Congressional Democrats are facing a perfect storm of political pressure this month. They will be juggling a Sept. 30 government shutdown which will require raising the debt ceiling, as well as $4 trillion in legislative packages they're trying to pass by a razor-thin margin despite opposition from moderate Democrats.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has set a Sept. 27 deadline to vote on their $550 billion infrastructure bill - which progressive Democrats say they'll vote down unless the $3.5 trillion budget blueprint - opposed by aforementioned moderate Dems - isn't ready by then.
What's more, both chambers are still on recess.
"The margin for error is razor-thin, the stakes are high, and Republicans have made clear they'll be of no help," Democratic consultant Matt House, a former Chuck Schumer aide, told NBC News. "That's been true throughout the Biden administration, but September requires tackling the toughest issues yet, more of them, and with real deadlines attached."
Congressional committees have advanced some measures in recent weeks to fund the government. In the House, a group of Democrats joined Republicans to boost military spending by $23.9 billion.
Raising spending on the Defense Department is a high priority for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who will be key to defeating a filibuster and securing 60 votes to pass any bill. But McConnell has said the GOP won't support a debt limit increase, setting up a showdown.
And Democrats, who are seeking to pass a transformative economic agenda with wafer-thin majorities, are squabbling among themselves about the way forward on the infrastructure and safety net packages, which are the linchpin of Biden's domestic agenda. -NBC News
Last week, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) threw the Democrats' plans into disarray when he insisted on 'hitting the pause button' on the $3.5 trillion plan amid uncertainty over the botch Afghanistan pullout.
"Let’s sit back. Let’s see what happens. We have so much on our plate. We really have an awful lot. I think that would be the prudent, wise thing to do," Manchin said at a Wednesday West Virginia Chamber of Commerce event.
Manchin added that he's unwilling to spend "anywhere near" $3.5 trillion until his inflation and debt concerns are addressed. Progressives, in response, threatened to tank the $550B infrastructure bill, which he co-wrote.
Meanwhile, Democrats will also need to hammer out a series of tax increases on high-income individuals and corporations in order o help pay for the budget bill. A menu of options circulated by Sen. Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-RO) does not have party consensus.
"Late September stands to be a train wreck for congressional Democrats, with their dual-track strategy on a collision course, but it also presents a faint silver lining in the form of a familiar foe," said lobbyist and former GOP operative, Liam Donovan. "There's virtually no way the reconciliation package can be ready in time to satisfy all the promises that have been made by leadership, meaning President Biden will have to play a more active role as peacemaker."
Good luck with that.
"The question is whether the muscle memory of fighting Republicans on the debt limit and the rest of the policy cliff helps paper over the party's divisions and heal intramural wounds," added Donovan. "Either way, it's the biggest inflection point left in what might be the last fruitful year of the Democratic trifecta."
More via NBC News:
In addition to all that, Pelosi last week put a bill on the schedule to enshrine protections for abortion rights into federal law after the Supreme Court refused to block a new law in Texas that bans the vast majority of abortions.
And the devastation wrought by Hurricane Ida, from Louisiana to New York, could spark a debate about authorizing new relief funding.
There are also calls from progressive Democrats to extend the lapsed eviction moratorium, as well as unemployment benefits that expired over the recess, but neither appears to have the votes to pass.
Democrats' ability to handle these grueling tasks in September will shape their prospects to maintain control of Congress in the midterm elections next year, as history favors the party out of power to make gains.
"It's crunch time for Washington Democrats. Their odds of holding the House in the midterms are long, and campaign season will begin soon," said House GOP aide Michael Steel. "They have the slimmest margin possible and no room for error."