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Analysis

December is a doozy for D.C. Democrats. Why it’s the most important month for Capitol Hill all year

The US CapitolPatrick Semansky/Associated Press

What might be true for car commercials this time of year will certainly be true for Washington lawmakers: it will be a December to remember.

Think back to the twin crises earlier this fall, when fears swirled that the federal government would shut down and, later, default on its debt for the first time in its history. Those problems weren’t dealt with. Congress just kicked the can to December.

Unless Congress acts, the government will shut down Friday. And then, unless Congress votes to raise the debt ceiling, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warns America won’t be able to pay its debts starting on Dec 15.

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But whatever happened to that large Build Back Better social and climate spending bill, you ask? The House passed a version of it right before Thanksgiving. The Senate has it now and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has vowed that it will pass by the end of the year. In other words, December.

That might be tough to accomplish. After all, the Senate parliamentarian has yet to scrub the bill for any parts that aren’t directly related to the budget, as is necessary for a reconciliation bill that only needs 50 votes to pass, instead of the standard 60 votes needed to bypass a filibuster. Most expect her to eliminate at least one part of the House-passed version, relating to immigration. Then there is West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who wants to eliminate the federal paid family leave portion. With those provisions out the bill will need to be rewritten and some senators will want the Congressional Budget Office to re-analyze the impact the bill might have on the national debt and inflation. That could take weeks right there.

There are already signs that December could be rough. On Monday — still in November — Republicans procedurally blocked a defense spending bill, which for about 60 years was the one thing Congress passed no matter what.

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Most everyone expects Congress will pass it again. Republicans, knowing every day in December counts, are simply trying to eat up more time because, especially in a 50-50 Senate, they can.

For the record, Democrats (and maybe some Republicans) are expected to pass a short-term funding measure to keep the federal government open past Friday. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in an interview with Punchbowl News on Monday, signaled willingness to make some type of deal with Democrats to allow them to raise the debt ceiling — albeit on his terms.

There is, however, no exact game plan on how to pass the reconciliation bill. That might have to happen in January.

The important piece of context here is the election calendar. Shortly after the turn of the year, the 2022 midterm campaign season begins in full force. Texas, for example, is scheduled to hold its primary elections on March 1, followed a week later by North Carolina.

Suddenly, with campaign attack ads airing back home, getting tough things done becomes a lot harder for members of Congress.

A second piece of context: Biden’s low approval ratings in polls. Biden, whose approval rating is hovering around 43 percent, has never been this unpopular. To some Democrats, this is proof that Biden and his party need Congress to come through for a win. To other Democrats, it is time to run for cover and not pass anything.

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This will all come to a head in December. And the Senate is currently scheduled to have members go home on Dec. 13, something that looks unlikely, making a schedule change yet another thing leaders will have to do.


James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell.