Co-religionists of the US president, Joe Biden, sought to avoid a government shutdown and a potentially crippling credit default on the country on Tuesday, while also trying to reach an agreement on a massive spending and tax package aimed at the president’s ambitious social policy agenda.
Democrats had hoped to avoid a partial government shutdown and lift the federal debt ceiling with a single vote. But they were blocked on Monday in the Senate by Republicans, who said the two issues should be dealt with separately.
This Tuesday, Democrats acted to deal with these points on their own.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said he would try to hold a vote to raise the debt limit, which could be passed only with the support of the 48 House Democrats and the two independents allied with them.
But Republicans have yet to agree to vote first, and several party members have said they are opposed to that idea.
The House of Representatives will also hold a vote to extend government funding and raise the debt limit “in the next few days, certainly,” said Steny Hoyer, the number two Democrat in the House.
Lawmakers have just three days to avoid a possible government shutdown until midnight on Thursday, the end of the current fiscal year. Failure to do so could result in licenses for hundreds of thousands of federal employees in the midst of a public health crisis.
Democrats hold small majorities in the Senate and House, which are up for grabs in next year’s midterm elections.
Congressional Democrats will also look for a way to raise the $28.4 trillion ceiling on government loans before the Treasury Department runs out of ways to repay the country’s debt. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the Treasury will likely exhaust the funds authorized by extraordinary measures by Oct. 18.
Fiscal fear has become a regular feature of US policy over the past decade, thanks to ongoing partisan polarization.
The most recent government shutdown, which occurred during the presidency of Biden’s Republican predecessor Donald Trump, lasted 35 days before ending in January 2019.
Democrats point out that much of the country’s new debt was incurred during the Trump administration.
A government stoppage or default would be a setback for Democrats, who set themselves up as the responsible governing party after Trump’s chaotic presidency.
Democrats are also struggling to unite behind two pillars of Biden’s domestic policy agenda: a $1 trillion infrastructure bill and a $3.5 trillion social spending package.
Two top moderate Democrats, Senator Kyrsten Sinema and Senator Joe Manchin, will go to the White House on Tuesday to discuss the social spending bill, sources said. Both stated that the price of 3.5 trillion dollars is too high.
Center Democrats have balked at the scale of the cost of the social spending package. The White House and top lawmakers may reduce some benefits to lower the price, sources say, but have not yet come up with a figure.
Congressmen on the party’s left have threatened to launch friendly fire on the infrastructure bill. They expressed concern that the plan to expand health and education benefits and combat climate change could fall by the wayside if Congress prioritized spending on highways, broadband and other infrastructure.