Democrats demand voting reform, same-sex marriage and debt ceiling from ‘lame duck’ Congress

WASHINGTON, Nov 14 (Reuters) – Democrats in the U.S. Congress aim to pass bills protecting same-sex marriage, clarifying lawmakers’ role in certifying presidential elections and raising the national debt ceiling when they return of the election campaign on Monday.

President Joe Biden’s party received a boost over the weekend when it learned it would retain control of the Senate for the next two years, while control of the House of Representatives is still up in the air as votes are counted after Tuesday’s midterm elections.

But Democrats escaped a dreaded midterm beating and will seek to make the most of their current narrow majorities in both chambers before the new Congress is sworn in on January 3, a period known as the session of the “lame duck”.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen both signaled that resolving the nations looming debt ceiling would be a priority during the session.

Some Republicans have threatened to use the upcoming $31.4 trillion debt ceiling hike, expected in the first quarter of 2023, as leverage to force Biden into concessions. Yellen, in an interview with Reuters on Saturday, warned that a failure to act would pose a “huge threat” to America’s credit rating and the functioning of financial markets.

Pelosi, who would lose her job as president if Republicans win a majority in the House, told ABC News on Sunday that the best way to tackle the debt ceiling was “to do it now.”

“Hopefully we can do it in the lame duck,” Pelosi said. “We will, again, have to raise the debt ceiling so that the full faith and credit of the United States is upheld.”

Biden told reporters over the weekend that he would wait to talk to Republican leaders before deciding priorities, adding that he planned to “take his time.”

Congress has a long list of things to do in the coming weeks. He faces a Dec. 16 deadline to pass either a temporary funding bill to keep government agencies running at full capacity until early next year or a measure that keeps the lights on until Dec. 30. September, the end of the current fiscal year. Failure to pass any of them would result in partial government shutdowns.

The House has already passed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, and the Senate as early as this week was set to approve its slightly different version of the “Respect for Marriage Act.” The bill seeks to ensure that the US Supreme Court does not end same-sex marriage rights, which conservative Justice Clarence Thomas thought was possible when the court in June ended the nation’s abortion rights .

Another high-priority item is a bipartisan bill reforming how Congress certifies presidential elections, intended to avert a repeat of the violence of the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump who wanted to prevent lawmakers from certifying Biden’s victory.

Democratic leaders are also aiming to pass legislation accelerating permits for energy projects and providing more financial and military support to Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion.

Some Republicans have expressed reluctance to provide more financial support to Ukraine.

Progressive Democrats have balked at the prospect of the government stepping up the energy licensing process, encouraging the flow of fossil fuels to market even as Biden tries to hit tough targets to reduce the impact of the climate change.

Biden has suggested that licensing reform could be included in the National Defense Authorization Act, the annual bill funding the military that typically enjoys strong bipartisan support.

But maintaining the Senate majority for the next two years means there will be less pressure on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to confirm as many of Biden’s nominees for federal judgeships as possible before the end of the year.

There are 57 judicial nominees pending before the Senate, 25 of which have already been approved by the Judiciary Committee and are awaiting a decision by the full chamber.

The Senate has already confirmed 84 of Biden’s judicial nominees, essentially allowing it to keep pace with the near-record number of nominations Trump made over four years as he worked to shift the justice system to the right.

Reporting by Moira Warburton and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by David Lawder in New Delhi, Nandita Bose in Phnom Penh and Trevor Hunnicutt, Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone, Alistair Bell and Daniel Wallis

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