Democrats hit crunch time for passing Biden agenda

Democrats hit crunch time for passing Biden agenda
© Getty Images

September is crunch time for Democrats racing to realize President BidenJoe BidenHaiti prime minister warns inequality will cause migration to continue Pelosi: House must pass 3 major pieces of spending legislation this week Erdoğan says Turkey plans to buy another Russian defense system MORE’s legacy-defining economic agenda.

Over the next three weeks, House Democrats will be in a nonstop sprint to complete work on a sweeping $3.5 trillion reconciliation package that would dramatically expand America’s social safety net, revamp its tax and energy systems — and test the party’s unity one year before the high-stakes midterm elections.

More than a dozen House committees are rushing to finish drafting and marking up key sections of the massive package so they can send them to the Budget Committee by the Sept. 15 deadline set by Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: House must pass 3 major pieces of spending legislation this week Sunday shows preview: Pelosi announces date for infrastructure vote; administration defends immigration policies GOP should grab the chance to upend Pelosi's plan on reconciliation MORE (D-Calif.). She suggested Wednesday that the plan is on track.


“Our committees are working feverishly and diligently,” Pelosi said in the Capitol. “And we will be ready to fulfill the president's vision.”

They have their work cut out for them.

Democrats are already facing fierce resistance from powerful business interests — particularly over proposed corporate tax hikes — as well as from Republicans who are unanimously opposed to wide-scale government expansion. Complicating their task, Democrats are operating with razor-thin majorities in both chambers, leaving virtually no room for defections even as the party’s ideological factions are sniping over the policy particulars, including whether to expand certain health care benefits through Medicare or ObamaCare. Pelosi said Wednesday that they’ll do both.

“I think both will be present,” she said.

House lawmakers return to Washington from their long summer recess on Sept. 20, and leaders hope to bring the package to the floor by Sept. 27, the date Pelosi promised moderates that she’d hold a vote on a separate, Senate-passed infrastructure bill. But that deadline could slip as key centrists and progressives begin to battle over the size and scope of the reconciliation proposal.


Senate centrists — most vocally Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinCongress needs to gird the country for climate crisis Overnight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Poll from liberal group shows more voters in key states back .5T bill MORE (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaWhy Democrats opposing Biden's tax plan have it wrong House Democrats set 'goal' to vote on infrastructure, social spending package next week The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble MORE (D-Ariz.) — have balked at both the $3.5 trillion price tag, vowing to demand cuts, and the speed with which the Democrats want to move the enormous package. Manchin has asked leaders to “hit the pause button,” a request they’ve readily dismissed.

"We're moving full-speed ahead,” Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats press Schumer on removing Confederate statues from Capitol Democrats' do-or-die moment Biden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan MORE (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday.

Pelosi allowed that the price tag might come down in talks with the Senate — "We will have our negotiations,” she said — but also stressed that the House will stick with Biden’s $3.5 trillion figure initially.

“I don't know what the [final] number will be,” she said. “We are marking at $3.5 trillion, we're not going above that.”

The timing could be crucial to the success of Biden’s agenda. Last month, Pelosi and her leadership team struck a deal with House moderates guaranteeing a floor vote on the Senate’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill by Sept. 27, while liberals are warning they’ll sink that bipartisan proposal without assurances that the larger reconciliation package will pass the Senate.

“Many members of the Progressive Caucus simply will not vote for Sen. Manchin's infrastructure bill unless it is tied together with the Build Back Better Act so that we have an all-of-the-above approach,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezDon't let partisan politics impede Texas' economic recovery Ocasio-Cortez explains 'present' vote on Iron Dome Dingell fundraises off Greene altercation on Capitol steps MORE (D-N.Y.) told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Tuesday. "We aren't saying it's either your bill or our bill, but that both of these bills must move forward together — or neither will.”

Last week, a pair of House committees, the Natural Resources and the Oversight and Reform panels, began marking up their slices of the reconciliation package. A handful of other committees — including Education and Labor; Science, Space and Technology; and Ways and Means — are tackling their sections in public hearings beginning this week.

Under Chairman Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottWatchdog: 7 members of Congress allegedly failed to disclose stock trades Pressure builds on Democratic leadership over HBCU funding Democrats hit crunch time for passing Biden agenda MORE (D-Va.), the Education and Labor panel on Thursday will begin diving into their section of the package. It calls for funding universal pre-kindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds, guaranteeing two years of tuition-free community college and expanding child nutrition programs to fight child hunger. 

The Ways and Means portion is also a game changer.

The tax-writing committee, which kicks off a multiday markup on Thursday, has proposed legislation that calls for guaranteeing up to three months of paid family and medical leave for all workers; boosting pay for child care workers; expanding Medicare coverage to include dental, vision and hearing; requiring employers to automatically enroll their workers in IRAs or 401(k)-style retirement plans; and updating a key trade program, Trade Adjustment Assistance, that aids U.S. workers hurt by international competition.

“The Ways and Means Committee will put an end to the idea that only some workers are worthy of ‘perks’ like paid leave, child care, and assistance in saving for retirement, and finally commit to investments that make these supports fixtures of the American workplace,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealWhy Democrats opposing Biden's tax plan have it wrong Biden says he supports taxing billionaires' investment gains annually Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs MORE (D-Mass.) said in a statement.

Republicans are uniformly opposed to the package, warning that it’s chock-full of big-spending socialist programs. Texas Rep. Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradySunday shows preview: Pelosi announces date for infrastructure vote; administration defends immigration policies House panel advances key portion of Democrats' .5T bill LIVE COVERAGE: Ways and Means to conclude work on .5T package MORE, the top Republican on Ways and Means, slammed Democrats for using tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy to help pay for trillions in new spending.

“On Ways and Means Committee, you could easily see over $3 trillion of tax hikes and ... spending, which I would say is the largest expansion of the welfare state in most of our lifetimes,” Brady said on CNBC. “And I worry we will actually create a new era of dependency on government, one we actually moved away from under President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonFive takeaways from Arizona's audit results Virginia governor's race enters new phase as early voting begins Business coalition aims to provide jobs to Afghan refugees MORE.”

Democrats remain unmoved by the GOP criticisms, arguing that Biden is simply making good on his campaign promise to help the working class after decades of wage stagnation and growing inequality. They’ve deemed the reconciliation package a “transformative” reimagining of the government’s role in helping working families — help they say is only more vital amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a sort of a compressed challenge because people need help right away,” Pelosi said, “and we will get the job done.”