Business is booming.

With the outcome still in doubt, Congress opens an uncertain post-election session

WASHINGTON – Midterm election results that defied expectations and left Democrats in control of the Senate and House still up for grabs have skewed the agenda in Congress for the rest of the year, leaving lawmakers working to determine how much can be accomplished in a short shortly. year end, which opens on Monday.

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto’s victory in Nevada on Saturday guaranteed that Democrats would retain control of the Senate next year, easing pressure to spend the next few weeks filling judicial vacancies for President Biden. And regardless of which party wins control of the House, Congress must pass legislation to keep the government funded after a mid-December deadline and to set defense policy for the coming year.

But the prospect of a Republican takeover of the House of Representatives could prompt greater urgency among Democrats to act quickly in a so-called lame-duck session to raise the statutory debt limit and thus avoid a partisan showdown next year that could upset financial markets and put The full faith and credit of the United States at stake.

“It’s something we’ll be looking at over the next few weeks,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said Sunday about the possibility of addressing the debt ceiling in a stalled session.

A looming runoff in Georgia to decide the last remaining Senate seat could also shape the agenda, prompting Democrats to tailor it in any way to help Sen. Raphael Warnock, who faces Herschel Walker, his Republican opponent, on the 6 .December.

“It will take some time before lame-duck priorities are really set, given the uncertainty about the outcome of the election still,” said Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to Mr. Biden, on “Face the Nation” on CBS on Sunday. “I don’t think anyone would have predicted that we still wouldn’t know who would control the United States House of Representatives the following Sunday.”

The legislative romance will coincide with a season of jockeying for power on Capitol Hill, as lawmakers in both parties sort through the fallout from last week’s election and make consequential decisions about who will lead them in the next Congress. Both Republican leaders face potential challenges because of their party’s historically poor performance. Newly elected members of Congress began their orientation Sunday, flew to Washington and met their colleagues. Republicans to hold leadership election this week; Democrats will do it after Thanksgiving.

The issue of the debt ceiling is among the most pressing before Congress. House Republicans have suggested that, if they won the majority, they would use any vote to raise the nation’s legal borrowing limit – expected to be needed as early as next year – as a way to force Mr Biden to accept deep spending cuts and raise the prospect of a fiscal standoff.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested Sunday that Democrats might seek to take up the matter in the coming weeks, alluding in an interview with CNN to her work to “prepare for the lame duck, whether it’s the debt ceiling or whether it’s other legislation that is necessary for people as we move forward.”

Several Democrats have called for such a measure to pass in the post-election session, and Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has also pushed for Congress to act to mitigate the threat.

The issue could become part of a crowded lame-duck agenda that is also expected to include action on several bipartisan measures, including House-passed legislation to codify protections for same-sex marriage and a bill to overhaul the 135-year-old law , which former President Donald J. Trump tried to exploit to overturn the 2020 election.

As of early Sunday evening, neither party had secured the 218 seats needed for a majority in the House, and results in 19 districts had not yet been declared by The Associated Press. It has left the agenda right in limbo, with less than two dozen days of the legislative work planned before the end of the year. Congress is set to return to Washington on Monday for five days before a week-long Thanksgiving break.

“There are a lot of things that I know members want to try to accomplish before the end of the year,” said Senator Tina Smith, Democrat of Minnesota, pointing to an example of a bill that Mr. for Americans not on Medicare. “I have no doubt that the time frame of November and December will be extremely complicated.”

Lawmakers are still haggling over the annual defense authorization bill that would set priorities for the Pentagon and US military policy. A spending package — most likely stuffed with funding for projects championed by both retired and rank-and-file lawmakers — must become law by Dec. 16 to avoid a government shutdown.

Mrs. Dunn said the administration would also push for additional funding for Ukraine in its war against Russia, as well as disaster relief after hurricanes ravaged Puerto Rico and Florida.

“I honestly think there’s going to be a lot of weekends we’re still going to be in D.C.,” said Sen. Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, who ticked off a series of agriculture and veterans affairs legislation he aimed to push through. “And that’s okay with me. We’ll stay there until we get the job done.”

With Democratic lawmakers exulting that they had held off a wave of Republican challengers, Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, signaled that the group’s most liberal members were further emboldened to push for their priorities.

“We will put together our full agenda over the next week or so,” Ms. Jayapal told a news conference, pointing to an extension of an extended monthly payment to most families with children that lapsed last year and immigration reform as some opportunities before the end of the year.

However, any of those measures would require at least 10 Republican votes in the Senate if all 50 senators who caucus with Democrats remain united. And they would have to compete with a number of other bills and pet priorities of senior and outgoing lawmakers.

“It’s so hard to predict — as you know, these lame ducks, especially majority changes, can be lightning fast or they can go through mid-December,” said Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee , adding that he had discussed a tax policy package with his Democratic colleagues. “I feel there is an opportunity to make some good policy.”

Mr. Schumer has said he plans to bring legislation that would codify same-sex marriage protections to the Senate after delaying a vote before the midterms. He also promised Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a centrist Democrat now in 2024, that he would work to find a way forward to pass Mr. Manchin’s plan to streamline permitting for energy infrastructure and fossil fuel projects before the end of the year.

A bipartisan group of senators has called for a vote on legislation that would overhaul the vote-counting law and how Congress certifies election victories, in direct response to the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021. That measure is unlikely to gain significant support with a House Republican majority. And Ms. Jayapal and other lawmakers continue to push for legislation that would tighten national antitrust laws and tighten regulations on the biggest tech companies, which stalled in the Senate over the summer.

For now, much about the lame-duck session remains up in the air — including how power struggles in both parties will shake out. Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the New York Democrat widely seen as a potential successor to Ms. Pelosi, declined to speculate on the outcome and impact of his party’s leadership pick.

“As for the future, we will cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said, adding that his focus was on “making sure we can land the planes that are needed over the next few weeks to continue to get the people’s business.”