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Congress avoids a government shutdown — but a long to-do list looms

President Biden on Friday signed legislation to avoid a partial government shutdown but Congress still has a long to-do list before the end of the year.
Jose Luis Magana
President Biden on Friday signed legislation to avoid a partial government shutdown but Congress still has a long to-do list before the end of the year.

President Biden has signed legislation to keep the government funded through Feb. 18, clearing the way for Congress to focus on a daunting year-end to-do list.

Congress has less than three weeks to resolve differences that have plagued both parties for the entire year.

Lawmakers are juggling must-pass items, like addressing the nation's borrowing authority and an annual defense authorization package, along with major political priorities for Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., pledged to vote before Christmas on Biden's roughly $2 trillion Build Back Better legislation.

"I've said many times before that nobody should expect legislation of this magnitude to be easy," Schumer said this week on the Senate floor. "We've been at the task for several months, but we need to take a step back and recognize that we are hopefully less than a month away from acting on the largest investment in the American people we've seen in generations."

That legislation, which includes major investments in the social safety net and programs to address climate change, passed the House last month. Senate Democrats are now waiting for an assessment from the nonpartisan Senate parliamentarian before they can finalize their version of the bill.

Democrats chose to use a tool in the budget process, known as reconciliation, to try to pass Biden's spending agenda without the risk of a GOP filibuster. That process comes with strict rules, including a requirement that all elements of the bill have a significant budgetary impact.

Senate leaders have warned that some policies that were included in the House version, like plans to address the nation's immigration laws, could be stripped out of the bill during the review process.

Once that work is done, Democrats will have to resume negotiations with skeptical centrist Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema D-Ariz., who have raised concerns on everything from the overall cost of the bill to some specific policies, like paid family leave.

Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans will have to work to resolve differences over amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act and plans to increase the debt limit.

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Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.