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Deadlines Loom for US Congress to Act on Budget, Defense Spending

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FILE - A man dressed as the "Build Back Better Bill" wears a sash saying, "on to the Senate," Nov. 19, 2021, on Capitol Hill.

U.S. lawmakers have a busy month ahead as they face deadlines for major budget and defense actions and what Democrats are hoping will be the completion of a $2 trillion collection of health care, climate and family services programs.

As lawmakers returned to Washington Monday, the most pressing issue they faced was funding the federal government. A previous stopgap agreement in late September allowed government agencies to continue operating through December 3, but that means a new deal must be reached by Friday to avoid a government shutdown.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Sept. 28, 2021.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Sept. 28, 2021.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pledged Monday that Congress would pass a new stopgap bill to fund the government.

"With so many critical issues, the last thing the American people need right now is a government shutdown," he said in a speech on the Senate floor.

Congressional aides said that a vote could come as early as Wednesday and that the legislation would likely fund the government through either January or February.

Once Congress passes legislation to fund the government, it will soon need to address the debt limit by either raising the current level or suspending the cap on how much debt the Treasury Department is allowed to issue. Without any action, the government would have to delay payments or even default on some of its debt obligations, with potential complications for financial markets and the global economy.

The exact date of a debt limit deadline is hard to pinpoint because it involves balancing government spending commitments with the flow of money into the Treasury. But Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said the debt limit could be reached by December 15.

Lawmakers are also working toward approving the annual defense spending bill known as the National Defense Authorization Act before the end of the year. The measure, which authorizes appropriations for the Department of Defense and sets Pentagon policies, has a long history of bringing Democrats and Republicans together, having been approved every year since 1961. This year's version has a price tag of about $768 billion.

Democrats are also hoping to get one of President Joe Biden's major policy initiatives through Congress in the coming weeks by earning Senate approval for the $2 trillion program that includes items such as a child tax credit, housing aid, incentives to combat climate change and efforts to limit prescription drug costs.

The Democrat-led House of Representatives approved the package without the votes of any Republicans. The measure faces more uncertainty in the Senate, where Democrats hold an even slimmer majority.

Some information in this report came from Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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