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Looming federal shutdown, infrastructure bill, debt ceiling fight face Congress

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Looming federal shutdown, infrastructure bill, debt ceiling fight face Congress
The House is scheduled to begin debate Monday on a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, but a full floor vote on the measure has been delayed until Thursday. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 27 (UPI) -- This week is a big one for congressional Democrats and President Joe Biden's agenda -- with a deadline looming to avoid a federal government shutdown and possible votes on the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a progressive a $3.5 trillion spending plan.

The House and Senate have been eyeing both legislative priorities since they returned from their August recess earlier this month, which are critically important to Biden's agenda.

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There's also controversy over the debt ceiling, which Democrats want to suspend until 2022 -- but Republicans are not being cooperative on that front.

Looming shutdown and the debt ceiling

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The government has enough funds to run through Thursday. If there isn't an extension by then, the shutdown would begin at 12:01 a.m. Friday.

The reason Congress hasn't already passed a bill to fund the government into December is because Democratic lawmakers have tied it to suspending the debt ceiling -- which all Senate Republicans have opposed.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the chamber will vote on passing it Monday, but it's almost certain to fail. The bill, with the funding and debt ceiling tied together, needs 60 votes to pass. Not one Republican in the chamber has said they will support it.

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If the GOP refuses to budge on suspending the debt ceiling -- which they did multiple times under former President Donald Trump -- Democrats may be forced to separate the two measures.

If the ceiling isn't suspended, the U.S. government wouldn't be able to borrow money and could default on some of its debt obligations -- something that it's never done before.

Congress has until about mid-October to suspend the debt ceiling before the government faces a real threat of defaulting on its obligations.

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Infrastructure bill

The House had been scheduled Monday to give a full floor vote on the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said late Sunday that a vote would be delayed until Thursday.

Debate on the bill, however, will begin on Monday.

"The next few days will be a time of intensity," Pelosi wrote in a letter to House Democrats.

The bipartisan bill, passed by the Senate in August, has been the subject of months of debate as progressives in the House have demanded that the measure be voted in tandem with a $3.5 trillion White House spending plan, which includes funding for various social and healthcare measures and climate change.

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A bipartisan group of senators led by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., introduced the infrastructure bill last month, which includes $550 billion in new spending to revitalize U.S. roads, public transit, ports, the electric grid and clean drinking water and wastewater systems, as well as Internet access.

It passed the Senate in a 69-30 vote with 19 Republicans joining Democrats in support.

Pelosi had scheduled the full vote for Monday, which moderate Democrats in Congress like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sinema demanded as part of a deal with the house speaker. But Sunday, Pelosi said she could not allow the vote to go forward without adequate support.

"I'm never bringing to the floor a bill that doesn't have the votes," she said.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, called Pelosi "an incredibly good vote counter" and agreed that the vote would likely not take place Monday without a simultaneous vote on the companion spending proposal.

She said Monday was an arbitrary deadline by moderates who want to pass the infrastructure bill for a political victory and disregard the White House spending plan.

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$3.5 trillion spending plan

The massive spending bill was approved by the House Budget Committee in a vote on Saturday and Pelosi urged in a letter to lawmakers that the measure "must" be passed.

In addition to money for climate change, Medicare and free community college, the plan allocates $726 billion for universal pre-kindergarten, childcare for working families, tuition-free community college and $107 billion for lawful permanent status for qualified immigrants. It also directs $332 billion to invest in public and affordable housing.

On Sunday, Pelosi said it was possible that the bill's price tag could come down amid negotiations with moderates in the Senate like Sinema and Manchin, who both must vote for the bill for it to pass via the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process.

"We'll see how the number comes down and what we need in that regard, but we have agreed on an array of pay-fors in the legislation," Pelosi told ABC News This Week on Sunday. "This will be paid for."

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