House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is gearing up for a vote this week on President Biden’s multitrillion-dollar social welfare legislation, but strong divisions remain among Democrats over the size and scope of the final bill.
“I’m so happy that hopefully this week we will be passing Build Back Better [legislation] to get tax cuts to America’s working families, to create millions of more jobs, to lower health care costs, and all of it paid for by making everyone pay his or her own fair share,” the California Democrat said.
The multi-trillion-dollar social welfare and climate change bill has stalled in recent weeks because of divisions among Democrats, specifically the refusal of House moderates to back the measure without knowing its full cost.
Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and other centrist Democrats say nothing short of in-depth analysis from the Congressional Budget Office will garner their support. Mr. Gottheimer and his allies have already once blocked Mrs. Pelosi from holding a vote on the bill because such data was unavailable.
“I’m optimistic that data will give us what we need,” Mr. Gottheimer said. “Obviously we’ve got to see it first, but that’s the kind of information I think we should see to responsibly make a decision.”
Far-left Democrats, including the 98-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, have pushed back on the calls for a proper CBO analysis. They argue that lawmakers have waited long enough to deliver a win for Mr. Biden’s domestic agenda.
CPC Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal, Washington Democrat, argued that progressives had already compromised with moderates by voting to pass Mr. Biden’s infrastructure legislation.
In exchange for their votes, progressives received a concession from Mr. Gottheimer and moderates that a vote on the social welfare bill would happen during the week of Nov. 15.
Ms. Jayapal said progressives would hold moderates to the agreement regardless of how much information on the bill is available from the CBO.
“The agreement we made with our colleagues was not for [a full] CBO score. It was for some additional financial information from CBO,” Ms. Jayapal said. “Agreement also says that in no event would the vote take place later than the week of Nov. 15. We trust our colleagues’ commitments.”
Moderate Democrats, to date, have remained mum on whether the CBO’s analysis will be enough to sway their support.
Mrs. Pelosi can only afford to lose three Democrats on any single vote. Six far-left lawmakers voted against the infrastructure bill earlier this month, but those defections were offset by 13 House Republicans voting in favor.
Future legislation, especially partisan measures like the social-welfare bill, cannot rely on GOP support.
The standoff might come to naught, however.
CBO Director Phillip Swagel announced Monday that the agency would have a full accounting of the bill by the end of the week.
“The Congressional Budget Office anticipates publishing a complete cost estimate … by the end of the day on Friday,” Mr. Swagel said.
The emphasis on proper vetting by the CBO comes as House Democrats have significantly expanded the original framework for the package that was released by Mr. Biden last month.
Mrs. Pelosi has reinserted paid leave and an overhaul of Medicare prescription drug pricing to the proposal, even though such provisions were explicitly cut by the White House over opposition from lawmakers in the Senate.
House Democrats have also added an expansion of the state and local tax deduction, which mainly benefits wealthy residents in high-tax blue states such as New York and California.
Despite the additions, Mrs. Pelosi has continued to claim the package will only cost $1.75 trillion with another $100 billion for an illegal-immigrant amnesty contingent upon approval from the Senate parliamentarian.
The immigration component will have to pass the Senate’s referee because Democrats plan to move the package using a party-line process known as budget reconciliation.
The process allows some spending measures to avert the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster threshold and pass via simple majority.
Given that the Senate is split 50-50 and Democrats only hold the majority because of Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote, the reconciliation bill has to be acceptable to almost every member of Mr. Biden’s party.
That feat might be impossible due to the ideological divisions between moderate and progressive Democrats.
Complicating matters is that any reconciliation bill that moves past the House will be dead on arrival within the Senate.
In that chamber, two moderate Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, hold the balance of power. Both lawmakers have shown an increasing willingness to gut provisions from the spending bill and draw red lines for their support.
“We will be talking to everybody,” Mr. Manchin said. “We will look at everything.”
• Haris Alic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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