Congress returns for a lame duck with a long to-do list

By Daniella Diaz, Ted Barrett and Clare Foran, CNN

Lawmakers are expected to return on Monday after being absent for several weeks to campaign for the crucial midterm elections.

They face a hectic legislative to-do list before the new session of Congress begins in January.

With that in mind, Democratic leaders are eager to bring several bills to a vote in the lame duck session — the period after the midterms and before the start of the new Congress.

The packed agenda includes: funding the government to avoid a shutdown before the end of the calendar year, passing the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, the must-have annual legislation that defines the policy agenda and authorizes funding for the Department of Defense, a Senate vote to protect same-sex marriage and possible consideration of other key issues.

While the House is able to pass laws with a simple majority, Democrats in the Senate face a tough climb given their narrow majority. With a 50-50 partisan divide in the Senate, Democrats lack the votes to cross the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold — and don’t have enough support within their party to abolish the filibuster, like many are eager to do so. Therefore, top priorities for liberal voters — like passing legislation protecting abortion access after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade – should remain out of party reach for the foreseeable future.

Democrats, who currently control both chambers, return with a new reality following Tuesday’s election that they did not expect: Key races that will determine the balance of power in the House have not been called, and CNN has yet to predict who would control the house. Although Republicans still seem likely to win enough seats to control the chamber, it would likely be by a narrower margin than initially expected.

On Saturday, CNN predicted that Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada would be re-elected, meaning Democrats will continue to control the Senate once the Congressional briefing begins in January. But with a runoff election for Georgia’s U.S. Senate seat scheduled for Dec. 6, the final makeup of the chamber won’t be known until at least then.

At a press conference on Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer warned of a busy lame-duck session, promising “drudgery” and “long hours,” despite having declined to go into specifics, saying he needed to talk to his caucus about their agenda first.

Fund the government

Congress passed a short-term funding bill in September that is set to expire Dec. 16, making government funding the number one priority for Congress when it returns from recess.

Because the legislation must pass, it could attract additional measures that Democrats want to erase in the lame duck session. For example, additional financial support for Ukraine as it continues to defend itself against Russia. While this funding enjoys bipartisan support, some conservatives — such as Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the House’s top Republican who is expected to become president if his party ultimately wins the chamber — balk at the costly contributions and pledge to take a closer look. additional demands from the Biden administration, a dynamic that divides Republicans.

Democrats also want more funding for the Covid-19 pandemic, but Republicans are unlikely to support that demand. Democrats could also ask for more money for the Justice Department’s investigation into the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

Congress must also pass the defense bill. Consideration of this far-reaching bill could spark debate and pressure for amendments on a variety of topics, including whether to punish Saudi Arabia for its recent decision to cut oil production.

Senate Democrats will also continue to confirm President Joe Biden’s appointed federal bench justices, a key priority for the party.

Vote on same-sex marriage in the Senate

A Senate vote on codifying same-sex marriage is also expected. In mid-September, the chamber launched a vote until after November’s midterm elections, with negotiators asking for more time to lock in support – a move that could make it more likely the bill will eventually win. adopted by the chamber.

The bipartisan group of senators working on the bill said in a statement at the time, “We asked Chief Schumer for additional time and we appreciate that he agreed. We are confident that when our legislation comes to the Senate for a vote, we will have the bipartisan support to pass the bill. The bill would need at least 10 Republican votes to overcome a filibuster.

Schumer has promised to hold a vote on the bill, but the exact timing has yet to be set. Democrats pushed for the vote after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, raising fears that the court is targeting the same sex. or interracial marriage in the future.

Electoral Count Act

The votes are likely on bipartisan legislation that would make it harder to void a certified presidential election, a response to former President Donald Trump’s efforts to stall the 2020 election results, which led to the Capitol siege. He is backed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky. If the bill passes the Senate, it will also have to clear the House, which in September passed its own version of the legislation.

Debt limit

Meanwhile, it’s not yet clear exactly when the nation will hit the debt limit and it seems unlikely for now that Congress will act to raise it during the lame session, especially given that many other must-have bills are vying for speaking time. But political battle lines are already drawn and maneuvers are underway in Washington on the contentious and high-stakes issue. Democrats insist it would be irresponsible to cause a damaging default by paying bills that have already accrued. While Republicans are digging in and insisting they will only approve a debt ceiling hike if Democrats agree to cut spending going forward.

At his press conference on Sunday, Schumer pledged to “look into” the issue over the next few weeks, but said he needed to talk to other members of the leadership and see where the House lineup ultimately lands.

“The debt ceiling, of course, is something we have to deal with. And that’s something we’re going to look at over the next few weeks,” Schumer said. “I have to talk to management first. We don’t know where Home will be.

Congress doesn’t need to raise the nation’s borrowing limit until next year, but there has been internal debate over whether Democrats should try to raise it before the end of this year, especially if Republicans take control of the House.

McCarthy brought the issue to the fore with comments last month that echoed those of several colleagues.

“If people want to do a debt cap (for a longer period of time), like anything else, there comes a time when, okay, we’ll give you more money, but you have to change your current behavior,” he said in an interview with Punchbowl News.

Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar summed up the busy work period ahead in an interview with “CNN This Morning” on Thursday.

“In Washington, we have a lot of things to do, including crafting the defense bill with Ukraine right in front of us and the progress that (Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky) is making against Vladimir Putin,” he said. she declared. “On our plate is the year-end budget bill to make sure we get it right. As you know, the Voter Count Act, an effort that I’m leading with (Republican Senator from Maine ) Susan Collins and (West Virginia Democratic Sen.) Joe Manchin and others, so that Jan. 6 never happens again All of this is immediately upon our return.

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CNN’s Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.