Extending government funding and raising debt ceiling face uphill Senate battle

Congress must act soon just to keep the federal government functioning. But Democratic leaders are navigating internal divides and logjams as they try to pass two bills that would together dole out trillions of dollars toward infrastructure, child care and combating climate change. The road ahead on all of these issues is bumpy. Lisa Desjardins walks us through what's happening on Capitol Hill.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congress is again mired in a logjam. It must act soon just to keep the federal government functioning.

    Democratic leaders are navigating internal divides as they try to pass two bills that would together dole out trillions of dollars toward infrastructure, child care, and combating climate change.

    Lisa Desjardins is here to walk us through what is happening.

    It is a lot to follow. And I know you are.

    So, Lisa, help us understand. So Congress is tangled up over these two different issues, each of which could shut down the government.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Let's start there.

    We're talking about two things, government spending, and then also the debt ceiling. Now, I want to remind people that the debt ceiling is not like a credit card limit. Instead, if we hit the debt ceiling, what it would mean is essentially freezing most of America's bank accounts, so we would not be able to spend in the future.

    So let's talk about how these are related. Let's look at what we're talking about here. First of all, these right now are the deadlines. Government spending, that funding deadline, September 30 is when that runs out. The debt ceiling, we don't know exactly, but likely would be hit in early to mid October.

    Here's what's going on now. There's a government funding extension that has bipartisan support in Congress. The debt ceiling, however, Republicans in the Senate have vowed to vote no. You generally need 60 people in the Senate. Without Republicans, very hard to pass things like this.

    So Democrats have this plan. This is what they passed last night. They put that government funding, bipartisan idea, together with the debt ceiling plan. They passed that out of the House. That big blob of a bill now works its way toward the U.S. Senate, where Republicans plan to block both of them at one time, likely on Friday.

    So these two fiscal crises, fiscal nightmares, Judy, are tied together. And we're seeing kind of — we have to watch very closely for what the off-ramp is. Democrats may have to again separate those bills, it looks like.

    Government shutdown, less likely. Debt ceiling, I have to be honest, this is the closest I have seen the two sides come to really toying with this very dangerous lever, not just for our country, but others.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Maybe there's some off-ramps, but we're going to watch it day by day.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And then meanwhile, Lisa, you have this other big-stakes tangle. Now, this is just among Democrats. This is over the trillion-dollar infrastructure bill and then the much bigger health care, child care and climate bill.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    So, let's again go through and try and unpack all of this to make it simple and understandable. This is the Democratic divide. On Monday, this coming Monday, September 27, the House will — is planning or set — has a deadline to vote on that infrastructure bill already passed by the Senate, bipartisan, generally popular.

    Moderates, that's their priority, this infrastructure bill. It's going to affect mostly every part of this country. Progressives, their priority is what you just talked about, Judy, that larger bill, the Build Back Better Biden agenda. We sometimes call it reconciliation, because that's how they plan to pass it, using just 50 votes in the U.S. Senate.

    So what's happened is, progressives have said, we will not support that infrastructure bill in the House until the reconciliation bill moves to the Senate. Well, that's playing quite a gamble with both of these bills, especially because, the truth, the reconciliation bill, Judy, it's not fully formed in either chamber. And it is not clear that where it stands right now, at $3.5 trillion in concept, can make it through the Senate.

    That has a bumpy road. And because of it, so does the infrastructure bill at this moment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so it's not only all this, Lisa.

    We also learned today that the negotiations that have been going on for months now over police reform have fallen apart.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This was incredibly significant news. I think, because it was a surprise, it's not a bigger headline. We will see it in headlines tomorrow.

    Essentially, Democrats, Senator Cory Booker, told me and others that he just felt that the two sides were too far apart, him and Senator Tim Scott, the Republican of South Carolina. And he says it's not over the big issues anymore. He says Democrats long ago gave up on their kind of centerpiece issues of police immunity, making police more accountable.

    He said it was over things they thought were basic, even just kind of basic systemic reforms. They felt that Senator Scott was to the right of President Trump, and that they just didn't — he didn't think he could look victims' families in the eyes and say, I will prevent another loved one's death.

    Democrats now going out on their own for the moment, something we will monitor closely. Tim Scott says he wants to keep working too, but the talks have fallen apart.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lot of concern over that issue, clearly, across the country.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins, thank you very much.

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