As we enter the busy summer stretch of the congressional calendar, a number of deadlines, competing priorities, and congressional recesses, will likely impact what can reasonably get done between now and the fall. In anticipation of these events, we've broken down some key dates to watch and what this could mean for action on key pieces of legislation.
From June 2 there are 121 calendar days until the end of the current fiscal year (September 30). However, based on current schedules, there are far fewer legislative days in both the House and Senate remaining over the same time period. Congressional calendars can and do change, particularly with regard to August recess, but at this point there is no indication either chamber is considering that.
- The Senate has 47 legislative days remaining until the end of September.
- The House has 47 legislative days remaining until the end of September (30 of those are days where the House is scheduled to be in-session voting; 17 of those are days where no votes are expected in the House, but the committees can continue to meet for hearings and markups).
Items that are necessary, likely, or possible for action during that time include:
- Government funding (expires Sept. 30);
- Highway Trust Fund and federal surface transportation programs (expires Sept. 30);
- Debt limit (suspended through July 31, and Treasury will have some flexibility after that date; but to what extent is uncertain. Last month, Secretary Yellen indicated that congressional action could be needed this summer); and
- Infrastructure (no firm deadline, but Speaker Pelosi has said she plans to have a bill on the floor before the Fourth of July recess).
Unexpected events can further complicate the congressional calendar. While not considered likely, the most rumored, possible unexpected, development would be the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Breyer (or any other member of the Court). Such a development would put considerable pressure on President Biden and Senate Democrats to nominate and confirm a new justice before the Court's new term begins in October, and it could further complicate its ability to complete work on any number of other items.
A lot can happen, and a lot could change between now and the end of summer, but here are some thoughts on what this means for some key issues:
For now, talk seems to be focused on bipartisan negotiations that would use the expiring surface transportation reauthorization as a vehicle to pass a smaller infrastructure package, than what Biden has proposed, which is focusing on traditional transportation infrastructure (roads, bridges, transit, etc.), broadband and possibly other items (electric vehicle incentives in particular, is something that the White House has indicated is a priority, and that the Senate GOP has signaled they are amenable). Senate Republicans proposed a $928 billion package to the White House last week and a meeting is expected this week to discuss that offer. Although there has been some bipartisan progress particularly with the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passing its portion of a surface transportation reauthorization bill in a 20-0 vote last week t remains unclear if bipartisan talks will ultimately prove successful. The most difficult part of these discussions will be how to pay for an infrastructure bill, and that falls outside EPW's jurisdiction. Even if a smaller, bipartisan package comes together, nothing would stop Democrats from coming back later and using the budget reconciliation process to pass additional portions of an infrastructure package, on a partisan basis, although signaling that they intend to do so would likely tank any bipartisan deal in the meantime. Similarly, if the bipartisan effort fails, Democrats still have budget reconciliation available to them in order to pass an infrastructure bill on a party-line vote.
It has been widely anticipated that at some point Democrats will use another budget reconciliation bill to pass legislation on infrastructure, taxes, or a combination of the two. Congress can move quickly when it wants, however the budget reconciliation process has specific procedural steps that must be followed that make it difficult to move at lightning speed. At this point, no procedural steps have been taken to start moving a new reconciliation bill. While it's impossible to outline a specific timeline for how a reconciliation bill could move, it is worth noting how long it took to move the American Rescue Plan. Earlier this year, when Congress used the budget reconciliation process to pass the $1.9 trillion COVID-response package, it took approximately six weeks from the introduction of a budget resolution in the House on Feb. 1, to Biden signing the bill into law on March 11. Six weeks would likely be the most optimistic timeline for moving infrastructure and/or taxes through reconciliation because, unlike with the COVID package, there isn't broad agreement, even among Democrats, as to what should be included.
The new Congress and new Administration, combined with the delayed budget proposal from the Biden Administration, and the congressional debate over if and how to reinstate earmarks, has delayed the Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations process. The House Appropriations Committee plans to hold markups in June, and at least some bills are expected on the House floor in July. The Senate is off to a slower start, with markups unlikely until at least July, and floor time is uncertain. The only thing that appears certain at this point is, as is typical, the appropriations process won't be complete by Sept. 30, so Congress will need to pass a continuing resolution and then appropriations work will continue into the fall.
Generally considered a must-pass bill, the National Defense Authorization Act has been delayed this year due to the late release of the Biden Administration's Fiscal Year 2022 budget proposal, which was released on May 28. In a typical year, the Armed Services committees would markup in late May/early June, and both chambers would aim to have their respective bills on the floor before the August recess. This year, the committees are expected to markup in July, with floor consideration in one or both chambers in September. Controversial issues always arise, but Congress has passed an NDAA for 60 consecutive years, so final action should be expected toward the end of the year.
The debt limit is suspended through the end of July; and although many analysts have projected congressional action won't be necessary until the fall, recent comments from Secretary Yellen indicate Congress could need to act as early as this summer. While Republicans would like to use the need for debt limit action to extract concessions from Democrats, it's unlikely that Democrats will engage in such negotiations. Although the debt limit is specifically eligible for inclusion in a possible reconciliation package, it seems more likely at this point that congressional Democrats will attach another suspension of the debt limit to a must-pass vehicle, most likely the continuing resolution that will need to pass before Oct. 1 in order to keep the government funded. There is some risk to this approach, but it would be a gamble for Democrats, enough that Senate Republicans would vote for it rather than risk a government shutdown and possible default on the debt.