Democrats inch closer to passing spending package

House Democrats on Monday inched closer to a pre-Thanksgiving vote on President BidenJoe BidenMan sentenced to nearly four years for running scam Trump, Biden PACs Dole in final column: 'Too many of us have sacrificed too much' Meadows says Trump's blood oxygen level was dangerously low when he had COVID-19 MORE’s sweeping social benefits and climate package, as Congress’s official scorekeeper issued new cost estimates demanded by a group of centrist holdouts and party leaders charged ahead with plans to bring the legislation to the floor before the weekend.

The two new fiscal reports, released by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), detailed only portions of the massive $1.75 trillion legislation. But they were accompanied by the announcement that the CBO also intends to wrap up its full budget-impact analysis by day’s end on Friday — a quicker timeline than previously suggested, and one raising the prospects that the House will move the measure this week. 

Centrist Democrats hailed the announcement — while stressing their demand for official word that the new wave of spending would not add to federal deficits. 

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“I’m waiting for the last handful of CBO scores to come in. I’ve always said it’s super important to me that it’s fully paid for,” moderate Rep. Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinThree dead, six wounded in Michigan school shooting Taiwan says it is capable of responding to repeated Chinese military missions Five House members meet with Taiwanese president despite Chinese objections MORE (D-Mich.) told The Hill on Monday. “Right now, the numbers look pretty good. But, you know, I come from a district that expects me to read every line. ... 

“I’m still undecided, and I have said that every which way to Sunday. My district expects me to be making independent decisions, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

The CBO developments came the same day that Biden, in a high-profile ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, signed into law the other piece of his two-part economic agenda: a $1.2 trillion bill designed to shore up the nation’s aging roads, bridges, water systems and other physical infrastructure. That package had passed through both chambers with bipartisan support, and it was championed by Democratic moderates looking to secure their bipartisan credentials ahead of tough reelection contests next year.

“My message to the American people is this: America is moving again, and your life is going to change for the better,” Biden said. 

The dual events marked an auspicious moment for the Democrats amid a marathon debate over Biden’s agenda that’s been dogged by internal clashes over the size, scope and strategy surrounding the enormous legislation. And it comes at a moment of growing uneasiness for the president, whose approval rating has plunged in the face of rising inflation, a turbulent labor market and a stubborn COVID-19 crisis that continues to threaten public health and undermine a fragile economic recovery.

House Democrats, stung by the recent trends and facing tough odds of keeping the chamber in next year’s midterm elections, are hoping the infrastructure victory will lend a lift to the larger social spending bill — and help boost vulnerable incumbents heading into those elections.

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“There’s a lot of momentum coming out with what the president’s doing today with the BIF and the fact that he invited all Congress to this,” Rep. Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoWith Build Back Better, Dems aim to correct messaging missteps Poll shows Sinema's popularity dropping further among Arizona Democrats Cornyn says he 'would be surprised' if GOP tries to unseat Sinema in 2024 MORE (D-Ariz.) told The Hill, referring to the bipartisan infrastructure framework. “I think he’s trying to set a tone of, ‘Hey, you know, we’re one team. Let’s get this done.’ And I think he’s going to ride that vibe.”

When Democratic leaders intend to bring the larger package to the floor remains unclear. The House is scheduled to leave Washington for a long Thanksgiving recess on Thursday — a day before the CBO has promised to deliver a full accounting of the legislation. And some Democrats are already calling for leadership to extend the calendar to accommodate the budget office. 

“I think we have to wait until we get the CBO score,” senior Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) told The Hill. “No matter when it comes, we need to wait on it.” 

That message is also coming from House GOP leaders, who had joined former President TrumpDonald TrumpNunes resignation sets off GOP scramble on Ways and Means Powell and Biden ought to mimic Volcker and Reagan's inflation solution Jan. 6 panel threatens Meadows with contempt MORE in opposing the infrastructure bill and are also expected to rally their conference in unanimous opposition to the larger, but more controversial, “family” benefits package. They’re warning that the wave of new spending would harm an already volatile economy. 

“Given its size, scope, given its unquestionable impact on American life, the American people deserve an honest, transparent debate about its true cost and contents,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyNunes resignation sets off GOP scramble on Ways and Means Senate GOP predicts it'll have 10 votes for debt deal Press: GOP freak show: Who's in charge? MORE (R-Calif.) said Monday in a speech on the House floor, characterizing the bills as a “socialist spending spree.” 

McCarthy’s warning came just as dozens of House and Senate lawmakers of both parties gathered at the Capitol and boarded buses, shuttles and vans that whisked them to the White House to celebrate Biden’s signing of the roads, bridges and broadband bill. But the Build Back Better package — and the task ahead — was on many of their minds. 

“I feel very confident that we’re going to get this done and across the finish line,” Rep. Joe NeguseJoseph (Joe) NeguseDearborn office of Rep. Debbie Dingell vandalized With Build Back Better, Dems aim to correct messaging missteps Democrats inch closer to passing spending package MORE (D-Colo.), a member of Democratic leadership, told The Hill as he boarded one of the shuttles. “Today’s a big day for the president, for the country, to deliver something that many presidents have tried and failed to do, which is a bipartisan infrastructure bill to rebuild our crumbling roads and bridges.”

Reflecting months of debate between the feuding Democratic factions, the $1.75 trillion family package features a slew of social safety net benefits and climate programs that party leaders have sought, in some cases, for decades. The list includes hundreds of billions of dollars to promote universal early education, create generous new child care subsidies, extend an existing child tax credit and expand health care services under Medicare, Medicaid and ObamaCare.

It also boasts more than $500 billion in programs to fight climate change, largely by encouraging a shift to green energy generation and the purchase of electric vehicles.

The CBO had previously issued cost estimates for provisions falling under the jurisdiction of six separate committees, and on Monday they added to that list, releasing scores for the Agriculture and Financial Services portions of the bill. 

Yet the legislation, even if it’s passed by the House this week, will face plenty of hurdles in the Senate, where several centrist Democrats — most notably Joe ManchinJoe ManchinWhite House: Biden would veto GOP resolution to nix vaccine mandate Second Senate Democrat to back vote against Biden vaccine mandate Minimum tax proposal drives wedge between corporate interests MORE (W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaBiden points to drug prices in call for Senate social spending vote The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Omicron tests vaccines; Bob Dole dies at 98 This week: Congress poised to go into December overtime MORE (Ariz.) — have balked at various provisions. Manchin, in particular, has been resistant to the inclusion of paid family leave, an expansion of Medicare benefits and provisions designed to reduce methane emissions — an issue with relevance in his fossil fuel-heavy state. 

Manchin has also expressed concerns that the $1.75 trillion price tag — even if it’s spread over 10 years — would exacerbate the spike in inflation. Ahead of Monday’s White House event, however, Manchin declined to weigh in on the nature of his support. 

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“We’ll be talking to everybody,” he said. “We’re looking at everything.”

 

Aris Folley contributed.