September is crunch time for Democrats racing to realize President BidenJoe BidenGOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips Five House members meet with Taiwanese president despite Chinese objections Sunday shows preview: New COVID-19 variant emerges; supply chain issues and inflation persist 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 PelosiFive reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season Bipartisan success in the Senate signals room for more compromise The GOP's post-1/6 playbook is clear — and it's dangerous 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 ManchinBiden faces new pressure from climate groups after Powell pick Five ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan With extreme gerrymanders locking in, Biden needs to make democracy preservation job one MORE (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaPragmatic bipartisanship – not hard left intolerance – is Democrats' surest path back to power With extreme gerrymanders locking in, Biden needs to make democracy preservation job one Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season 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 SchumerSchumer mourns death of 'amazing' father Feehery: The honest contrarian Biden administration to release oil from strategic reserve: reports 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-CortezGOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips Greene: McCarthy 'doesn't have the full support to be Speaker' Omar calls out Boebert over anti-Muslim remarks, denies Capitol incident took place 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 ScottIndustry, labor groups at odds over financial penalties in spending package Historically Black colleges and universities could see historic funding under Biden plan Republican Winsome Sears wins Virginia lieutenant governor's race 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 NealHouse passes giant social policy and climate measure The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - House to vote on Biden social spending bill after McCarthy delay Democrats press toward vote on massive Biden bill 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 BradyEconomic growth rate slows to 2 percent as delta derails recovery Democratic retirements could make a tough midterm year even worse Yellen confident of minimum global corporate tax passage in Congress 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 ClintonFederal judge changes his mind about stepping down, eliminating vacancy for Biden to fill Joe Biden's gamble with history Can America prevent a global warming cold war? 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.”