Congress has 25 days to sidestep a government shutdown, deal with a mountain of deadlines and avoid economic disaster

It is going to be a wild and woolly September on Capitol Hill as Congress faces a massive number of legislative deadlines and initiative launches.

There's must pass legislation — like a bill to raise the debt ceiling and a bill to fund the government — and some long-gestating projects like the Republican plan to reform the tax code and a bipartisan effort to stabilize the Obamacare exchanges.

Throw in unexpected issues like funding for the Hurricane Harvey recovery effort and it makes September likely the most jam-packed month of the year.

We've got a breakdown of all the major legislative events Congress will address in the coming weeks, along with the current state of negotiations and the worst case scenario if lawmakers come up short:

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Daunting tasks laid before Congress
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Daunting tasks laid before Congress

Pass a bill for Hurricane Harvey recovery

Deadline: ASAP

What it means: The federal government typically shoulders a massive amount of the financial load in response to a major disaster and the amount of aid needed for Harvey recovery could have a price tag a high as $100 billion.

Current state of negotiations: A $7.85 billion bill was drafted an posted by the House on Sunday and another larger aid bill likely will sail through. The only hiccup could come if the bill is attached to another must-pass piece of legislation like the debt ceiling or a funding bill, but even then the chances are extraordinary high it gets through.

If it doesn't pass: There's a slim-to-none chance that a bill for disaster relief wouldn't pass, despite the argument over Hurricane Sandy relief in 2013. But in the worst case scenario, it would likely mean state agencies and non-profits would need to shoulder a monumental financial burden.

Fund the government

Deadline: Midnight as the date shifts from September 30 to October 1.

What it means: Fiscal year 2017 is ending this month, and the government needs to pass a bill to continue to fund the federal government.

Current state of negotiations: A six-month continuing resolution is all but guaranteed on this one, which would fund the government at current levels until the end of December. There are a number of issues that must be ironed out, but the path appears to be much easier after reports Trump will not demand funding for a wall along the border with Mexico.

If it doesn't pass: Non-essential federal resources will be shut down so things like national parks and some federal offices will be closed. Federal employees at these non-essential offices will be furloughed, meaning they will not go to work or receive paychecks for the duration of the shutdown.

Raise the debt ceiling

Deadline: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says the U.S. will hit its current debt ceiling — essentially losing the ability to fund the government — on September 29. The Congressional Budget Office says it'll happen sometime in early October.

What it means: The debt ceiling is the limit of outstanding debt that the federal government is allowed to hold at one time. Periodically, Congress must raise the ceiling in order for the government to borrow more money and make payments on its debt. Technically, the Treasury Department hit the upper limit in March, but has used "extraordinary measures" to prevent a breach. Those measures will run out sometime around the end of the month.

If it doesn't pass: If Congress does not raise the debt ceiling, it would be catastrophic for the US economy and global financial markets. According to a report from Beth Ann Bovino, the chief US economist at S&P Global Ratings, a shutdown and debt ceiling could be worse for the US than the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.

Current state of negotiations: There is a contingent in Congress that is opposed to government borrowing and therefore unwilling to back an increase, despite the fact that both Republican and Democrat administrations have said it is essential. There appear to be talks in Congress about attaching a large package of aid money for Harvey to the debt ceiling bill, which would likely make it easier to pass. Otherwise, it appears a clean increase would be more likely to pass than not with a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans pushing it through.

Reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration

Deadline: End of September

What it means: Congress needs to allocate funding and reauthorize the FAA, a technical measure not unlike the broader government funding package.

If it doesn't pass: This would lead to a partial shutdown of the FAA, causing employees to be furloughed and freezing construction projects at airports. This would be similar to the FAA shutdown in 2011.

Current state of negotiations: Trump pushed for a privatization of the air traffic control system and some of the FAA functions in June, but it is a sticking point so far. This likely means that a simple continuation of the current authorization will be passed to avoid a shutdown, and that would kick the can on the privatization fight.

Fund the Children's Health Insurance Program

Deadline: End of September

What it means: CHIP funds health insurance and care for roughly 9 million middle- and low-income children across the US. The federal government shoulders much of the funding burden, so a bill to continue the money is necessary.

If it doesn't pass: It would cut off a major source of funding for the program, and states would eventually exhaust federal funds for the program leading to a wait time for enrollment and, in the worst case, curtailed care for some children.

Current state of negotiations: There are some reports that a variety of Obamacare-related provisions could be thrown onto the CHIP reauthorization bill, including cost sharing subsidies or defunding measures. If nothing is agreed upon, this will also likely be a slimmed down reauthorization to make sure funding and care is not disrupted. The length of the funding extension and whether to keep the federal match at its increased rate, a change stemming from Obamacare, must be agreed upon.

Stabilize the Obamacare exchanges

Deadline: Insurers must finalize their Obamacare exchange plan offerings for 2018 by September 5, but there may be some adjustments afterwards. In reality, this probably is an ASAP.

What it means: As it stands, the failure of the Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare leaves the future of the law's individual insurance exchanges in some doubt. Passing a bill to help alleviate cost concerns and encourage insurer participation in the exchanges would help to stabilize the insurance market.

Current state of negotiations: The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee is planning to have a hearing on a bipartisan stabilization bill when Congress reconvenes and a bipartisan group of governors have introduced their own stabilization plan. Whether the plans get traction remains to be seen.

If it doesn't pass: Uncertainty in Washington has been cited by insurers as a reason for increased 2018 premiums in the market, so continued uncertainty would likely lead to ever higher costs.

Fund the National Flood Insurance Program

Deadline: End of September

What it means: The NFIP helps to insure homeowners in flood-prone areas get coverage for water damage. The program is also constantly in debt due to outdated flooding maps and needs funding to refill its coffers and pay out claims.

Current state of negotiations: Hurricane Harvey has led some lawmakers to insist on changes to the program, like increasing premiums to make the program solvent. It's unclear whether there is the political will and time to get such reforms done, but there is growing agreement that the program needs adjustments.

If it doesn't pass: The money to pay out claims is quickly dwindling and some people may not get money back if the funding lapses.

Roll out a tax reform plan (Republicans only on this one).

Deadline: Trump and the administration have set a deadline of the end of the year to pass tax legislation, which likely means the details need to be ironed out roughly by the end of the month.

What it means: Trump promised the most dramatic overhaul of the US tax code since Reagan cuts in 1986. Selling the bill and presenting a finalized plan are the first two steps on the road to getting the reform bill passed.

If it doesn't pass: Politically it would be a disaster for Trump and the GOP since it would mark two straight major legislative pushes without success.

Current state of negotiations: As it stands now, Republicans have very little by way of an actual plan. As Trump's top economic adviser Gary Cohn put it, there's a skeleton — which means there's no muscle, organs, or skin. The GOP has reportedly been unable to come to an agreement on some of the most basic question that must be addressed.

And whatever else comes up...
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This isn't to say these are the only other things that Congress needs to deal with in the month of September. There are plenty of other deadlines and tasks that need to be taken care of and unforeseen circumstances, like another natural disaster or foreign policy crisis, could divert attention.

 

 

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