Good Morning from Washington, D.C….   The next few months will be the busiest legislative period in Congress in years (read more in last week’s MMM). In addition to passing the White House Build Back Better Agenda, Congress faces a handful of critical fiscal and legislative deadlines—next Thursday, September 30th, government funding runs out, the National Defense Authorization Act, and Surface Transportation and National Flood Insurance Programs all expire. All of those come before what is perhaps the most high profile issue: that the U.S. will run out of cash to pay its debts sometime later this fall (the debt limit extension from 2019 expired earlier this summer leaving the Treasury to act on extraordinary measures over the past few months).  Adding to the calendar, the House of Representatives plans to debate and vote on legislation aimed at stopping states from enacting tough anti-abortion regulations like the one in Texas, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday, but the bill’s prospects in the Senate are slim.              

You should note that the debt ceiling and funding the government are two separate but often confused issues: the debt ceiling is the amount of debt the U.S. is legally allowed to carry (failure to raise it results in defaults in the United States’ debt obligations); while funding the government is forward-looking and means “keeping the lights on” in federal government, and failure to reach an agreement means a shutdown of federal government’s operations. Read more here.           

This week, the House will vote on both a continuing resolution to fund the Federal Government through December 10th and to raise the debt ceiling. However, Democrats will need 10 Republican Senators to vote for both packages in the Senate—something that will not happen on debt ceiling. Republicans see the debt ceiling as their best opportunity to stop/stall/highlight their opposition to Democratic spending, especially the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last week, “Democrats keep boasting about how wild and revolutionary their partisan vision is! So, our friends across the aisle should not expect traditional bipartisan borrowing to finance their nontraditional reckless taxing and spending spree. That’s not how this works.” Meanwhile the White House is sounding the alarm with a new fact sheet warning that any delays could send ripples through U.S. financial markets and halt billions of dollars in aid for disaster relief efforts, infrastructure and education funding, not to mention upending the COVID response. “Economic growth would falter, unemployment would rise, and the labor market could lose millions of jobs,” the White House said. “We expect Congress to act promptly.” 

As a result, the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package and the $1 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (BIF) could be delayed until later this fall. However, the House will vote on the BIF next Monday, September 27th,—House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer reaffirmed last Friday—on the floor and House Committees completed their work on the necessary policy bills in advance of the September 15th deadline. The theory amongst many Democrats is that the game of chicken involving a government shutdown or defaulting on the nation’s debt will allow Democrats to win the political argument that the GOP is an irresponsible partner in governing.                            
Here are the main stories to watch in the coming weeks: 
 
  • BIF Promises Made, BIF Promises Broken?— While Moderates and Progressives squabble on the size and scope of the reconciliation package, the House prepares to vote on the BIF next week. However, progressives in the House have said they will not vote for the BIF without a corresponding reconciliation package and moderates have said the same for reconciliation without the BIF. Who will blink first? And will they blink before the end of the year? 
Needless to say, the politics around the Build Back Better Agenda both within the Democratic Caucus, and between the Democrats and the GOP will make for an interesting few months. Add in Midterms heating up throughout the early part of 2022, and the stakes could not be higher. 
 

In the State Capital…

New York’s new bipartisan redistricting commission got off to a slow start. The meeting of the Commission—which was created to end partisan redistricting—adjourned with its Democratic and Republican members failing to reach an agreement on an initial set of congressional and state legislative map proposals. Instead, the Commission said it would proceed for now with two competing proposals, one drawn up by its Democratic members and another by Republicans. Failure of the Commission to reach an agreement will pave the way for Democratic supermajorities in the State Legislature to step in to determine the final maps early next year, a process that could knock out as many as five Republican Congressional Seats. Governor Hochul, in her first interview after taking office, said of whether she would use her influence to help Democrats expand their House Majority,  “Yes. I am also the leader of the New York State Democratic Party. I embrace that. I have a responsibility to lead this party, as well as the government. I have to help make sure there are more Democrats there to help Joe Biden get his agenda through the Senate.”    
Speaking of Governor Hochul, she came under fire last week for her appointments to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics—the embattled agency responsible for enforcing lobbying compliance and rooting out corruption. Hochul’s appointment of Acting Chair James Derring, a close Cuomo ally, came under fire by good government groups as well as Senate Ethics Chair Alessandra Biaggi. Hochul responded by defending the pick, saying that “What happened yesterday was the result of two resignations. In order for there to be any business going forward, I had to appoint somebody, and that was the circumstance yesterday. I had to find an individual, an individual who was highly recommended, who has credentials.” By Wednesday, she had changed her tune, promising a more deliberative process moving forward and that she would find candidates through the “proper vetting,” and insisting she would work with reform and replace JCOPE …soon.               
Hochul stayed strong on masks: mandating that everyone age two and older must wear masks at daycare and childcare facilities, something that former-Governor Andrew Cuomo tried and almost immediately retreated from earlier in the year.
 
And finally, Governor Hochul announced Friday evening that the special elections to replace outgoing Assembly Member Victor Pichardo in the Bronx, and for Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin’s Senate Seat in Harlem will be held on election day—leaving under two months for races in both districts. 
 
Thank you for reading and have a great week.

-Jack O’Donnell                                                                                                                                          

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