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The Government Will Narrowly Avoid a Shutdown. More Trouble is Coming

The Senate is under water this week with the debt ceiling debate, government funding negotiations, and two Senators who will effectively derail an agenda that would help American families survive.

Today, September 30th, is the last day for the Senate to pass a desperately needed funding bill in order to avoid a government shutdown. If the Senate fails to pass a bill to fund the government — even just temporarily — the government will shut down at midnight, right when the page turns to October 1st, 2021. (For what it’s worth, it does look like this will be avoided.)

Beyond the funding bill, the Senate needs to raise the debt ceiling ASAP. If they can pass more government funding to avoid a shutdown, they will still need to raise the debt ceiling before government money runs out in mid-October.

If that were all that was happening on Capitol Hill today that has a direct and immediate effect on the current and future welling of families, that would be one thing.

But all tied up in this mess is the fact that there are two dual infrastructure packages set to be voted on by the House — the hard infrastructure package that is set to pass with bipartisan support with funding for roads, bridges, electric vehicles, and more, and the human infrastructure package that is supposed to pass historic investments in child care, paid family and medical leave, and more.

The Senate Just Passed A Government Funding Bill 

Per CNN’s constantly updated reporting on the issue, in the afternoon of September 30th, the Senate voted 65-35 for a stopgap funding bill that will stop the government from shutting down and keep the government funded through early December. The House approved the measure and it’s headed to President Biden’s desk to be signed.

Unfortunately, that stopgap funding bill will only stave off the problem for a matter of weeks. But it does mean that if the House votes on the bill and then sends it to the President, then the government won’t shut down at midnight.

That’s good news. But the problem of the debt ceiling still stands. The Senate still hasn’t been able to pass a vote to raise or suspend the debt ceiling.

The Debt Ceiling Still Hasn’t Been Suspended

Yesterday, House Democrats voted to suspend the debt ceiling until December 2022. Republicans have said they would not vote to raise the debt ceiling, rather, that Democrats could use budget reconciliation to raise the debt ceiling. If they got enough votes, Democrats could choose to ditch the filibuster and vote to raise the debt ceiling without them.

They could also pass a law to allow the Treasury to mint a trillion-dollar coin and effectively fund the government for quite some time. Or, as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has suggested, they could get rid of the debt ceiling altogether. It was invented in 1917, and the government spent well before it existed and could spend long after it disappears.

No matter what happens, if they don’t act, the government will default in mid-October. 

Why Does This Matter for Families?

If the government is allowed to default, per Janet Yellen, “Nearly 50 million seniors could stop receiving Social Security payments… our troops would not know when they would get their next paycheck. We have 30 million families who rely on the monthly child tax credits and they would not receive that relief, at least not on time,” she said. 

She has urged Congress to figure out how to pass a bill to raise the debt ceiling as soon as possible.

It is unclear what the Democrats will do to lift the debt ceiling, a matter of major, material importance to the functioning of America, working families, and the world.

And if that weren’t enough of a problem, the major part of Biden’s campaign promise, the Build Back Better agenda — hard infrastructure and human infrastructure — that Congress has vowed to pass all at once is imperiled in no small part because of the reluctance of two moderate Democrats, Senators Krysten Sinema, and Senator Joe Manchin, to pass the larger human infrastructure package. 

The Most Basic Parts of Biden’s Pro-Family Agenda Are At Stake — Including the Infrastructure Packages

The most basic parts of President Biden’s agenda, an agenda that could transform the lives of American families, is currently up in the air. That bill would make child care more affordable and accessible, give workers time off after welcoming babies or getting ill, fund the child tax credit through 2025, and deliver on functionally most of President Biden’s campaign promises to American working parents and their kids.

Two Senators have said they won’t vote for the human infrastructure package. And the Congressional Progressive Caucus has said they won’t vote on one bill (the bipartisan hard infrastructure package) without being able to pass the other (the one with direct aid to families) at the same time. While the Democratic leaders support the Progressives, it does mean, at the bare minimum, the packages will be delayed.

The vote could be delayed on the package for now. In the meantime, partisan bickering will stand in the way of delivering big on major, life-changing legislation for children that would alleviate poverty, help parents make ends meet, invest in electric vehicles and safer buildings, and get lead out of buildings in America.