Capitol Corner October 2021

On September 30, the end of the current federal fiscal year, President Joe Biden signed into law a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government through December 3. The CR funds the federal government at current levels, averts a government shutdown and allows Congress more time to reach an agreement on FY22 appropriations. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed nine of the 12 annual spending bills, but the U.S. Senate has yet to pass any.

At the same time, negotiations reached a stalemate over the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the massive $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation. The budget reconciliation plan, known as Build Back Better (BBB), is a tax and spend package covering 10 years for social programs and climate action that is part of President’s Biden domestic agenda. Using the budget reconciliation process allows it to pass with a simple majority, without Republican support.

A bipartisan infrastructure deal that passed the Senate failed to reach the House floor when the Progressive Caucus pledged to oppose the legislation unless it was linked to passing budget reconciliation. The price tag for the BBB plan, however, is a point of contention for moderates who have pushed to keep the two votes separate. The 50-50 split in the Senate requires that all 50 Democrats support it with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote, so losing even one Democrat’s vote could prevent its passage. President Biden has proposed lowering the cost to $1.5 – $2.3 trillion in order to secure the votes needed.

The infrastructure package includes not only $550 billion over five years to reauthorize the surface transportation programs, but also new programs that will bring the total cost to $1.2 trillion. Those programs include water, broadband, environmental remediation, resiliency and more. There are also several new transportation programs, such as $1 billion for the Reconnecting Communities Initiative, to redress historic inequities from past transportation investments that divided communities. Other new competitive grants in the bill include support for freight-related projects, bridge investments, smart cities, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, congestion relief, active transportation, safe streets, wildlife crossings and removing railroad crossings.

Congress must also deal with the debt ceiling. With the federal government projected to reach its borrowing limit by October 18, a compromise was reached in the Senate temporarily raising the debt ceiling by $480 billion to allow the U.S. Treasury to meet obligations through December 3. However, that only postpones the same debt debate between the two parties to be at the same time they are trying to resolve disagreements over FY22 spending, budget reconciliation and infrastructure.