The various legislative requests in a short timeline will examine Democratic unity and present plenty of chances for Republicans to put political traps just a year out from the 2022 midterm elections, where they are feeling more bullish about their chances.
When legislators return to Washington, they’ll have to balance preventing a government shutdown in a matter of days with Democrats' self-imposed deadline for advancing an infrastructure and spending package that is at the center of President Biden’s economic and legislative agenda and sparking high-profile divisions.
That’s on top of an imminent decision about the debt ceiling, a voting rights clash set to come to the Senate floor in mid-September, lingering Afghanistan fallout, and, in the wake of a contentious Supreme Court ruling, a heated fight over abortion.
“I think it’s a full agenda,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told The Hill. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) added that the Senate’s schedule would be “crowded” but that they were “getting used to working weekends and we’re going to continue to.”
Senators are expected to pass to Washington on Monday, though they’ll only be in for three days that week because of Yom Kippur, the Jewish holiday. The House is set to return on Sept. 20. That leaves Democrats little time to finalize a massive $3.5 trillion spending package before key deadlines set by leadership in both chambers.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has given his committees until Sept. 15 to finalize their parts of the spending package so that Democrats can then start negotiating the bill within the 50-member caucus.
And, as part of a days-long standoff, House moderates got a commitment to bring up the other piece of Biden’s package, a roughly $1 trillion Senate-passed infrastructure bill, for a vote by Sept. 27, just days after they return from a week-long summer break.
But Democrats are still trying to secure payment for the package, bridge divisions on shoring up the Affordable Care Act and expanding Medicare, draft immigration reform language, and iron out sections on climate change.
There are already warning signs coming from officials amid intensifying tensions between moderates and progressives — neither of whom Schumer or Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) can stand to lose if they are going to get the two bills to Biden’s desk.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) threw the latest wrench into the $3.5 trillion packages when he called for a “pause” on the bill last week and warned that he likely couldn’t support the price tag. In a 50-50 Senate, and Republicans unified in opposition, Democrats can’t afford to lose Manchin.
“Let’s sit back. Let’s see what happens. We have so much on our plate. We really have an awful lot. I think that would be the prudent, wise thing to do,” Manchin said at a West Virginia Chamber of Commerce event on Wednesday.