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Averted crisis

Debt crisis averted, but at what cost?

With Tuesday’s 219-206 vote along party lines to increase the U.S. debt limit by $480 billion, House Democrats averted a possible global financial meltdown. But Congress’ – and the country’s – problems remain far from resolved.The increase will only cover the bills through early December, which is also the end date for a temporary extension of government…

With Tuesday’s 219-206 vote along party lines to increase the U.S. debt limit by $480 billion, House Democrats averted a possible global financial meltdown. But Congress’ – and the country’s – problems remain far from resolved.

The increase will only cover the bills through early December, which is also the end date for a temporary extension of government funding. At the same time, Democrats missed their own deadlines for passing a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package that cleared the Senate, and for working out differences between moderates and progressives over the 2022 budget, which includes many of President Joe Biden’s top domestic policy agenda items. 

Why We Wrote This

After punting on the debt, Democrats in Congress now face a critical stretch, with President Biden’s domestic agenda on the line. Recent weeks have exposed real rifts within, as well as between, the parties.

That has deflated the momentum Mr. Biden had in August, when he held up the Senate’s 69-30 passage of the infrastructure bill as proof he could still broker bipartisan deals in a narrowly divided Congress, promising progressives that Part 2 – with priorities like health care and social programs – would be coming shortly.

The longer these negotiations drag on, the greater the challenge Democrats face, in part because the high-pressure wrangling has damaged already low trust between – and within – the two parties.

“I think both sides now fully understand that the fates of their priorities are intertwined,” says Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth.

WASHINGTON

With Tuesday’s 219-206 vote along party lines to increase the U.S. debt limit by $480 billion, House Democrats averted a possible global financial meltdown just one week before Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had warned that the United States would run out of funds and default. But Congress’ – and the country’s – problems remain far from resolved.

The increase will only cover the bills through early December, which is also the end date for a temporary extension of government funding that passed the Senate Sept. 30 with support from more than a dozen Republicans. 

At the same time, Democrats missed their own deadlines for passing a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package that cleared the Senate in August, and for working out differences between moderates and progressives over the 2022 budget, a $3.5 trillion version of which includes many of President Joe Biden’s top domestic policy agenda items. 

Why We Wrote This

After punting on the debt, Democrats in Congress now face a critical stretch, with President Biden’s domestic agenda on the line. Recent weeks have exposed real rifts within, as well as between, the parties.

That has deflated the momentum Mr. Biden had in August, when he held up the Senate’s 69-30 passage of the infrastructure bill as proof he could still broker bipartisan deals in a narrowly divided Congress, promising progressives that Part 2 – focused on “soft” infrastructure like health care, social programs, and family benefits – would be coming shortly.

The longer these negotiations drag on, the greater the challenge Democrats face as they seek to advance all three priorities, in part because the high-pressure wrangling has damaged already low trust between – and within – the two parties.

In a pointed speech from the Senate floor on Oct. 7, just before the Senate passed the temporary debt-limit increase, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer blamed Republicans for “playing a dangerous and risky partisan game,” and manufacturing a crisis. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, responded in an angry letter that Senator Schumer had “poisoned the well even further” and that Democrats should not look to Republicans for any help next time. 

The drama over the two other key bills also thrust Democrats’ intraparty conflicts into the spotlight.

In a sign of progressives’ growing influence, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi broke her promise to moderates and postponed a Sept. 30 vote on the infrastructure package. Progressives have refused to support that bill without a commitment from moderates to support the larger “Build Back Better” bill, which includes significant family and climate measures.

New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer, who leads the bipartisan Problem Solvers caucus and has advocated strongly for the infrastructure package, called Speaker Pelosi’s decision “deeply regrettable” and accused the 96-member Congressional Progressive Caucus of using tactics similar to those of the GOP’s Freedom Caucus. 

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia talks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Oct. 7, 2021. Senator Manchin has been negotiating with party leaders and the White House to limit the overall cost and scope of the president’s “Build Back Better” bill.

Biden’s visit to Congress

A key question now is whether the Democrats are ready to work through their differences, or if the internal feuding – with members publicly disparaging aspects of both bills – has already undercut their ability to claim a significant victory for the president. 

Rep. John Yarmuth, the Democratic chairman of the House Budget Committee who recently announced he would not run for reelection next year, says Mr. Biden’s recent visit to the Capitol showed Democrats a path forward. 

“The president’s appearance up here really changed the dynamic, and I think it refocused both moderates and progressives on the bigger picture in a very good way,” the Kentucky Democrat says, adding that Mr. Biden underscored that the infrastructure and budget bills must be done together. “I think both sides now fully un

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