon.” Addressing the question of whether Democrats should re-craft the bill by (a) including as many policy priorities as possible but limiting the number of years they would be available or (b) focusing on fewer priorities, Pelosi noted that “overwhelmingly, the guidance I am receiving from Members is to do fewer things well.”

This approach suggests to some observers that Democrats could revisit House proposals that would, among other things, expand Medicare to provide vision, hearing, and dental benefits; institute two years of free community college; provide universal pre-K education; provide federal subsidies for child care; and expand affordable housing programs.

Pelosi has called for lawmakers to act on the scaled-back reconciliation bill as well as the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure package by Oct. 31. That deadline remains on the extremely optimistic side for the reconciliation bill, but there will once again be pressure on the House to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill by the end of the month.

Two factors affect that decision: 1. A short-term re-authorization of highway programs expires Oct. 31, and a five-year extension of those programs is included in the infrastructure bill. 2. The Virginia gubernatorial election is Nov. 2, and Democrats want to show Virginia voters a legislative victory in Congress as Democrat Terry McAuliffe is locked in a close race with Republican Glen Youngkin. “If we don’t pass one of those before the gubernatorial election, it’s a huge, huge mistake,” said Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.), referring to the infrastructure bill and a separate measure to boost U.S. science and research, both of which have passed the Senate but not the House.

Committee Action of Note:

  • Wednesday, October 13:
    • House Financial Services Committee Hearing: Task Force on Artificial Intelligence: Beyond I, Robot: Ethics, Artificial Intelligence, and the Digital Age.
  • Thursday, October 14:
    • House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Hearing: The Future of Forecasting: Building a Weather-Ready Nation on All Fronts.
    • House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Hearing: Impacts of Abandoned Offshore Oil and Gas Infrastructure and the Need for Stronger Federal Oversight.
    • House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce Hearing: Investing in American Jobs: Legislation to Strengthen Manufacturing and Competitiveness.
    • House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Hearing: Cashed Out: How a Cashless Economy Impacts Disadvantaged Communities and Peoples.
  • Friday, October 15:
    • House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development, and Insurance Hearing: Zoned Out: Examining the Impact of Exclusionary Zoning on People, Resources, and Opportunity.
    • House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Hearing: Colorado River Drought Conditions and Response Measures.

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