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Congress Faces A Week of Critical Deadlines

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., arrive to update reporters on Democratic efforts to pass President Joe Biden's "Build Back Better" agenda, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., arrive to update reporters on Democratic efforts to pass President Joe Biden's "Build Back Better" agenda, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Updated September 27, 2021 at 2:10 PM ET

Top congressional Democrats worked through the weekend to untangle a snarl of competing demands from members of their own party on fiscal issues while continuing to battle Republicans over the nation's debt.

Democrats are facing several critical deadlines this week: a potential government shutdown at the end of the day Thursday, the looming threat of federal default as the country nears the debt limit, a scheduled vote on a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and a related vote on as much as $3.5 trillion in spending promised by Democrats.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has promised that the House will vote on the bipartisan bill this week and insists the government will not shut down.

"Let me just say we're going to pass the bill this week," Pelosi said Sunday on ABC's This Week. "We will bring the bill to the floor tomorrow for consideration. But you know I'm never bringing a bill to the floor that doesn't have the votes."

Pelosi told Democrats on Sunday evening that the timing of a final vote on the bipartisan bill had slipped from Monday to Thursday. The House will now begin consideration of the bipartisan bill on Monday, with plans to wrap up work Thursday when authorization for some programs included in the bill is set to expire.

Pelosi added in the ABC interview that, chronologically, it is imperative Congress deal with government funding first.

But President Biden has suggested the timing could be even less assured.

Biden told reporters on Monday that it may take more time to pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan and up to $3.5 trillion in spending on some of his top policy priorities. Votes on both had been expected this week. Biden was optimistic about the chances for legislation that would put the measures and the policies in place. He said he would have meetings on the issue Monday night and Tuesday.

"You know me, I'm a born optimist," Biden told reporters at the White House. "It may not be by the end of the week. I hope it's by the end of the week."

While Republicans and Democrats agree that Congress should extend current federal spending levels through Dec. 3, they have yet to agree on how to achieve that. Senate Republicans plan to vote Monday to block legislation that funds the government because Democrats included a provision that suspends the federal borrowing limit through the end of next year.

Pelosi told reporters last week that she expects to prevent a shutdown and accused Republicans of obstructing a bill that also includes federal funding for victims of natural disasters and refugees from Afghanistan.

"Shutting down government at the same time is rejecting assistance for their own constituents who were affected by Hurricane Ida," Pelosi said. "We'll keep government open. We'll have the votes to do that, and then we'll go to the Senate again."

It remains unclear how the issue will be resolved. Republicans are pressuring Democrats to drop the debt ceiling issue. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has repeatedly called on Democrats to attach that policy to the partisan spending bill that Democrats plan to pass using a budget tool, called budget reconciliation, that allows them to avoid a filibuster in the Senate.

"If they want to tax, borrow and spend historic sums of money without our input, they'll have to raise the debt limit without our help," McConnell said last week on the Senate floor. "This is the reality. I've been saying this very clearly since July."

Democrats have struggled to unify around that broader spending bill. Moderate Democrats have objected to the $3.5 trillion price tag as well as some elements of the tax proposals that leaders want to use to pay for the spending.

Complicating matters further, Pelosi had previously promised moderate Democrats that the House would vote Monday on the separate, $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. Progressive members have said they won't support the bipartisan bill until the partisan bill is complete.

Pelosi sent a letter to House Democrats on Friday noting that leaders are moving forward with both bills this week — the bipartisan infrastructure package the Senate already approved, and the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package containing the bulk of the president's domestic agenda.

But the major rifts between progressives and moderates remain, and there's still no agreement on the size and scope of the broader package despite leaders saying a framework is in place to pay for it.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., told NPR he expects debates on both bills this week, adding, "The wheel is very much still in spin, and there are a lot of moving parts here."

Moderates are insisting the House approve the smaller infrastructure bill as talks continue about how to pay for the bigger one and about which policies may need to be scaled back.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., told reporters she believed it could be "more targeted and fiscally responsible."

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, is also not budging on her threat that progressives will oppose the infrastructure bill without a deal with the Senate and White House on the larger spending measure.

"It cannot pass," Jayapal told reporters, saying that half of the more than 50 members of the caucus will vote no without agreement on the larger spending package. "I don't bluff, I don't grandstand; we just don't have the votes for it."

Raskin said while disagreements remain, House Democrats are focused on passing both bills. "Failure, policy failure here is not really a political option for the Democrats," he said.

He said if the party can't get the president's agenda through it "would mean risking a loss in 2022, a loss in 2024, and that's a serious defeat for the American people if we could be heading into some kind of rule by Donald Trump and the insurrectionists' party."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.