Congress Faces Key Deadlines On Return From Thanksgiving Break

Tuesday, November 23rd 2021, 5:29 pm


Members of Congress may want to do their best to relax and count their blessings this week, because immediately after Thanksgiving, they'll need to be back at the Capitol counting votes.

Deadlines loom for passage of several key pieces legislation.

The first deadline is December 3. That's when current funding for government operations will run out.

Ideally, Congress would have approved a new budget before the start of the federal fiscal year on October 1, but that didn't happen and lawmakers instead approved a short-term extension -- through December 3 -- of FY 2021 funding levels.

The total budget consists of 12 appropriations bills in both the House and Senate and much work remains to be done.

"We’re way behind," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK4), Vice Ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee. "We’ve not passed all of our bills; we’ve passed nine of the 12, while the Senate's passed only three."

More than likely, Congress will have to pass another continuing resolution (CR) next week to avoid a government shutdown, Cole said.

Cole said Republicans are likely to help in passing a CR, but if Democrats ultimately intend to pass new appropriations measures, the 50-50 split in the Senate means they will have to come to the bargaining table.

"And that means defense spending, which is too low in the House bill, needs to go up substantially, a minimum of $25 billion, and the domestic spending, which is up 18 or 19%, needs to come down," Cole said.

A good example of why passing new appropriations bills matters, said Cole, is this year's Defense Authorization Act.

"There’s a pay raise in the current defense authorization bill," Cole said. "If you keep things as they are, the pay raise doesn’t happen."

Congress has passed the National Defense Authorization Act for 60 straight years.

The next deadline is likely to hit in the middle of December. That's when Treasury officials now estimate they will no longer have enough money to meet the federal government's debt obligations unless Congress suspends or raises the debt ceiling.

Republicans said it's critical that the government not default on its debts, but insist they will not provide any votes to keep that from happening.

"The debt ceiling has to be done," Cole said in an interview last week. "Democrats have the votes to do it, they’ve done all the spending -- I think Republicans feel pretty strong they need to do it."

Democrats argue they voted four times during the Trump presidency to increase the nation's borrowing power and that, historically, this has been done more than 90 times in bipartisan fashion.

Cole doesn't disagree, but he and other Republicans insist this is different because Democrats have totally shut them out of the decision-making process since President Joe Biden took office.

"I’ve voted for debt ceilings under presidents of both parties before, [but] not likely to do this one because, again, nobody on my side of the aisle in the House has been part of any of these spending decisions," Cole said.