Democrats must solve urgent fiscal matters to keep the government open and avoid a default.


Daily Political Briefing

Sept. 20, 2021, 10:00 a.m. ET

Sept. 20, 2021, 10:00 a.m. ET

ImageSpeaker Nancy Pelosi at the Capitol earlier this month.
Credit…Tom Brenner for The New York Times

Congressional Democrats will turn this week to urgent fiscal matters, setting aside their ambitious, $3.5 trillion social policy measure for now as they try to keep the government operating beyond Sept. 30, raise the federal borrowing limit and meet Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s promise of an infrastructure vote by Sept. 27.

Ideological divisions within the party and intransigent Republican opposition will not make any of those tasks easy.

“Our leadership is on this,” Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 Democrat in the House, said Sunday on CNN. “We are working with everybody in all corners of our party. They’re trying to get to a common ground on all of these issues, and I feel very comfortable that we are going to get there.”

With 10 days before much of the government runs out of money, House Democrats are expected to vote this week on a stopgap spending bill that would keep the government open and fund Hurricane Ida reconstruction, wildfire response, Afghan resettlement and other emergency matters.

That bill might then be paired with a measure to raise the debt limit that must pass before the Treasury can no longer pay its creditors — some time next month.

Representative John Yarmuth, Democrat of Kentucky and chairman of the House Budget Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday” that Democrats may choose to keep the debt limit separate from the spending bill — to show Republicans publicly rejecting the higher borrowing limit needed to pay for tax cuts and spending incurred under President Donald J. Trump.

“I personally would like to see a clean vote on a debt ceiling, so that Republicans actually have to go on the record on that vote only and not mix it with a funding measure,” he said, “but ultimately, the most important thing is to get both of them done.”

Senate Republicans remain adamant that they will not vote to raise the debt ceiling, although Democrats helped them with the issue in the Trump years. If Republicans decide to filibuster, the government could careen toward its first-ever default. That, in turn, could trigger a financial crisis, or at the least, a crisis of confidence in the creditworthiness and governance of the United States.

If Democrats decide to link a debt ceiling increase to disaster relief, they may be hoping to win over Republican senators from states hit hard by hurricanes and wildfires. But Senator Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, showed little willingness to compromise on Sunday.

“If you want to come back and meet where we can actually find common ground, where we can actually address needs as opposed to a Democratic wish list, well then we’ll help,” Mr. Cassidy said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “But not when you’re just trying to tank the economy by fueling inflation.”

Some parts of Louisiana were still without power three weeks after the state was hit by Hurricane Ida.

Beyond those partisan divisions are debates within the Democratic ranks. Ms. Pelosi promised moderate Democrats that she would take up a Senate-passed, bipartisan infrastructure bill by Sept. 27, buying some time to advance the party’s social policy measure — a priority for liberal Democrats.

But Democrats are nowhere near a final version of the social policy bill that can maintain near-total Democratic unity in the House and Senate, and House progressives are threatening to vote down the infrastructure bill if it reaches the floor first. Mr. Yarmuth said “the current plan” is still to bring the infrastructure bill to a vote next Monday, but he suggested some creative legerdemain could be in the works to paper over the divisions.

“Under the rules, the speaker does not have to actually advance the bill to the president for signature,” he said Sunday. “She can hold onto that bill for a while. So there’s some flexibility in terms of how we mesh the two mandates.”

Credit…Shawn Thew/EPA, via Shutterstock

The Senate parliamentarian dealt a major setback on Sunday to Democrats’ plan to use their $3.5 trillion social policy bill to create a path to citizenship for an estimated 8 million undocumented immigrants.

Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian, who serves as the chamber’s arbiter of its own rules, wrote that the “policy changes of this proposal far outweigh the budgetary impact scored to it and it is not appropriate for inclusion in reconciliation,” according to a copy of her decision obtained by The New York Times.

Democrats had been seeking to grant legal status to undocumented people brought to the United States as children, known as Dreamers; immigrants who were granted Temporary Protected Status for humanitarian reasons; close to one million farmworkers; and millions more whom are deemed “essential workers.”

Immigration advocates had pushed the plan as their best chance this Congress to improve the lives of millions of immigrants, after attempts to reach a bipartisan deal with Republicans fell apart.

“We are deeply disappointed in this decision but the fight to provide lawful status for immigrants in budget reconciliation continues,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said in a statement, adding that Democrats would be meeting with the parliamentarian. “The American people understand that fixing our broken immigration system is a moral and economic imperative.”

Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat, and Senator Alex Padilla, Democrat of California, also released a statement saying they had prepared “an alternative proposal for the parliamentarian’s consideration in the coming days.”

Meanwhile, immigration advocates were already urging the Democrats who control the Senate to vote to disregard Ms. MacDonough’s decision and include the immigration overhaul in the package anyway.

Greisa Martinez Rosas, director of United We Dream Action, called the parliamentarian an “unelected adviser” and said Democrats in Congress “hold all the power to do the right thing.”

Ms. MacDonough’s decisions are merely advisory, but several Democratic senators have indicated they would be reluctant to overrule her. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Credit…Brian Inganga/Associated Press

At a virtual summit on Wednesday, while the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting is underway, President Biden will urge other vaccine-producing countries to balance their domestic needs with a renewed focus on manufacturing and distributing doses to poor nations in desperate need of them.

The push, which White House officials say seeks to inject urgency into vaccine diplomacy, will test Mr. Biden’s doctrine of furthering American interests by building global coalitions. Covax, the United Nations-backed vaccine program, is so far behind schedule that not even 10 percent of the population in poor nations is fully vaccinated, experts said. And the landscape is even more challenging now than when Covax was created in April 2020.

Some nations in Asia have imposed tariffs and other trade restrictions on Covid-19 vaccines, slowing their delivery. India, home to the world’s largest vaccine maker, banned coronavirus vaccine exports. And an F.D.A. panel on Friday recommended Pfizer booster shots for those over 65 or at high risk of severe Covid, meaning that vaccine doses that could have gone to low and lower-middle income countries would remain in the United States.

Officials said Wednesday’s summit would be the largest gathering of heads of state to address the coronavirus crisis. It aims to encourage pharmaceutical makers, philanthropists and nongovernmental organizations to work together toward vaccinating 70 percent of the world’s population by the time the U.N. General Assembly meets in September 2022, according to a draft document the White House sent to the summit participants.

Experts estimate that 11 billion doses are necessary to achieve widespread global immunity. The United States has pledged to donate more than 600 million — more than any other nation — and the Biden administration has taken steps to expand vaccine manufacturing in the United States, India and South Africa. The 27-nation European Union aims to export 700 million doses by the end of the year.

But on the heels of the United States’ calamitous withdrawal from Afghanistan last month that drew condemnation from allies and adversaries alike, the effort to rally world leaders will be closely watched by public health experts and advocates who say Mr. Biden is not living up to his pledges to make the United States the “arsenal of vaccines” for the world.

Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The largest U.S. accounting firms have perfected a remarkably effective behind-the-scenes system to promote their interests in Washington, Jesse Drucker and Danny Hakim report in The New York Times.

Their tax lawyers take senior jobs at the Treasury Department, where they write policies that are frequently favorable to their former corporate clients, often with the expectation that they will soon return to their old employers. The firms welcome them back with loftier titles and higher pay, according to public records reviewed by The Times and interviews with current and former government and industry officials.

From their government posts, many of the industry veterans approved loopholes long exploited by their former firms, gave tax breaks to former clients and rolled back efforts to rein in tax shelters — with enormous impact.

Even some former industry veterans said they viewed this so-called revolving door as a big part of the reason that tax policy had become so skewed in favor of the wealthy, at the expense of just about everyone else. President Biden and congressional Democrats are seeking to overhaul parts of the tax code that overwhelmingly benefit the richest Americans.

This revolving door, with people cycling between the public and private sectors, is nothing new. But the ability of the world’s largest accounting firms to embed their top lawyers inside the government’s most important tax-policy jobs has largely escaped public scrutiny.

“Lawyers who come from the private sector need to learn who their new client is, and it’s not their former clients. It’s the American public,” said Stephen Shay, a retired tax partner at Ropes & Gray who served in the Treasury during the Reagan and Obama administrations. “A certain percentage of people never make that switch. It’s really hard to make that switch when you know where you are going back in two years, and it’s to your old clients. The incentives are bad.”


Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Eight months into President Biden’s term, both he and Jill Biden, the first lady, are finding that winning the “battle for the soul of the nation” is perhaps his most elusive campaign promise. In Washington, an outrage-driven approach to politics has replaced Mr. Biden’s rose-colored belief that bipartisan deal making can be an art form. As he tries to prove that this is still possible, his wife is not a bystander.

Dr. Biden, an English and writing professor who made history as the only first lady to keep her career while in the White House, has traveled to 32 states, many of them conservative, to promote school reopenings, infrastructure funding, community colleges and support for military families. She has also traveled to states where low numbers of eligible people have received the coronavirus vaccine.

“He trusts my intuition as a spouse,” Dr. Biden said in the interview, “not as a policy person or an adviser.”

Dr. Biden entered the White House with several focus areas, including supporting free community college. The president said this spring that she would be “deeply involved” in the effort to make community college tuition free. So far, she is not deeply engaged in the legislative or policy arenas. After The Times published its profile of Dr. Biden on Sunday evening, Elizabeth Alexander, her communications director, said that the first lady’s work to raise awareness on the issue “is a big reason why it’s in the legislative package today.”

They are sometimes confronted with the reality that Mr. Biden’s decisions have been politically costly. When the first couple met with Gold Star families after a terrorist attack in Kabul last month, some relatives made it a point to publicly embrace former President Donald J. Trump.

Neither Biden takes an overly optimistic view that the country’s problems are easily solvable, their advisers say, but both are united in the idea that Mr. Biden is the best-positioned person to try.

“She very much believed he was the right person for the time,” Mike Donilon, one of the couple’s closest advisers, said in an interview. He said that when it came time to make “fundamental decisions about the campaign message and strategy, she was there, and she really brought it to a close.”

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