But so far, there has been little push in Congress to pass any strike-avoiding legislation with lawmakers returning from the Thanksgiving break on an already packed schedule.

There are several steps Congress has the authority to take to prevent a rail strike, something it has done 18 times since the 1960s. It could extend the so-called cooling off period, giving the parties more time to try to reach a voluntary agreement. before workers can go on strike. It could also impose on the workers a labor contract similar to the one already agreed upon by the labor leaders and the carriers or make modifications to said contract that could be more or less favorable to the workers or their employers.

Pelosi said the House would vote this week on legislation Biden is calling for, which would not make any changes to the current agreement.

“This week, the House of Representatives will take up a bill that adopts the Tentative Agreement, without poison pills or changes to the negotiated terms, and send it to the Senate,” he said in a statement after Biden’s.

The Republican leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, walked out of the White House meeting criticizing the need to pass legislation, but indicating he thought it would pass.

“I think it will pass, but it’s unfortunate that this is how we run our economy today,” McCarthy said.

But the biggest hurdle may be in the Senate, where Democrats and Republicans will have to unite to get the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster.

For Democrats, imposing a contract on workers would apparently go against the pro-union positions many have espoused throughout their careers and risk upsetting their key constituency of union members and labor leaders.

But it could also provide an opportunity for Democrats to step in and provide additional benefits to rail workers, such as paid sick days, though that would likely make it harder to win Republican support.

Senator Bernie Sanders blocked legislation in September that would have prevented a potential strike before a tentative agreement was reached, arguing that rail workers needed better sick leave.

As for Republicans, the prospect of a strike gives them an opportunity to criticize Biden for his handling of the economy and fan the flames of potential economic disruption that could hurt Democrats in the upcoming election. It could also give them an opportunity to weaken the contract negotiated with labor leaders, making it more favorable to the industry.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, the top Republican on the Commerce Committee, sounded optimistic.

«The president says he’s going to ask Congress to act, and I hope Congress supports that request,» he said.

Workers repair tracks at the Metra/BNSF rail yard in Chicago on September 13. File Scott Olson/Getty Images

‘Time to falter’

Companies have warned that closing the railways would quickly lead to cities running out of clean drinking water, fuel shortages and farmers unable to get feed for their livestock. It would also cause manufacturing in a variety of sectors to grind to a halt and cause port delays with trains unable to carry cargo off ships.

“If you look at the national damage that would occur even with a strike buildup, it’s just unsustainable and it’s about time Congress stepped in and sorted this out,” said John Drake, vice president for transportation and infrastructure. and Supply Chain Policy for the US Chamber of Commerce “They’re not going to have a choice, this is not something we have time to waver on. Congressional leadership is going to have to step in and take action and we’re going to need bipartisan support and, frankly, we’re out of time for political games. We need a solution now.»

More than 400 industry groups signed a letter to congressional leaders on Monday imploring them to act and warning that a strike would result in «some economic destruction.» The White House estimates that up to 765,000 Americans could be out of a job in the first two weeks of a strike.

«The only thing standing in the way of ensuring that the American economy doesn’t take a huge hit from a catastrophic rail strike is the United States Congress,» Mike Sommers, director of the American Petroleum Institute, said on a call. . with reporters. “We need to make sure that the United States Congress acts on this as quickly as possible to remove any threat of that economic calamity happening.”

julie tsirkin, Eli M Rosenberg Y frank thorp contributed.