Fedweek

Congress will return next week from its week-long Thanksgiving recess to face a series of major issues, several of which have fast-arriving deadlines.

In terms of timing, the issue demanding first attention is the need to prevent a partial government shutdown by funding federal agency operations beyond the December 3 expiration of the current temporary authority. With little progress having been made in the two months since that extension was enacted, another extension is considered likely, with the main question being how long it would last.

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One option would be another extension of possibly several weeks with the hope of enacting by year’s end a measure carrying through the rest of the fiscal year. An extension into sometime early in 2022 is also possible, as is one covering the full fiscal year. However, going beyond a short period could raise other issues since such measures typically only extend funding at prior levels and don’t take into account changing needs of agencies.

A separate deadline also lies ahead in the form of needing to either raise or suspend the federal debt ceiling. While earlier projections showed that deadline also arriving around December 3, the latest estimates of a deadline are around December 15. Republicans have refused to join in action to prevent a default on the national debt, which would have potentially severe consequences for the economy and an uncertain impact on the government and its employees.

While denouncing that position as ignoring the fact that the national debt has accumulated under both parties, Democrats however have not yet shown a strategy for preventing a default without Republican votes.

Senate Democratic leaders meanwhile hope to soon take up a wide-ranging bill (HR-5376) reflecting Biden administration priorities passed last week by the House. While that bill is structured to require only Democratic votes in the Senate, concerns of several moderates about the spending and policy provisions of that bill have kept prospects of passage uncertain there for months.

Among provisions of that is a national program to provide up to about $800 a week for up to four weeks within a 12-month period for all Family and Medical Leave Act-covered purposes, starting in 2024. Federal employees other than Postal Service employees already are eligible to substitute paid leave for parental purposes for the full 12 weeks of unpaid leave under that law, but not for personal or family medical reasons. Postal employees would become eligible for the four weeks of partial pay for all FMLA-covered purposes while other federal employees would benefit from the partial pay for purposes other than parental reasons.

That measure also provides additional funding for IRS enforcement, which would result in restoring many of the positions lost to budget restrictions there in recent years; and add funding for purposes ranging from expanding the number of VA facilities to boosting funding for inspector general offices in a number of agencies.

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