Good Morning from Washington, D.C….
Congress is now officially in extra time. Both the House and the Senate were scheduled to adjourn for the Holiday Recess last Friday. Instead, the House has formally added a week to its schedule and will now be in session until at least next Monday, while Senators have been warned that they could remain in session for “long days & nights” right up until Christmas. While the timeline remains unclear on the more than $2 trillion Build Back Better Act, decision makers in Washington are slowly working their way through the legislative backlog:
- Thursday, Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell worked out a deal that raised the debt ceiling, a move that allowed Congress to stave off a catastrophic default on the nation’s debt obligations. The compromise, which President Biden signed on Friday afternoon, essentially puts to rest a fierce, months-long battle between Democrats and Republicans and appears to postpone the next round of wrangling over the country’s financial health until after the 2022 midterm elections (the bill does not actually raise the debt limit itself, but tweaks the Senate’s rules to allow Democrats to raise the debt limit without the risk of a Republican filibuster).
- Tuesday night, the House passed a compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act (which has passed Congress in a bipartisan manner for nearly 60 years in a row) by a vote of 363-70. The bill will go to the Senate this week where bipartisan opposition may foreshadow potential gridlock. In addition to the issues on China raised by Senator Marco Rubio on Uyghur exploitation that we discussed last week, a bipartisan group of Senators say provisions on military sexual assault do not go far enough. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)—who serves on the Armed Services Committee—criticized the removal of provisions in the version of the NDAA that passed the Senate earlier this year, saying that without them, commanders have the power to choose the jury, witnesses, and grant or deny witness immunity. A copy of the letter she sent to the Armed Services Chair at the end of November along with a bipartisan group of Senators can be found here.
The biggest question mark remains the Build Back Better Act and whether or not Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can accomplish the Herculean task of rallying the Democratic Caucus, getting key provisions through the scrubbing of a “Byrd Bath” by the Parliamentarian (where Democrats and Republican staff argue the merits of including specific provisions in a Reconciliation Bill), and overcoming GOP sniping over less-than-friendly scoring from the Congressional Budget Office over the next several days. In a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter circulated last Monday, Schumer said “our goal in the Senate is to pass the legislation before Christmas and get it to the president’s desk.” However, other Democrats, including potential nuclear vote Senator Kyrsten Sinema, have said they do not see the bill getting done this year. The biggest obstacle may be the consumer price index report release by the Labor Department on Friday, sounding alarm bells on inflation. Democrats are headed into the 2022 midterm elections with terrible polling numbers and the worst inflation numbers in almost 40 years which overshadow the best job numbers in years, earlier in November.
Back in New York…
Democrats face much better prospects. The announcement from Attorney General Tish James that she would run for reelection rather than Governor, removed the prospect of an incredibly expensive and divisive primary battle. Make no mistake, Hochul still faces challenges from Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Member of Congress Tom Suozzi, but this is no longer the battle of the titans. The same day James made her announcement, we learned that her office intends to subpoena former President Donald J. Trump in a civil fraud case. Clearly there is enough for James to focus on in the Attorney General’s office.
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