What the Hill?

If your crystal ball is a little cloudy on the outcome of Congress’ remaining to-do list, you’re not alone. Although Congress and President Biden reauthorized the highway program and kept the government running last week, they failed to pass a long-term solution for either. 

When or even whether we’ll see progress on three remaining items high on Democrats’ agenda is even murkier. One or both sides must reveal a plan for resolving the debt limit crisis— soon.  And the Democrats have considerable work left on progressives’ coveted “soft infrastructure” reconciliation package, making it likely they’ll miss another deadline and push action on both infrastructure and reconciliation beyond October.   

Here’s where Congress stands on: 

  • The Debt Ceiling: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has indicated Congress must raise or suspend the debt limit by October 18. With less than two weeks left, Congress is locked in a stalemate and neither side is showing its hand. But Majority Leader Chuck Schumer indicated his caucus must get a debt limit bill to the President’s desk by the end of the week. In the meantime, markets may get jittery and political hyperbole may increase. 
  • The $3.5 Trillion Reconciliation Package and Bipartisan Infrastructure Package (BIF): FGH’s Hill watchers have long noted Congress’ current margins would make it extremely difficult to pass a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package, particularly with moderate senators’ support needed for it. But key developments last week indicate where Democrats are headed:
    • The president and a key Senate Democrat moved off of the $3.5 trillion level for reconciliation.
    • Progressives held firm against a House vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill before reconciliation progresses significantly.
    • The Democratic leadership have given themselves a new deadline of October 31 for action on the infrastructure and reconciliation bills. Despite progress towards consensus, the deadline seems optimistic. Once they’ve settled on a number, Democrats must agree on how to pare the package by about $1.5 trillion— and how to pay for it. Both will be painstaking tasks.