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What needs to happen in the next 24 hours to avoid a U.S. government shutdown

September 30, 2021, 1:09 AM UTC

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has one day left to keep the U.S. government afloat. Without a budget deal by midnight Sept. 30—the end of the fiscal year—the federal government will shut down on October 1st, creating furloughs for hundreds of thousands of federal workers, and impacting important work at agencies like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in the middle of a pandemic. 

Workers who are deemed essential to the lives and property of Americans will be allowed to remain at work, though many will go without paychecks. National parks and museums will shutter. The last shutdown in 2019 cost the economy about $11 billion

In order to pass a budget deal through the House and Senate, Pelosi and other Congressional leaders will have to appease a number of political factions—all with very different views on what the budget for fiscal year 2022 should look like, and a brassbound resolve on getting their way. 

How we got to this point

The main debate revolves around two separate budget agreements, both backed by the Biden administration. The first is a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal, backed by moderate Republicans and Democrats, that would fund new roads and bridges, provide clean energy subsidies, replace pipes, improve public transportation, access to broadband internet and more. The second, more controversial plan is a $3.5 trillion add-on to the deal, known as the Build Back Better Act, that would provide funding for President Joe Biden’s social agenda: a historic expansion of Medicare, expanding the child tax credit, providing paid medical and family leave, changing the tax code, taking climate action, and possibly even making changes to immigration law. 

Democrats have been trying to tie the bills together, but in order to pass both they’d likely have to vote in complete solidarity as Republicans have vehemently expressed no interest in the second, more expensive part of the plan. Therein lies the issue: Pelosi and Senate Leader Chuck Schumer find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place with their own members, the progressive and centrist factions of the Democratic party.

The centrist Democrats

Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) have both said they won’t vote for the $3.5 trillion plan as it is. Sinema, in particular, has been elusive as to what concessions she’d need to get on board and has actively avoided explaining what she wants out of the plan.

Manchin has said that he’d like to delay a vote on the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill and instead pass the $1.2 trillion plan. “It’s not possible,” Manchin said Wednesday on making a deal on reconciliation by the Thursday House vote on infrastructure. The bills, in his mind, should not be voted on together. “Never heard of it. That two of them would be together? Why do you think we worked so hard to separate them?” he told reporters. 

On Monday, Pelosi announced that she would consider separating the bills, and would put the infrastructure bill up for a vote on its own Thursday.

The problem, many Democrats worry, is that without tying the bills together, the second part with Biden’s social agenda will lose momentum and a vote will never come to fruition. 

The progressive Democrats 

A number of progressive Democrats say that if the bipartisan deal isn’t tied to the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, they simply won’t vote for it. That presents a big problem for a party that needs to vote in unison to get anything through to avoid a shutdown. 

After Pelosi made her announcement saying she would consider separating the two packages, the Congressional Progressive Caucus had their own meeting. The majority of the 95-member group agreed to vote against the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill Thursday because the reconciliation package won’t be done, Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal told reporters. 

Representative Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) confirmed that the majority of the group were “unwilling to decouple” the infrastructure and reconciliation bills and that they would take a stand during Thursday’s vote, if need be. 

The Senate, where Democrats need every member (and Independents who vote with the caucus) plus the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris to get the bill passed, also faces a challenge from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

“No infrastructure bill should pass without a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. That is the agreement that was made and that is the agreement that must be kept. Physical infrastructure is important, but the needs of working families and combating climate change is more important,” he tweeted on Wednesday. 

He also encouraged House members to tank the plan if reconciliation was not included. “I strongly urge my House colleagues to vote against the bipartisan infrastructure bill until Congress passes a strong reconciliation bill,” he wrote. 

What about the Republicans?

On Monday night Democrats came together to propose a bill that would to keep the government operating and allow federal borrowing while they negotiated their budget. Republicans blocked it. Democrats might try again, but with Republicans resolute to stop any can-kicking, it likely will also be foiled. 

Republicans said they would not support the plan because it also included a temporary debt-limit increase. 

“There is no chance, no chance the Republican conference will go out of our way to help Democrats conserve their time and energy, so they can resume ramming through partisan socialism as fast as possible,” Senate Minority Leader McConnell (R-Ky) said. 

McConnell has voted to raise or suspend the debt limit 32 times in the past, including three times under President Donald Trump.

Can it be done?

House and Senate leaders have one day to reconcile with large swaths of steadfast politicians who fall on entirely different ends of the spectrum on a spending bill. While Pelosi has been known to perform miracles in uniting her party, it does appear more likely that she will be unable to break the curse of “infrastructure week.” 

Even President Biden, who has touted himself as a “born optimist,” has admitted a deal may not happen by the end of the week. Still, he said, negotiations are “going to be up and down” but ”hopefully at the end of the day I’ll be able to deliver on what I said I would do.”

At this point, Democrats will most likely try to pass another temporary spending bill that will fund the government for long enough to come to a deal on their infrastructure plans. Republicans may once again attempt to thwart the provision but will have a hard time justifying the decision if it doesn’t include legislation around the debt ceiling.

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