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Senate returns to jampacked to-do list as Biden's agenda faces crucial stretch

The government must be funded. The debt limit needs to be raised. And there's tension between liberal and centrist Democrats over the president's economic agenda.

WASHINGTON — The Senate returns Monday after a monthlong recess to a packed schedule, including deadlines to keep the government open and a crucial stretch for President Joe Biden's domestic agenda.

Congress must fund the government by Sept. 30 or face a shutdown.

Flood insurance and surface transportation measures lapse at the end of the month.

Biden has requested $24 billion for disaster relief from Hurricane Ida and wildfires.

The debt limit must be raised ahead of an October deadline, according to the Treasury Department, to avoid catastrophic economic consequences.

And it is crunch time for Biden's domestic priorities — writing a $3.5 trillion package to expand the social safety net and raise taxes on upper earners, as well as giving final passage to a $550 billion infrastructure bill.

Manchin vs. Sanders

House Democrats have set a soft deadline of Sept. 27 to vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill, but its prospects of passage may hinge on the larger bill's readiness, because progressives have threatened to vote it down otherwise.

House committees are racing to mark up their parts of the bill. But they may not be done in time.

"There's no way we can get this done by the 27th if we do our job. There's so much differences that we have here," Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a vital swing vote on the multitrillion-dollar bill, said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."

Asked about progressives' threats to block the infrastructure bill, which he co-wrote, without reconciliation, Manchin said that if they "play politics with the needs of America, I can tell you, America will recoil."

He said he favors raising the corporate tax rate to 25 percent and the capital gains tax rate to 28 percent, as well as a minimum corporate tax of 15 percent. The level of tax increases will also be contentious as Democrats need to get nearly every one of their members in both chambers on board.

Manchin didn't say which provisions in the emerging package he would oppose in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press." But he poured cold water on some of the climate change targets that are a priority for the left, as well as for the White House and Democratic leaders.

Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., responded to Manchin on CNN, saying, "Many of us made a major compromise in going from the $6 trillion bill that we wanted, supported by the overwhelming majority of Democrats, down to $3.5 [trillion]."

He said the budget bill must move "in tandem" with infrastructure.

"And it would be a really sad state of affairs for the American people, for Congress, if both of those bills went down," Sanders said.

A debt limit clash

Republicans say Democrats should raise the debt limit in the budget reconciliation bill, which can evade a filibuster, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., firmly rejected the idea last week.

That means it would have to move through the normal process, requiring at least 10 Republican votes to break a filibuster in the Senate. Democrats are considering tying the debt ceiling to a government funding bill, which is guaranteed to face GOP pushback.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said his party doesn't support extending the borrowing limit if Democrats pursue a $3.5 trillion budget bill. A spokesman for McConnell dug in after Pelosi's remarks, saying it would be a crisis of Democrats' "own making."

Other flashpoints worth watching

The government funding bill is also likely to include Biden's requests for disaster relief, as well as money to resettle refugees from Afghanistan in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal. The administration's exit from Afghanistan has sparked criticism from Republicans and some of Biden's Democratic allies, who have indicated that there will be an investigation.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has said the chamber will consider voting rights legislation when it's back.

And the Senate appears poised to debate Biden's new Covid-19 vaccination requirements, which cover millions of people, many in the private sector.

Meanwhile, congressional leaders are holding briefings ahead of a far-right rally planned for next Saturday, which aims to support people who participated in the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.