Equilibrium & Sustainability

Democrats bullish they’ll reach finish line this week

House Democrats are increasingly bullish that they will pass their social spending and climate package this week, saying they’ll rally the support of wary moderates who want more information on the measure’s cost before voting for it.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday that the bill will hit the floor Wednesday for debate, and receive a vote as soon as Thursday, though the timeline could slip to Friday or Saturday. The vote is expected to come after the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) releases additional reports gauging the cost of the legislation.

A handful of centrists have withheld their support for the $1.75 trillion package while awaiting more “fiscal information” from the CBO, but they’ve stopped shy of demanding a comprehensive estimate from Congress’s official scorekeeper.

That nuanced distinction has left both the moderates and party leaders with some wiggle room in the debate, and key lawmakers are already indicating they’re ready to back the legislation without a final CBO score.  

Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) told reporters on Tuesday that he doesn’t need the CBO’s full “interactive score” on the package in order to feel comfortable voting for the bill, though he does want to see the provisional estimates.

“We’re trying to be team players but be able to defend our vote back home,” he said.

Such concessions have led Democratic leaders to voice growing optimism.

“It’s going to pass,” Hoyer said.  

House Democrats are facing pressure to send the measure to the Senate quickly.

Congress is taking next week off for Thanksgiving, and lawmakers have a host of other issues they will need to address after the holiday, including funding the federal agencies and lifting the debt limit.

The White House contends the spending and tax cuts are fully offset, through tax increases on the wealthy and corporations, increased funding for the IRS to target tax cheats and new savings in federal prescription drug programs.

The moderate Democratic holdouts want to see if the CBO agrees with the White House’s assertions. Five moderates — Schrader and Reps. Ed Case (Hawaii), Josh Gottheimer (N.J.), Stephanie Murphy (Fla.) and Kathleen Rice (N.Y.) — committed to voting for the spending bill once they saw more information from the CBO, but no later than this week, as part of a deal with progressives earlier this month.

The CBO started releasing estimates about sections of the bill last week and said it expects to release the remaining estimates by the end of Friday.

Democratic leaders have suggested that the House could vote prior to the release of the full score, for the simple reason that the moderates’ earlier statement didn’t demand it.

“The statement that was issued by some of our colleagues within the caucus on this point was that they’re looking forward to additional information from the CBO. It didn’t necessarily reference a CBO score,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said during a news conference Tuesday.

Still, moderates have indicated that they want to see all of the bill section estimates that have yet to come out, which could take until the end of the week.

Murphy said Tuesday that the outstanding bill sections cover important issues, including climate change, immigration, taxes and drug pricing.

“All of those things are important to me, and I’d like to see what the estimates say,” she said.

In a development that bodes well for a vote this week, there are some signs that moderates may not seek to hold up the bill if the CBO finds that it would add to the deficit.

The CBO is likely to suggest that a provision to provide the IRS with an additional $80 billion over a decade will raise considerably less money than the Biden administration’s estimate $400 billion. In September, the CBO estimated that a similar IRS funding proposal would produce $120 billion in savings.

CBO Director Phillip Swagel said during an event Monday that other analyses give a lot of weight to the idea that increasing IRS enforcement funding should deter people from not paying taxes. However, the research on this notion is “very mixed,” he said.

Some moderates on Tuesday indicated that a smaller number on the amount the IRS provision might raise could force negotiators back to the bargaining table.

“The thing’s got to be paid for, so we’ll probably have to make adjustments,” said Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.).  “We take the numbers good and bad from the CBO.”  

But other moderate lawmakers said they expect the CBO’s estimate of the IRS funding provision to differ from the White House figure, which could signal that even a large disparity might not be a deal-breaker.

“I think we for a long time have understood that there is a discrepancy between Treasury’s analysis of the revenues that come from tax enforcement and what CBO’s number is,” Murphy said.

Gottheimer told reporters Monday that he agrees with the White House that the IRS provision would raise more money than the CBO is likely to estimate. The lawmaker elaborated on his position on Tuesday, saying on Twitter that the Treasury Department’s estimate is, “if anything, too conservative.”

“We have consistently used US Treasury estimates for the savings from IRS enforcement, because Treasury and IRS have the experience to estimate the direct and indirect effects of compliance activities,” he tweeted.

There are also moderates who have signaled they’re prepared to vote for the package even if the CBO says it isn’t fully paid for.

Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) said he could see himself voting for the legislation this week even if he had some concerns about it, because the bill is likely to undergo changes in the Senate.

“So, I may vote for a measure before the end of this week that I have concerns about. But if I have a fairly high degree of feelings that it’s going to be changed and modified in some fashion, then I would be willing to, as I have in previous measures, [vote] for things that I know are going to come back differently,” he said.

Tags Build Back Better Climate change Ed Case Hakeem Jeffries Jim Costa Josh Gottheimer Kathleen Rice Kurt Schrader Scott Peters Steny Hoyer Stephanie Murphy

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