NAICU Washington Update

Year-End Scramble Begins

December 03, 2021

The month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is always a busy time for Congress to wrap up unfinished business before the year ends. This year is no different, with three must-pass pieces of legislation still pending and the Build Back Better reconciliation bill unfinished. Adding to the chaos, all three bills and Build Back Better face roadblocks in the Senate.

Congress made it past the first hurdle, passing the most pressing piece of legislation to fund the federal government and avoid a shutdown before the continuing resolution (CR) expired at midnight December 3.  After weeks of negotiations, Congress settled on another continuing resolution, which funds the government at FY 2021 levels through February 18, 2022. The House was able to pass the CR quickly, by a vote of 221-212, but even with agreement on the funding levels and timeline, Senate passage was uncertain because of a debate over an amendment to prohibit the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate on employers. Keeping the government open requires 60 votes in the Senate, thus the vaccine amendment had to be addressed to avoid a filibuster or a shutdown. Once the amendment was dispensed with, the Senate passed the CR by a vote of 69-28 late last night. 

The second piece of unfinished business is raising the debt ceiling. Earlier this week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen testified before the Senate Banking Committee that the government could run out of borrowing authority by December 15 if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling by then. This must-pass provision can pass as standalone legislation, or can be attached to any other piece of moving legislation.  While this should easily pass in the House, the Senate is again another story. Because such a provision also requires 60 votes in the Senate to avoid a filibuster, it too has been held up by the current partisan inability to agree on how to proceed. 

The third bill waiting to be finished is the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), without which the Department of Defense cannot operate. The House passed its version of the NDAA this fall, but the Senate version is bogged down in a variety of amendments related to U.S –China relations, including provisions directed at institutions of higher education. The NDAA is a bill that usually passes with large bipartisan support, thus the current impasse makes it difficult to see how the Senate negotiates final passage. 

With all of the pressure on the Senate for these must-pass bills, it has run out of time for consideration of the Build Back Better reconciliation legislation. Even with the expedited Senate rules for reconciliation, the chamber will not have enough time for debate, amendments, and a vote-a-rama before the end of the year.  Thus, Build Back Better will be a top priority for the Senate in the second session of the 117th Congress.  

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