House eyes vote as soon as Thursday on Biden spending plan as moderate Democrats continue to question costs

Source: By Tony Romm, Marianna Sotomayor and Mike DeBonis, Washington Post • Posted: Thursday, November 4, 2021

A new analysis of one of the measures, a $1.75 trillion proposal, reflects Democrats’ contention that it is fully paid for, Pelosi said Thursday

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) arrives to a House Democratic caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday. (Samuel Corum/Bloomberg)

House Democrats are angling to vote as soon as Thursday on a $1.75 trillion measure to overhaul the country’s health care, education, climate, immigration and tax laws, provided that the party can muscle through its last-minute political feuds and renewed concerns about the bill’s cost.

Responding to reporters at her weekly news conference, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sought to project an air of progress: She stressed that Democrats are closing in on consensus around the package and now are trying to rally votes for the initiative as well as a second, parallel bill to fund improvements to the nation’s infrastructure.

Pelosi declined to outline an explicit timeline for action. Yet House leaders still took early steps to alert Democrats that votes could come before day’s end, marking a potential major milestone for President Biden’s economic agenda only hours after lawmakers released a new version of their 2,135-page proposal.

“I’m ready to go — most people are ready to go,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.). “If we wait until absolutely everybody is in agreement at precisely the same moment, I worry that we’re going to be waiting forever.”

In the meantime, some moderate-leaning Democrats raised fresh concerns about the accelerated speed at which the House now seeks to move on the $1.75 trillion spending initiative. Roughly a dozen centrists told party leaders in recent days they need more time to study the revised bill, evaluate its fiscal impact, address policy issues including immigration and ensure the full package actually can pass the Senate, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private talks.

The sources cautioned the situation is rapidly changing, and moderates’ reasons for concern appear to vary. Many members do not necessarily appear opposed to the spending initiative, people familiar with their thinking said, they just want more time to process its implications.

Some of the data that may assuage centrists arrived Thursday: An official score released by the Joint Committee on Taxation, which analyzes the revenue effects of legislation on Capitol Hill, found that the bill would raise about $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years.

The tally reflects Democrats’ plans to impose a new minimum tax on corporations and a new surtax on millionaires to pay for a wide array of new spending. It does not factor in other provisions, including Democrats’ aim to negotiate drug costs under Medicare and empower the Internal Revenue Service to pursue unpaid taxes. Party lawmakers say the tax-enforcement provisions alone could capture another $400 billion, which, combined with the rest of the revenue raisers, offer an “objective view that it is solidly paid for,” Pelosi said.

The legislative frenzy reflected Democrats’ new vigor to adopt Biden’s agenda in the wake of an adverse election in Virginia and a too-close-for-comfort victory in the New Jersey gubernatorial contest. Some believe Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe might have prevailed in Virginia’s gubernatorial race if only he could have pointed to his party’s accomplishments in Washington, especially the passage of infrastructure legislation.

Pelosi said she could not assess either way if inaction on Capitol Hill had soured the party in the eyes of voters. But, she stressed: “Getting the job done, producing results for the American people, is always very positive.”

The Senate on Thursday also pledged it plans to accelerate its efforts. Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) opened debate on the chamber floor by noting his hope that lawmakers can complete work on Biden’s spending agenda “before Thanksgiving.”

“We are going to keep pushing to get these great policies over the finish line,” he said.

First, however, the House needs to finalize its work on the $1.75 trillion bill, sorting through a wide array of simmering policy disputes, including unease among Democrats over how to handle immigration. The newly revised bill would allow the government to “parole” undocumented immigrants by giving them five-year work permits that shield them from deportation. But Democrats severely scaled back their original plan, which would have provided immigrants a pathway to citizenship.

The change initially troubled some liberals, though party lawmakers increasingly seem open to it as part of a broader effort to coalesce around a swift House vote.

“This is just the battle. This isn’t the end of the war when it comes to immigration,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) on Thursday. “There are so many things in this bill that will benefit immigrant families that we just can’t lose it all because of this one issue.”

Resolving these and other battles is critical, since any delay in bringing the measure before the House would further stall a second, separate effort to improve the nation’s roads, bridges, pipes, ports and Internet connections. The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill has been stuck in the House since it passed the Senate in August, as liberals have held up its adoption while they seek to negotiate the rest of Biden’s spending priorities with centrists including Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). The left-leaning bloc has said both bills must move in tandem to win their critical support, a position Pelosi appeared to affirm Thursday.

Asked if she would move infrastructure alone, she tersely replied: “No.”

But the speaker’s approach at times has rankled moderates within her own caucus. The first hints of their frustrations emerged earlier this week, when lawmakers including Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), a leader of the Blue Dog Coalition, sent a letter to Pelosi essentially asking for more time to review the still-forming legislation. Murphy and her allies requested at least 72 hours to review the legislative text once it was finalized and signaled they would not be ready to vote for a bill unless they had in hand a full accounting of its costs and funding mechanisms.

“While we understand the needs of the nation are great, we believe our job as legislators is to provide the due diligence required to properly serve our constituents,” wrote Murphy and coalition members including Reps. Ed Case (Hawaii), Josh Gottheimer (N.J.), Kurt Schrader (Ore.) and Jared Golden (Maine).

By Thursday morning, only one of the government’s two official budget keepers — the Joint Committee on Taxation — had publicly released any analysis of the bill. The second, the Congressional Budget Office, had not yet released its data. But the favorable numbers did appear to assuage at least some centrists in the House.

“I’m comfortable that we will eventually have a CBO score,” Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.), a member of the Blue Dog Coalition. “So far, the indications are that the pay-fors are there for what we want to accomplish.”

In doing so, some moderates earlier this week also pointed to Pelosi’s prior promise, that she would only call the bill for a vote once it had been hashed out with the Senate. Manchin repeatedly has sought to whittle down Democrats’ spending proposal, which once carried a price tag that is roughly twice its current amount.

Pelosi, however, appeared ready to defy that commitment in recent days. In one prominent example, the speaker said Wednesday that Democrats would include in their $1.75 trillion bill a proposal to provide paid family and medical leave to millions of Americans who otherwise do not have it. The proposal is one Manchin has sought to remove from the package, putting the House on a collision course with the Senate.

Pelosi appeared circumspect in addressing the matter Thursday, telling reporters, “I think this is appropriate legislation.”