Congress has charted a path toward resolving two of the three major bills remaining on its plate as it pushes to wrap up its work for the year.
One of the remaining issues is the need to either raise or suspend the federal debt ceiling in order to prevent a default on the national debt that would have potentially severe consequences on the economy and an unknown impact on federal workforce operations. The deadline for action is uncertain but likely lies only a matter of weeks or even days ahead unless the government would resort to financial maneuvers to push back the date that have not been used already.
While raising or suspending the limit has been a bipartisan effort in the past, Republicans have left it up to Democrats to find a solution without them. That has proved difficult due to the Senate’s general policy of requiring at least 60 votes—meaning at least 10 Republicans—on major legislation.
A newly announced agreement, though, would allow Congress to take up a measure to raise the ceiling by enough to carry through late 2022 needing only a simple majority in the Senate (with a potential tie to be broken by Vice President Harris). The House quickly passed a measure setting up that sequence, and approval in the Senate appeared likely.
The House also this week quickly took up and passed another top priority measure, the annual defense authorization bill. The House earlier had passed its own version but the Senate bogged down in considering its version. Leaders on defense issues instead have produced a bill designed to be acceptable to both chambers and both parties—it passed the House on a strong bipartisan vote.
While progress was made on those two issues, there has been no resolution regarding a bill largely reflecting Biden administration policy priorities in a wide range of areas that has been pending in the Senate for weeks since it passed the House. There is no deadline on that measure but the administration and congressional Democrats are pushing to clear it through Congress by the end of the year out of a concern that a delay into next year would stall it for months and possibly indefinitely.
That bill contains a wide range of spending and policy initiatives including up to four weeks of partially paid leave for purposes the Family and Medical Leave Act provides unpaid leave. That would include Postal Service employees who currently are left out of the entitlement for other federal employees of up to 12 weeks of fully paid leave for parental purposes; those now eligible for that benefit would additionally become eligible under the provision for other FMLA-related purposes.