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Semafor LogoBenjy Sarlin, Kadia Goba, and Joseph Zeballos-Roig
politics

Can Congress pass anything before they leave?

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Title iconThe News
Sen. Chuck Schumer at a regular press briefing.
REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

The clock is running down on the lame duck Congress, with the Senate set to leave town on December 21. On their plate — a mix of must-pass bills, some maybe-pass extras, and some longshots that aren’t quite officially dead. Here’s a quick rundown of the landscape.

NDAA — The defense bill passed the House last week and the Senate is still discussing a schedule for possible amendment votes.

Omnibus spending bill — The government shuts down on Friday if Congress can’t agree on a one-year spending bill. But the more relevant issue is who negotiates the next year of spending, a Democratic or Republican House. Conservatives already prefer a short-term continuing resolution that would punt larger talks into next year, when the GOP takes over.

Negotiators remain $26 billion apart, but both sides were still talking as of Sunday night and they could pass a one-week CR to buy more time if needed. A Democratic Senate aide said that “sufficient progress in negotiations took place over the weekend” that Democrats won’t introduce their own omnibus bills to make a political statement.

If omnibus talks fail, Speaker Pelosi has floated a one-year continuing resolution as a last-ditch option, but the Pentagon is warning it would create a variety of funding problems for them. A Congressional aide told Semafor they were “still optimistic,” even as lawmakers were considering fallback options, like a modified CR that included earmarks.

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Ukraine aid — The talks have added significance because the omnibus is a potential vehicle for other key legislation like Ukraine aid, which some analysts worry the America First wing of a new Republican-led Congress could make difficult to pass in the new year. Senators have signaled that they want to pass a substantial Ukraine package — potentially more than the White House’s nearly $38 billion ask. It’s not technically impossible for Ukraine aid to be attached to a CR, but there’s no movement on that approach as of now.

Immigration — The Border Patrol Union put out an eye-raising series of statements from Friday through Sunday defending their involvement in talks led by Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz. and Thom Tillis, R-N.C. on a Dreamer/security bill amid cries of “amnesty” on the right. This still looks like a huge lift given the schedule, but an endorsement from them could go a long way.

Electoral Count Act reform — There’s bipartisan support for a bill that would make it harder to pull off a 2020-style coup attempt, including by clarifying the Vice President’s role, providing new safeguards against rogue state officials, and raising the bar for election objections in the House and Senate. But it needs a vehicle to attach itself to and the omnibus, which co-sponsor Susan Collins is hoping to ride, is still unresolved.

Child Tax Credit — An attempt by Democrats to boost the child tax credit, potentially in exchange for reviving business tax deductions favored by Republicans, appears all but dead.

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