U.S. government faces shutdown, may default on debts if issues go unsolved
By Spencer Tracy, Guest Writer
Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda consists of a social policy bill and a bipartisan infrastructure bill. The legislation has become entangled with attempts to raise the federal debt limit, a move Republicans oppose.
President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda faces a critical test this month as progressive and moderate Democrats battle over the size and scope of his “Build Back Better” proposal – a bill which contains funding for a broad range of social issues that will likely be paired with a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Adding to the complication is a more immediate worry: The government could shut down on Oct. 18 if Congress fails to raise the federal debt limit. Votes for that bill are politically entangled with the stalled Build Back Better legislation.
Republicans oppose the $3.5 trillion cost of the proposed social policy bill, and moderate Democrats are pushing for a more modest measure between $1.5 to $2.2 trillion.
As Republicans unite against the proposed $3.5 trillion social policy bill, they have also agreed to oppose the federal debt limit bill. The debts in this bill are for expenses that have already occurred, but Republicans oppose the additional money that the bill allotted for future expenditures.
“As we speak, Democrats are behind closed doors assembling a multi-trillion-dollar reckless taxing and spending spree,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. “There’s no chance Republicans will help lift Democrats’ credit limit so they can immediately steamroll through a socialist binge that will hurt families and help China.”
The U.S. hit the debt ceiling on Aug. 1, at which time the Treasury Department began taking “extraordinary measures” to fulfill fiscal duties and pay the government’s bills. These “extraordinary measures,” according to the treasury, include accounting and investing tricks which allow the government to avoid paying its debts.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen identified Oct. 18 as the date at which the government would be unable to continue to take “extraordinary measures” to avoid defaulting on debts.
“It would be catastrophic to not pay the government’s bills, for us to be in a position where we lacked the resources to pay the government’s bills,” she said. “I fully expect it would cause a recession as well.”
The social policy bill funds public education, including two years of free community college, health care, enhanced childcare and climate change initiatives. This would be paid for by increasing taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations.
The infrastructure bill appropriates $1.2 billion to building roads, bridges and broadband across the country. This bill has already passed the Senate with both Democratic and Republican support. In the House, progressive Democrats refused to support the infrastructure bill unless the social policy bill received enhanced funding.
Moderate Democrats such as Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., are reluctant to support the social policy bill due to its $3.5 trillion price tag.
Manchin has indicated his willingness to work with other Democrats to negotiate down the bill’s cost.
“The bottom line is I want to be strategic, to do the right job, and we don’t basically add more to the concerns we have right now,” Manchin said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, stood by the bill’s cost but expressed willingness to compromise to meet budget and political commitments.
“3.5 trillion (for the social policy bill) should be a minimum, but I accept that there’s gonna have to be give and take,” he said.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she expects a final vote in the House by Oct. 31.