House Democrats warn delay will sink agenda
House Democrats of all stripes are pressing for quick action on the climate, health and education package at the heart of President Biden’s domestic agenda, warning that a long delay in revisiting the Build Back Better Act is the surest way to kill it.
The lawmakers are citing a host of reasons for their pleas of urgency, including the fast-approaching midterm elections, the desperate desire to give an unpopular president a big boost and the party’s fragile Senate majority that’s just one tragedy away from flipping to GOP control — a dynamic highlighted this week when Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) announced that he’s recovering from a stroke.
But the common theme is clear: Time, they say, is not on their side.
“There are great dangers involved in dragging it out, including all kinds of intersecting battles,” said Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee.
“I, and most members who have been involved in this, who have a stake in it, we have a sense of urgency,” he added. “It’s certainly not an impossible situation. But it’s gone on too long; there’s been too much focus on our internal [disagreements].”
Price has plenty of company.
Last week, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, urged Biden and Senate leaders to get moving on efforts to revive the Build Back Better Act or risk its failure this year, while Democrats still control both chambers of Congress. She proposed a specific deadline: March 1, in time for Biden to promote the bill’s many family benefits during his State of the Union address.
“This desperately needed relief cannot be delayed any longer,” she said.
In making their case, liberals like Jayapal are pointing to the economic strains facing families amid the long-running COVID-19 pandemic, including the rising cost of prescription drugs. Vulnerable incumbent Democrats, meanwhile, are eager to have a big legislative victory to take back to their districts ahead of November’s midterms. And environmentally minded lawmakers are warning that a failure to address climate change immediately will only make it harder — and more expensive — to do so in the future.
“The time is now, because the problems are now,” said Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.). “I don’t think it’s any particular date. But the answer is: today, tomorrow, the day after — as soon as we can get it done. Because … it gets more expensive and more difficult and we risk falling farther behind our competitors if we wait.”
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) ticked off a host of reasons why a delay is dangerous for Build Back Better supporters, not least the shrinking calendar heading into the midterms.
“Everybody knows there’s a point at which you get too close to the election to do big bills,” he said, adding that “there’s just a bunch of reasons why a four-corner offense is a bad strategy in the Senate.
“You’ve got to move it along.”
They have a difficult road ahead.
The House passed the $2.2 trillion Build Back Better package late last year, but it has stalled in the Senate, where the moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) has balked at such a massive spending package in the face of skyrocketing inflation and a national debt that just topped $30 trillion.
Manchin had been in talks for months with the White House and congressional leaders in hopes of finding a compromise he could support. But on Tuesday, he deflated hopes that such an agreement is imminent, saying there are no discussions happening at the moment.
“It’s dead,” he told reporters in the Capitol.
The comments have infuriated House Democrats, who were already frustrated with the West Virginia centrist for single-handedly blocking a central plank of Biden’s domestic platform. Some are wondering if Manchin ever had an interest in supporting the legislation at all.
“It’s hard to get inside his head. If I thought he had a strategy, I’d be more comfortable. But I don’t know if he does; he’s just trying to be in the way,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.).
“It raises a lot of questions as to whether there’s anything he would actually be willing to do,” he added. “He’s going to have to show that he’s willing to be for something. And I don’t know why that’s such a hard calculation for him to make.”
To entice Manchin’s support, House Democrats across the spectrum have acknowledged the need to cut a number of provisions from their $2.2 trillion package if they’re to have any chance of getting it through the Senate and to Biden’s desk — cuts they say they’re willing to make.
“I’ve heard the Speaker and others say, ‘This is an agenda that’s big and broad, but if there are pieces that he’s for, we’ll do it,’” Kildee said, referring to Manchin.
Manchin has been nebulous about his demands, suggesting he’s interested in a deal one day and lashing out at reporters for seeking updates the next.
Still, both Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have made getting some version of Build Back Better enacted a top priority this year. With that in mind, House Democrats remain optimistic that something will be done, even if they don’t know yet what it will be.
“I don’t know what the deal’s going to look like, but I don’t think in principle it is a multiweek, complicated deal,” Price said. “It’s a matter of getting agreement with the key people on the key points.”
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