Congressional Democrats are punting the next battle over the debt limit until after the 2022 elections, checking off a key item on their long December to-do list, but chances for moving their Build Back Better bill through the Senate are looking less likely.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., declined Tuesday to promise a Senate vote before Christmas on the roughly $2 trillion package of climate measures and social program spending. 

He has repeatedly said his goal is to pass the bill by the end of the year, but has yet to get a commitment from Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., to support the bill. Democrats continue holding meetings with the Senate parliamentarian on provisions that may violate rules for the budget reconciliation process that is being used to move the legislation.

“The bottom line is right now there are good discussions going on,” Schumer said Tuesday. “The president has been speaking to Sen. Manchin and I look forward to hearing about further progress.”

Senate GOP Whip John Thune, R-S.D., told reporters that Democrats are “putting on the good face and trying to suggest that they can get it done. But I mean, ultimately, it comes down to Manchin and Sinema” and neither are “suggesting that this could get done by Christmas Day.”

Manchin talked by phone with President Joe Biden on Monday and briefly again on Tuesday, he told reporters.

Meanwhile, Senate committees have made some revisions to the House-passed text.

The Senate Ag Committee added more than $2 billion in funding for conservation technical assistance to the legislation and also bolstered the bill’s agricultural research provisions, as Agri-Pulse reported Dec. 4.

However, a cost estimate issued by the Congressional Budget Office projects that $5 billion of the spending authorized by the agriculture provisions would go unspent during the 10-year window allowed under the reconciliation process.

CBO says the ag provisions would authorize $94.4 billion, but only $89.4 billion would be spent before 2032. About $12.6 billion would be spent almost immediately by the Agriculture Department, or at least by the time the 2022 fiscal year ends Sept. 30, CBO estimates. 

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The Senate Finance Committee, meanwhile, modified language around the renewable energy tax credits in the House bill to ensure that rural electric cooperatives could benefit directly from the incentives, rather than having to work with third parties, according to the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association. 

The committee also tightened some rules around a new tax incentive for sustainable aviation fuel, but didn’t address a concern of the National Biodiesel Board that the bill would allow petroleum refiners to collect a tax credit for renewable diesel when they mix vegetable oil, fats or grease with petroleum, a process known as co-processing.

Meanwhile, the Senate and the House on Tuesday were moving a $2.5 trillion increase in the debt limit that should keep the government from hitting the ceiling until 2023.

That means that the new Congress elected in November 2022 will face another battle over the debt limit.

Earlier this month, Congress averted a government shutdown by passing a continuing resolution that keeps the departments and agencies funded at fiscal 2021 levels until Feb. 18.

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