U.S. lawmakers are getting back to work after a monthlong summer recess as the Senate returns this week and the House of Representatives comes back into session next week.
With narrow control of both chambers and some significant items already checked off President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda, Democrats are aiming to pass several key new pieces of legislation. But they have only a handful of weeks before Congress recesses again so that members can campaign ahead of the November 3 midterm elections.
In what has now become almost a yearly routine, U.S. lawmakers will not reach an agreement on spending bills by the September 30 deadline when government funding runs out. Democrats and Republicans normally agree on a short-term continuing resolution, or CR, to keep the government operating. It remains to be seen, though, whether that CR will cover the rest of the calendar year or possibly even further out.
Passage will also depend on whether the parties can agree on Biden’s request for $47 billion in additional funding, an amount that includes a new $13 billion tranche for U.S. military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and $22.4 billion for continuing efforts to combat COVID-19.
“Ukraine needs more help. We want to give it to them. And on monkeypox and COVID, we need to be prepared. We’ve always been prepared in this country. And it’s disgraceful that Republicans are playing political games with this when the health of the nation is at stake,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters Wednesday.
Republicans are reluctant to approve Democrats’ new funding request, arguing the money should instead come out of unused COVID funds.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, “The cleaner the CR, the better. Ukraine is obviously a priority for most of us on both sides of the aisle. We’ll see what they’re requesting and how much of it is actually designed to help Ukraine wage war.”
The U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision earlier this summer, which overturned the nearly 50-year-old constitutional right to abortion guaranteed by Roe v. Wade, triggered a wave of legislation that would provide protection for other rights on the federal level.
Democratic Senators Tammy Baldwin and Kyrsten Sinema are working to secure the Republican support needed to clear a 60-vote threshold to pass a bill protecting same-sex marriage. In June, the House passed similar legislation with the support of 47 Republicans.
“A vote about marriage equality will happen on the Senate floor in the coming weeks, and I hope there will be 10 Republicans to support it,” Schumer told reporters Wednesday.
“We prefer to do it as a separate bill,” Schumer said, leaving open the possibility it could be added to the CR, which would raise the stakes for Republicans by forcing them to shut down the government in order to block it.
January 6 investigation
The select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol is set to resume hearings this month. Originally scheduled to run for only seven hearings earlier this summer, lawmakers extended their public investigation into former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, culminating in the worst attack on the Capitol in two centuries.
Republican Representative Liz Cheney – who lost her primary bid to seek re-election to her congressional seat in August – has already said Trump should face charges for his actions. The committee is expected to hear new evidence that has come to light because of its work earlier this summer.
The Senate also could pass the Electoral College Reform Act clarifying the role of the vice president in certifying the results of a presidential election. The bipartisan legislation is aimed at preventing misuse of an 1887 law that came under scrutiny following the attack on the Capitol.
Other agenda items
Additionally, Democrats are expected to continue confirmation of Biden’s judicial nominees. And the so-called “Gang of Eight” top Democratic and Republican leaders from the Senate and the House could receive a classified briefing on Trump’s possession of classified documents at his residence in Mar-a-Lago.
With Democrats gaining ground on Republicans in several key midterm races around the country, Schumer could decide to cancel the Senate’s two-week session in October in order to give members more time to campaign in their home states.