Congress is back in session for the week after a campaigning blitz leading up to midterm elections on Nov. 8.
With that knowledge, Democrats are jockeying to go through an ambitious agenda in the upcoming weeks before the new Congress is seated. On that agenda: funding the government by mid-December, codifying same-sex marriage, reforming the certification of electors, raising the debt ceiling and a lot more.
“We are gonna try to have as productive a lame duck session as possible,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., at a press conference Sundayreacting to Democrats securing Senate control. “It’s gonna be heavy work, long hours to try and get much done.”
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Preventing a shutdown
Earlier in September, Congress passed a temporary spending bill to keep the government funded until mid-December. With that deadline coming up, Congress will have to pass another bill to avoid a government shutdown.
In the last spending bill, some Democrats had to make concessions to avert a shutdown. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., pushed for federal permitting reform to expedite certain energy projects, but he ultimately had to rescind his proposal after opposition from both progressive Democrats and Republicans, endangering passage of the bill.
Some Republicans also called for funding security on the southern border, but without a majority, the proposals were to no avail.
With an expiration date on the Democratic majority, expect some Democrats to be more aggressive with legislative priorities in the next spending bill.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the favorite to become the next speaker of the House, suggested Republicans will limit or halt funding to Ukraine. Democrats could push for higher spending in Ukraine than usual with that knowledge in mind.
“Other lame duck priorities will certainly include additional funding for Ukraine,” said Anita Dunn, senior adviser to President Joe Biden on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday. Dunn also said the White House will push for additional emergency funding for Florida and Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Ian and Fiona.
But before anything is fulfilled on the Democratic wish list, Dunn said keeping the government funded is “obviously priority number one.”
Reforms to the Electoral Count Act
A bill that seeks to remove ambiguity from the process of the certification of electors and that has had bipartisan support over the summer could finally be taken up for a vote in the near future.
The reforms would make clear the vice president’s role in certifying the electors is purely ceremonial and strip any ambiguity in the process – the same ambiguity that former President Donald Trump and his allies attempted to use to overturn the 2020 election results.
“That’s the bare minimum of what we need to do,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., on Sunday on “Face the Nation.”
The reforms are also supported by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who cited the Jan. 6 Capitol attack as a reason for support.
Codifying same-sex marriage
Over the summer, the House passed a bill codifying federal protections for same-sex marriage. The bill, titled the “Respect for Marriage Act,” was born out of worries among Democrats that the Supreme Court could strike down the constitutional right to same-sex marriage after it overturned the right to an abortion.
Originally thought to die in the Senate, the bill managed to garner some bipartisan support among Republicans in the Senate, offering a chance for a significant victory for LGBTQ rights activists. The bill was eventually postponed until after the midterms to secure the 60 votes required in the Senate to send the bill to Biden’s desk.
Raising the debt ceiling
With a hectic agenda, it’s unclear if Democrats can manage to raise the debt ceiling before the new Congress is seated in early January. Last year, Democrats successfully voted to raise the debt limit to ensure the government could keep paying its bills – averting total economic disaster if the United States defaulted on its debt.
However, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has signaled Republicans are willing to use the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip. If Republicans take the House for the next Congress, they could withhold raising the debt limit and threaten a default to pressure Democrats and the White House to enact spending cuts.
The debt ceiling is not a serious concern until next year, but McCarthy’s threat has raised worries among Democrats and could start a process to raise the debt ceiling now rather than later.
“We can start by lifting the debt ceiling now to block Republicans from taking our economy hostage next year,” wrote Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in an op-ed in the New York Times, calling for the lame duck session to be “the most productive in decades.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Democrats should “do it now” in the lame duck session on ABC’s “This Week.”