Congress avoids government shutdown but infrastructure battle looms

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 1:30 p.m. ET, October 1, 2021
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11:53 a.m. ET, September 30, 2021

Yellen: "Catastrophic" default on debt could halt Social Security payments to nearly 50 million seniors

From CNN’s Matt Egan

(Al Drago/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)
(Al Drago/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

While Congress continues negotiations on infrastructure and aims to avert a government shutdown before midnight, another major issue looms: the debt ceiling.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned Congress on Thursday a default on the national debt would wreak havoc on everyday Americans.

“I think it would be catastrophic for the economy and for individual families,” Yellen told lawmakers during a hearing.

“Nearly 50 million seniors could stop receiving Social Security payments or receive them delayed,” Yellen said. “Our troops would not know when they would get their next paycheck. We have 30 million families who rely on the monthly child tax credits and they would not receive that relief, at least not on time.”

Yellen added that the 2011 debt ceiling impasse showed how waiting until the last minute to raise the debt ceiling can hit investor and consumer confidence, rattle the stock market and raise borrowing costs. 

A spike in interest rates would mean higher interest payments for all borrowers, Yellen said, including on mortgages, credit cards and small business loans. 

Some context: Yellen warned lawmakers earlier this week that the federal government will likely run out of cash and extraordinary measures by Oct. 18 unless Congress raises the debt ceiling.

The new estimate from Yellen raises the risk that the United States could default on its debt in a matter of weeks if Washington fails to act. A default would likely be catastrophic, tanking markets and the economy, and delaying payments to millions of Americans.

Previously, the Treasury Department estimated it would run out of cash and accounting maneuvers at some point in October.

The House on Wednesday voted to suspend the nation's debt limit until December 2022. This bill now heads to the Senate, where it is expected to fail. The bill would need 60 votes to advance in the chamber that is split 50-50. Republicans have said they will not vote to raise the debt ceiling. Instead, Democrats can try to pass the legislation through the budget reconciliation process that only requires 50 votes.

CNN's Matt Egan and Kristin Wilson contributed reporting to this post.

11:37 a.m. ET, September 30, 2021

House majority leader not confident infrastructure vote will pass today

From CNN's Annie Grayer

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters “nope” when asked if he was confident that the bipartisan infrastructure would pass if it was brought to the floor today.

When asked by CNN if he is confident a vote on the infrastructure bill will still happen today Hoyer said it is “still being worked on.”

Asked if Democratic leadership is discussing bringing the infrastructure bill to the floor even though it will fail, Hoyer said “sure there’s lots of talk about that.”

On what could help the impasse, Hoyer said, “having a framework that can pass the Senate is what would be helpful."

Hoyer said Democratic leadership is weighing the possibility of a short-term highway funding stop gap to provide necessary funding for infrastructure if the vote today is delayed.

“We’re obviously considering all options,” Hoyer said.

Hoyer said he did not know if Biden would be coming to the Hill today.

11:37 a.m. ET, September 30, 2021

"We go in it to win it," Pelosi says on infrastructure vote

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill will still take place today, but she would not confirm whether Democrats are confident the bill would pass.

She was asked by a reporter if she was "committed to having a vote on infrastructure today regardless whether you have the votes or not."

Pelosi said, "We're on a path to win the vote and I don't want to even consider any options other than that."

"That's our culture. If you don't understand that culture, you don't understand that culture. That's our culture. We go in it to win it," Pelosi added.

WATCH HERE:

12:08 p.m. ET, September 30, 2021

"I plan on moving forward in a positive way," Pelosi says on latest infrastructure negotiations

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

CNN's Manu Raju asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi if she plans on delaying the vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill if there are not enough votes to pass it.

Here's what she said:

"Are you planning on delaying this vote if you don't have enough votes?" Raju asked during a news conference.
"I do not plan on not doing anything. I plan on moving forward in a positive way. And everybody has to think this is the path we're on. It's not a fork in the road ... It's a path that we're on. And right now, as I've said, we had a great morning, lots of conversations as we come to the end," Pelosi said.
"Let me just tell you about negotiating. At the end, that's when you really have to weigh in. You cannot tire. You cannot concede. This is the fun part," Pelosi added.

When asked if the Sept. 27 date for passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill was a mistake, Pelosi responded no.

“No, no, no, no, it’s important to note that in the reason we could agree to that is because in the bill is all of the reauthorization for highway, highway programs in the rest of that. So our best interest is served by passing this bill today,” she said.

And though the massive $3.5 trillion bill to expand the social safety net is still nowhere near being ready, Pelosi said the House will take it up.

“We will have a reconciliation bill, that is for sure,” Pelosi said. “We are proceeding in a very positive way to bring up the bill of the best to do so in a way that can win. And so far so good for today. It's been going in a positive direction.”

More on the bill: The Senate passed the massive bipartisan infrastructure bill in early August after months of negotiations. In total, the deal includes $550 billion in new federal investments in America's infrastructure over five years. Now it's up to the House to take a final vote on it. 

Progressive Democrats say they are planning to withhold their votes from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill unless they receive progress on the the broader economic spending package.

CNN's Manu Raju, Daniella Diaz and Kristin Wilson contributed reporting to this post.

11:27 a.m. ET, September 30, 2021

NOW: Pelosi holds a news conference ahead of slated infrastructure vote

(Pool)
(Pool)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is speaking to reporters now and is expected to address the timing of the vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill as the threat of a government shutdown also looms.

Earlier today, Pelosi said the plan is still to vote today. She said that “you’re moment by moment. I’m hour by hour,” when asked about what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles. 

Pelosi called a leadership meeting this morning as they tried to sort out their strategy, members and aides tell CNN.

CNN's Annie Grayer and Daniella Diaz contributed reporting to this post.

12:02 p.m. ET, September 30, 2021

Schumer and McConnell say Senate will vote on funding bill today to avert shutdown

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell delivers remarks from the Senate floor on Thursday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell delivers remarks from the Senate floor on Thursday. (Senate TV)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell both confirmed on the Senate floor moments ago that the chamber plans to pass a stopgap funding bill today to avert a government shutdown and keep the government funded through early December.

Schumer said he’s “confident the House will approve this measure later this afternoon and send it to the President's desk before funding runs out” at midnight tonight.

"Some good news — today the Senate will pass a continuing resolution that will eliminate the possibility of a government shutdown tonight," Schumer said in floor remarks Thursday morning.

The continuing resolution, Schumer said, “will keep the government funded until December 3, provide funding.. to help process and resettle Afghan refugees and finally deliver on critical disaster aid for Americans battered by the storms and wildfires this summer.”

The New York Democrat also delayed the vote series on several amendments that will be followed by final passage of the funding bill now set to begin at 11:05 a.m. ET (instead of 10:30 a.m. ET).

"On government funding, what Republicans laid out all along was a clean continuing resolution without the poison pill of a debt limit increase. That's exactly what we'll pass today," McConnell said. 

Schumer also said that the Senate could take up the House-passed bill to suspend the nation’s debt limit “as early as next week.” The bill is expected to be blocked in the Senate by Republicans, who oppose helping Democrats address the debt ceiling.

Schumer announced Wednesday evening that an agreement had been reached, paving the way for a Thursday vote in the chamber on a continuing resolution, which keeps the government funded at current levels for a set time period.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks from the Senate floor on Thursday.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks from the Senate floor on Thursday. (Senate TV)

"We have an agreement on the CR, the continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown, and we should be voting on that tomorrow morning," Schumer, a New York Democrat, said.

Congressional Democrats initially attempted to address the government funding issue alongside the debt limit, a strategy that was thwarted by Republicans in the Senate who have insisted that Democrats must act alone on the debt limit.

CNN's Ali Zaslav and Clare Foran contributed reporting to this post. 

12:03 p.m. ET, September 30, 2021

A funding bill, infrastructure and the debt ceiling: Here's why Congress is talking about all 3

(Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg/Getty Images)
(Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

If you're confused about what Congress is voting on today, you're not alone. We're talking about multiple bills – that are technically separate – but have an impact on each other.

Here's the cheat sheet:

  1. First – a funding bill. Government funding expires at midnight which means Congress needs to pass a stopgap funding bill in order to keep the government open and avert a shutdown. Democrats, who control both chambers of Congress, are expected to vote on this today. They have so far projected confidence that a shutdown will not occur, but with the deadline rapidly approaching, lawmakers have no room for error.
  2. Second – infrastructure. A vote on Biden's $1.2 trillion Senate-passed infrastructure bill is also slated for today (although this was a self-imposed deadline by the Democrats.) If Congress can't get its act together on keeping the government open, then a vote on infrastructure looks unlikely. That's bad news for the President, since the infrastructure bill is such a key part of Biden's legislative agenda. However, it doesn't mean an infrastructure vote is over, just delayed.
  3. Third – the debt ceiling. This is when America would run out of money to pay its bills as it would reach its borrowing limit – also known as its debt ceiling. If the US can't pay its bills, that would trigger a first-ever US default and a self-inflicted economic crisis. It could delay federal payments, including Social Security checks and monthly child tax credit payments. Although this wouldn't happen until mid-October, what happens today could signal how a vote on raising the debt ceiling will go and where key Republican and Democrat lawmakers stand on spending. (There's also a risk that Congress runs out of cash earlier than expected, setting the stage for an accidental default.)

To make things more complicated, both parties are split among themselves on spending – with progressives and conservatives trying to push their own agendas.

That's why everyone is watching what happens in Congress today.

You can read more about all this here.

CNN's Clare Foran, Zachary B. Wolf, Matt Egan, Ali Zaslav and Daniella Diaz contributed reporting to this post. 

10:07 a.m. ET, September 30, 2021

Pelosi says the plan right now is to still hold infrastructure vote today

From CNN's Lauren Fox, Annie Grayer and Daniella Diaz

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi walks to the House chamber at the US Capitol on Wednesday, September 29.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi walks to the House chamber at the US Capitol on Wednesday, September 29. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the plan is still to vote on the infrastructure bill today. 

She said that “you’re moment by moment. I’m hour by hour,” when asked about what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles. 

Pelosi just called a leadership meeting as they try to sort out their strategy, members and aides tell CNN.

More on the bill: The Senate passed the massive bipartisan infrastructure bill in early August after months of negotiations. In total, the deal includes $550 billion in new federal investments in America's infrastructure over five years. Now it's up to the House to take a final vote on it. 

Progressive Democrats say they are planning to withhold their votes from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill unless they receive progress on the second, multi-trillion economic and climate package. 

9:49 a.m. ET, September 30, 2021

Top Biden aide tamps down expectations for an infrastructure vote today

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins 

Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm in an interview on New Day tamped down expectations for a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill today.

"It is not some major cataclysm if there isn't a vote today....This will get through. Mark my words. The infrastructure bill will be passed and a version of the reconciliation bill will be as well,” she said.

Where things stand now: The bottom line is that President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, after days of feverish behind-the-scenes efforts, entered the day with no clear path to securing a majority in the scheduled vote on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Progressive Democrats aren't just planning to withhold their votes from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill unless they receive progress on the second, multi-trillion economic and climate package. They have been asking for legislative text. They want to know exactly what they are getting in the bigger bill before they sign on to moderates' infrastructure plan. It's called leverage — but it's also bringing Biden's agenda to the brink.

CNN's Phil Mattingly and Lauren Fox contributed reporting to this post.