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Crunch time for Congress with Biden’s agenda, and debt limit, on the line

FILE PHOTO: Senators Arrive to Vote on Amendments to Infrastructure Bill By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress returns to session on Monday facing a massive agenda and a tight time crunch, with President Joe Biden’s Democrats hoping to pass sweeping domestic programs, fund the government, approve an infrastructure bill and raise the debt ceiling in a matter of weeks.

They face several deadlines, including a scheduled Sept. 27 vote on a $1 trillion Senate-approved infrastructure bill and the Oct. 1 date when the federal government will run out of money to fund many of its operations if Congress doesn’t act. Later in October the country could breach its borrowing cap, risking default on U.S. payment obligations.

The Democrats, who control Congress by the narrowest of margins, also want to maneuver a $3.5 trillion spending package – including proposals for childcare, education, housing and green energy – past a Republican roadblock. Progressives boast the plan is the largest expansion of social policy in decades but senior Democrats on Sunday acknowledged the bill may need to be trimmed to pass.

"It may be $3.5 (trillion), it may be really close to that or maybe closer to something else," Representative James Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, told CNN on Sunday.

Democrats also want to pass bills on voting on abortion rights, which face long odds, given strong Republican opposition and a Senate filibuster rule requiring a 60 of 100 senators to agree to advance most legislation.

"Have they bitten off more than they can chew on? Well, yes, I think they have," said William Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center think-tank.

INFRASTRUCTURE IMPASSE?

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has promised to take up the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill just a week after her chamber returns from summer break.

But progressives say they won’t vote for the infrastructure plan without first passing the $3.5 trillion social spending program, using a maneuver called "reconciliation," which avoids the Senate requirement for a supermajority.

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