By Lisa Mascaro and Zeke Miller | Associated press
WASHINGTON – Republican Senators on Monday blocked a bill to keep the government in business and allow federal borrowing, but Democrats aiming to avoid a shutdown are likely to try again – while continuing President Joe Biden’s big plans to reshape the government.
The efforts aren’t necessarily linked, but the year-end deadline for funding the government last Thursday clashes with Democrats’ desire to move forward on Biden’s vast $ 3.5 trillion federal overhaul.
All of this creates a tumultuous moment for Biden and his party, with consequences that will certainly shape his presidency and the political future of lawmakers.
Success would mean a historic accomplishment, if Democrats can push through Biden’s big bill. Failure – or a highly unlikely government shutdown and debt crisis – could derail careers.
“You know me, I’m a born optimist,” Biden told reporters on Monday, as he rolled up his sleeve for a COVID-19 recall. “We are going to do it.”
In Monday night’s vote, senators voted 50 to 48 against passing the bill, well short of the 60 “yes” votes needed to proceed. Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer changed his “yes” to “no” at the end to allow Democrats to reconsider the bill later.
In a few days, Democrats are likely to try again before Thursday’s deadline to pass a bill funding government operations after fiscal year-end September 30, setting aside the debt limit debate for another day. , closer to a separate deadline in October.
Meanwhile, the real action takes place behind the scenes on the $ 3.5 trillion measure, with Biden and his Democratic allies in Congress looking to rework the country’s balance sheets once in a generation.
From preschool fees and child care subsidies for families with young children to dental care and hearing aids for seniors with Medicare, there’s a lot in the president’s proposal – it all has to be paid for. with higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy.
With Republicans firmly opposed, Democrats are rushing to reduce the total and gain resistance within their own party.
Building on a separate $ 1,000 billion bipartisan public works program that has already been approved by the Senate and is headed for a House vote, Biden is seeking significant spending on health care, education and efforts to combat climate change. The total price, he argues, is in fact “zero” – covered by the expected increase in tax revenue.
He personally calls on his fellow Democrats in Congress to strive to resolve differences and advance his overall vision of domestic politics.
Ticking off the hefty list of goals to accomplish, Biden said, “If we do this, the country will be in great shape.”
But Republicans say these are real expenses that cannot be paid and reflect Democrats’ willingness to put government into people’s lives.
And so far the bill is also too important for the main Democrats whose votes are needed in the face of GOP opposition. Two recalcitrant Democrats, Sense Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have said they will not support a bill of this size. Manchin has already proposed spending of $ 1,000 billion to $ 1,500 billion.
With all Republicans opposed, Democratic leaders cannot spare a single vote in the Senate at 50-50, relying on Vice President Kamala Harris to break the tie and pass the eventual package.
All of this, as other deadlines swirl this week to pay for government operations and authorize more borrowing or risk a devastating federal shutdown or debt default – though these dire scenarios seem unlikely.
The bill that Senate Republicans voted down Monday night would have temporarily funded government operations, until early December, while providing emergency funds for Hurricane Ida and other disaster relief and for Afghan refugees in the aftermath of the 20 Years War.
Republican leader Mitch McConnell rejected this approach because Democrats also included a provision to suspend the debt limit, which would allow borrowing to continue to pay the country’s bills.
Once a routine affair, raising the debt ceiling is now a political weapon of choice used by Republicans to attack Democrats – even though both sides have been responsible for the accumulation of debt.
“Democrats will do the responsible thing – the right thing, the thing that has been done for decades by both parties – and vote yes,” Majority Leader Schumer said ahead of the vote. Schumer called the Republican opposition “unbalanced”.
McConnell has said he wants to fund the government and prevent a devastating default, but wants to force Democrats to split the package in half and vote alone on the politically uncomfortable debt ceiling.
“Republicans are not in favor of closing or going over the debt limit,” he said.
Thursday is a new deadline, and Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Schumer have gained some breathing space after Pelosi postponed Monday’s scheduled vote on the public works bill until Thursday, which is also the expiration date of transportation programs in the Public Works Bill.
As Pelosi met privately with House Democrats on Monday, the most difficult action now lies in the Senate, as Democrats are under pressure to garner votes for the Biden package.
Pelosi said on Sunday it seemed “obvious” the price will drop to address concerns of remaining lawmakers.
His comments reflected the huge stakes for the coming week, which could define the Biden presidency and shape the political contours of next year’s midterm elections.
Democrats have only a few votes to spare on the massive House for Biden agenda. Some Republican senators backed the $ 1,000 billion public works bill, but now House Republicans are opposing it, saying it’s too much.
While progressives say they’ve compromised enough on Biden’s big bill already, having come down from a bill they initially envisioned to $ 6 trillion, some also recognize the more potential changes.
Biden’s proposal is to be funded by raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 26.5% for companies earning more than $ 5 million a year, and increasing the top rate for individuals by 37% at 39.6% for those earning more than $ 400,000 per year. year, or $ 450,000 for couples.
While Democrats largely agree on Biden’s vision – many have campaigned on the party’s long-standing priorities – stubborn differences remain. Among them are divergences on which initiatives should be revamped, including how to promote cleaner energy or reduce prescription drug costs.
Associated Press editors Hope Yen and Alan Fram contributed to this report.