House Democrats aim for Thursday vote on social spending package

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Democrats are aiming to vote on their social spending package later Thursday, with a Friday vote on the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill, as they race to break an impasse on President Biden’s stalled domestic agenda.

It’s not yet clear if Democratic leaders will be able to round up the votes in their caucus, since some centrists want more time to review the legislative text and wait for a cost analysis from the Congressional Budget Office. 

But Democrats emerged from a closed-door whip meeting in the Capitol saying the divisions that have prevented an agreement were falling away, and lawmakers were “un-circling the firing squad,” in the words of Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.).  

“Hopefully we’ll see if we have votes for [Build Back Better] tonight and [the bipartisan infrastructure bill] tomorrow morning,” Pelosi said during a closed-door meeting with her vote-counting operations, according to a source familiar with her remarks.

The votes would come just two days after Democrats lost the race for governor in Virginia, where the party hadn’t come up short in a statewide race since 2009. Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy also only narrowly hung onto his seat in a race that wasn’t expected to be as competitive.

Pelosi acknowledged that Tuesday was “not a good night” for the party. And the Speaker, who had sought a vote on the infrastructure legislation last week only to be rebuffed by her liberal wing, softly chided those progressives on Thursday, saying passage of that bill likely would have helped Democrats in state races across the country.

“It would have been better if we’d had it,” she said.

Putting Biden’s roughly $1.75 trillion social and climate spending package on the floor without support from key Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) represents a change in tactics for Pelosi and her team. She and the White House have been furiously working for weeks to strike a deal with Manchin on Build Back Better, but this week the centrist senator slammed Biden’s framework as full of “budget gimmicks” and urged his party to pump the brakes after Tuesday’s election drubbing in Virginia.

Many House Democrats now believe Manchin will never verbally voice support for a package and that voting on their own House bill is the only way to put pressure on Manchin and break the intraparty stalemate.  

“Manchin’s not going to give a blood oath, so let’s just put it out there,” House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), a member of Pelosi’s leadership team, told The Hill on Thursday. “Everyday we delay, we empower Manchin more.”

In bringing the vote without Manchin’s public endorsement, House Democrats have also challenged the West Virginia moderate with new policies he’s previously rejected: paid family leave and hearing coverage under Medicare are both included in an amended version of the package unveiled by the House Rules Committee on Wednesday.

“We hope that he will see the light of day,” Pelosi said of Manchin. 

Other provisions in House Democrats’ bill are also at risk of reversal in the Senate. The latest House version would raise the state and local tax deduction cap to $72,500, and keep that limit in place through 2031. But Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are proposing to leave the cap at $10,000 but create an exemption for taxpayers with income under around $400,000.

Democratic leaders are hoping that an analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) showing that the revenue provisions in the social spending package would raise nearly $1.5 trillion over 10 years will satisfy at least five centrist budget hawks demanding a detailed cost analysis before they cast any votes.

Pelosi on Thursday touted the JCT report as “validating” evidence that the package “is solidly paid for.” The Speaker also noted that party leaders have been keeping the CBO abreast of all updates and amendments to the legislation, saying the official cost estimate should arrive quickly since the new language “is not new to them.”  

“This shouldn’t take long to get,” she said. 

Despite the optimistic front, a number of policy sticking points remain even among House Democrats. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) emerged from Thursday’s meeting voicing concerns with provisions designed to rein in methane emissions — a key part of Biden’s effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent, relative to 2005 levels, by 2030.  

A handful of members of the Hispanic Caucus have also balked at the idea of supporting a final package without the inclusion of broader immigration benefits.

Pelosi on Thursday acknowledged the importance of getting immigration language into the legislation, but said it would be limited to the so-called parole option included in the last draft of the House bill. That provision would offer undocumented immigrants the potential to receive two, five-year passes to live and work in the United States without fear of deportation. 

But it does not offer permanent residency, and immigration reformers have pushed for that option by including the so-called registry proposal. Pelosi offered support for the registry policy, but said she won’t include that language in the House bill without iron-clad assurances that it could pass through the Senate. 

“It doesn’t seem to have a big prospect in the Senate,” she said. “So we don’t want to ask members to vote for something that wouldn’t have a good prospect on the Senate [side] that is controversial.” 

Democrats cautioned that the plans to vote on both bills this week are still tentative.

“Nothing’s firm right now,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), the leader of the New Democrat Coalition. “[Pelosi] just said she’s still going to try to get both of them this week.”

—Updated at 12:55 p.m.

Tags Bernie Sanders Biden infrastructure Bob Menendez Build Back Better Build Back Better Act Infrastructure spending Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Yarmuth Joint Committee on Taxation Juan Vargas Nancy Pelosi social spending social spending bill Suzan DelBene

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