Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
On October 7, the Senate voted 61-38 to take up the debt ceiling increase. Eleven Republicans (Senators Sens. John Barrasso, Wyoming; Roy Blunt, Missouri; Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia; Susan Collins, Maine; John Cornyn, Texas; Mitch McConnell, Kentucky; Lisa Murkowski, Alaska; Rob Portman, Ohio; Mike Rounds, South Dakota; Richard C. Shelby, Alabama; and John Thune, South Dakota) voted to permit the legislation to move to a final vote. The vote for final passage was 50-48 with no Republicans joining Democrats. The House will vote on the bill on Tuesday, October 12. The Senate amended the original House bill, which passed 219-212, and replaced the December 22, 2022 date and capped borrowing at $480 billion to raise the ceiling to a new level of $28.9 trillion. The temporary debt ceiling boost is intended to tide Treasury over until around December 3, which is also the date the current continuing resolution expires. But senators said there would likely be enough wiggle room from incoming tax receipts and other accounting tools to buy additional time, perhaps postponing the next debt limit deadline into early 2022. The agreement follows months of posturing on the debt limit and multiple warnings from Treasury Secretary Yellen that the country could face an economic crisis if Congress didn’t act before Oct. 18. That action by the Senate ended a weeks-long standoff between Minority Leader McConnell and Majority Leader Schumer, but the fight will continue when the borrowing authority runs out again in the next few months.
Senate Majority Leader Schumer said that his goal is to pass the Build Back Better reconciliation package by October 31. This would allow Democrats to approve the reconciliation package and the bipartisan infrastructure bill at the same time. But there is a lot of work do to before that can happen. Democrats and Republicans have yet to reach a deal on the top-line number. The Biden plan called for $3.5 trillion, but Senator Manchin has stated he won’t agree to more than $1.5 trillion on the package. Senator Sanders stated, “Obviously we want to get it done as quickly as possible. But this is an enormously complicated and consequential bill. The American people are not calling my office and saying, ‘You gotta do it by Thursday. Or next Monday.’ What they are saying is ‘Make sure we continue to have the $300 payment for our kids. Make sure you can expand Medicare. Make sure you deal with climate [change.]’ This is not a baseball game. This is an enormously consequential piece of legislation.” The bottom line is that that reconciliation negotiations will more than likely drag into late November or December.
On October 6, 2021, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman temporarily blocked Texas’ near-total abortion ban as part of a lawsuit the Biden administration launched against the state over its new law that bars abortions as early as six weeks of pregnancy. The state of Texas quickly filed a notice of appeal and will almost definitely seek an emergency stay of Pitman’s order in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is known as perhaps the nation’s most conservative appellate court. Some Texas clinics began performing abortions later than six weeks after the judge’s ruling, while other clinics are moving more slowly as legal challenges play out. Whole Woman’s Health, which operates four Texas abortion clinics, said it reached out on October 7 to women who had been on a waiting list for abortions after being turned away in recent weeks. The Texas Heartbeat Act, also known as SB8, went into effect Sept 1. It prohibits abortions after an embryo’s cardiac activity can be detected, usually around six weeks into a pregnancy.
California just became the first state in the U.S. to outlaw ‘stealthing,’ a slang term for the nonconsensual removal of a condom during sex. The law, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on October 7, 2021, makes it a civil offense under state law for someone to remove a condom without their romantic partner’s consent. State Assemblymember Cristina Garcia stated, “For a majority of the people, it’s like, yeah, it makes sense that this is immoral, and it should be illegal.”