December could amount to a pivotal test of the leadership of the Senate’s top Democrat: Charles Schumer.
As lawmakers barrel toward a series of deadlines in the days and weeks ahead, the New York senator will be front and center.
“We know that December is upon us. We know we have a lot of work to do. And we’ll get the job done,” he told reporters Tuesday.
So what is there to do?
- Government funding: Non-essential government services will stop in a matter of days unless Congress approves a stop-gap measure.
- Debt ceiling: If lawmakers do not raise the borrowing limit by mid-December, the Treasury secretary warns the government will default on its debts.
- NDAA: The Senate still has to advance must-pass annual defense policy legislation.
- Build Back Better Act: Schumer has said he wants to wrap up President Joe Biden’s sweeping social policy and climate legislation by Christmas.
On the Build Back Better Act, in particular, there are still disagreements to iron out. And with every Republican expected to vote against the legislation, Schumer cannot afford any defections from the Democratic caucus.
“No one should expect legislation of this magnitude to be easy,” he said Tuesday. “We've been working at this for several months. But at this point, we're closer than ever.”
The Senate Democratic coalition spans the political spectrum from progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders to moderates like Sen. Joe Manchin. Keeping everyone in line requires a delicate balancing act.
Casey Burgat, who heads the legislative affairs program at George Washington University, says, in many ways, Schumer faces the same challenges he’s been navigating for months — but with the clock as a factor.
“All that's changed is that that timeline gets a little more compressed, which in some ways can benefit him because now it's put up or shut up time,” he said.
Of course, lawmakers have blown through deadlines on Biden’s big spending plans before.
And already this week there was trouble over another item: the defense legislation. The bill stalled as Republicans quarreled with Democrats over amendments.
On the debt ceiling, Schumer and the top Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, say they are talking. In the aftermath of the last debt ceiling showdown in October, McConnell signaled he would not help Democrats again.
In the end, Burgat said one possible way to evaluate Schumer over the next month is: How many things get done without a ton of fanfare?
“That means he's doing a good job. He's working behind the scenes, which is what leaders are supposed to do,” Burgat said.