Why there is such an impasse in Congress: some questions and answers


WASHINGTON – Congress may have made the federal government work with a wave of votes at the 11th hour on Thursday, but several key elements of the Democratic agenda remain in limbo.

Here are some questions and answers on the state of play of negotiations with two huge bills drafted by Democrats – and the status of other looming challenges for federal lawmakers:

What are the two bills?

President Joe Biden pushed Congress to approve two sweeping proposals.

One is a $ 1 trillion measure to fund “traditional” infrastructure projects, such as upgrading roads, bridges and transit systems.

The second is a $ 3.5 trillion bill to expand what Biden has dubbed “human infrastructure.”

The latter proposal would expand a range of education, health care, and other programs in the nation’s social safety net, as well as boost U.S. efforts to address climate change.

This proposal was crafted through the so-called Reconciliation Process, which would allow Democrats to propel it through the equally divided Senate with just 50 votes instead of 60.

Why are the two measures blocked?

Because moderate and progressive Democrats cannot agree on which proposal should be voted on first.

And because two Senate Democrats remain opposed to the $ 3.5 trillion price tag of social safety net legislation.

The traditional infrastructure bill enjoys some bipartisan support, but it has been viewed with skepticism by Progressive Democrats, who fear that it will pass and that the larger and more extensive Social Programs Bill. more controversial, be left behind.

Progressives called for Senate action on the social programs bill before voting in the House on traditional infrastructure.

This did not happen because two Democrats, Senses Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, backed off from the $ 3.5 trillion price tag, which led to negotiations in course on the possibility of reducing this bill.

Meanwhile, moderate Democrats have lobbied to move forward with the approval of the infrastructure bill, expressing frustration that a proposal that enjoys widespread support could not make it to the desk. Of the president.

Was there a deadline this week to pass the bills?

Yes and no.

After a revolt by a handful of centrist MPs, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) Had promised to vote on the bill on traditional infrastructure. before September 27.

A vote in the House has been pushed back to Thursday, September 30 – the day before the federal authorization for the surface transportation programs included in this bill expires. But lacking support, Pelosi again kicked off a vote on transport.

What are the ramifications of not renewing these transportation programs?

Federal highway and transit funding, which is funded outside of the normal government spending process, expired at midnight Thursday. This means that nearly 4,000 employees of the Department of Transportation began their leave Friday morning.

Are there other effects of a delay in financing transport?

It freezes payments from the Highway Trust Fund, which go to state transportation departments, local planning organizations, and transit agencies.

Federal funding accounts for about 26% of total state transportation budgets, according to the American Association of Transportation and Highways Officials, an advocacy group for state transportation services.

Federal agencies can still honor grants awarded by Thursday, and most construction is unlikely to be affected.

But if the situation continues, federal payments to states and local governments would be reduced. An August memo from the Federal Highway Administration said the reduced payments could begin as early as October 8.

The shutdown “interrupts work on vital transportation infrastructure across the country,” Jim Tymon, executive director of AASHTO said on Friday.

What shall we do now?

The House seems likely to pass a 30-day extension to the transport authorization that expired Thursday evening, separate from the big infrastructure bill.

If the House passes the extension and no senators oppose it, it would allow federal DOT employees to return to work while lawmakers craft a long-term authorization, possibly as part of the larger bill. wide on roads and bridges.

What about the US debt limit?

It is still a looming problem that federal lawmakers must address. The latest projections suggest the federal government will hit its borrowing limit by October 18.

Republicans have maintained that they will not help Democratic majorities in each chamber raise the debt ceiling.

And what about a federal spending plan for the remainder of the fiscal year?

It’s also on the to-do list.

Continuing resolution passed before the September 30 deadline and signed by Biden on Thursday night only allows agencies to maintain their current spending levels through Dec. 3.

Maintaining the federal government beyond that date will require further action from Congress.



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