Finance

Moderate Democrats press for score before vote on Biden package

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Moderate House Democrats are pushing for more information about the cost of the social spending package prior to a vote, which threatens to slow down the speed at which Democrats advance their economic agenda.

Several key lawmakers are demanding the scores, arguing that estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) or the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) are crucial to ensuring that the bill is “fiscally responsible.”

“We cannot lend our support to advancing the [Build Back Better] Act until we have had a chance to review these scores which provide the true cost of the legislation,” five House moderates wrote in a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) Tuesday that was obtained by The Hill.

It could take some time for the scorekeepers to provide that information, and a delay would hinder Democrats’ ability to this week pass the social spending bill and a separate bipartisan infrastructure measure already approved by the Senate. The latter bill is a top priority for moderates, some of whom are worried the social spending bill might come back to bite them in next year’s midterms.

If Democrats have to wait for more information from the CBO before voting, it would mark just the latest setback they’ve faced in advancing President Biden’s economic agenda at a time when his approval rating is underwater. Many Democrats had wanted the House to pass the infrastructure bill prior to Tuesday’s Virginia gubernatorial election.

Democrats are using a process called budget reconciliation to pass the social spending package in order to prevent a Republican filibuster in the Senate. Nearly every House Democrat and every Senate Democrat will have to vote for it for it to pass.

The House doesn’t need to have a CBO score before it votes on the package, while the Senate does under the budget reconciliation rules. House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) said Monday that it could take at least two weeks for the CBO to release estimates once the final bill text is out.

Even though it’s not required in the House, some moderate Democrats have expressed a desire to see the estimates prior to a vote.

“I think a CBO score is important,” Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), a member of the Blue Dog Coalition of centrist Democrats, said Monday. 

Costa said that because many changes have been made to the package recently, “I think a lot of us would feel a lot more comfortable with a CBO score.”

Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), who voted against a version of the package in the House Ways and Means Committee in September due to process concerns, has also long emphasized her desire for a CBO score.

“I think it’s really important on a package this size for us to have a CBO score before we take a vote,” she told reporters last month. “We have, because of COVID, already spent about $6 trillion roughly, and we need to approach this in a fiscally responsible manner and the only way to do that is to know how much this package costs.”

Murphy, a co-chair of the Blue Dogs, signed Tuesday’s letter, along with Reps. Ed Case (D-Hawaii), Jared Golden (D-Maine), Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.). 

In addition to asking for CBO or JCT estimates prior to a House floor vote, the lawmakers also asked for the final bill text to be released at least 72 hours before a vote.

“It is better to get this done right than to needlessly rush its consideration only for our constituents to discover the negative impacts of our unintended consequences,” the moderates wrote.

Other moderate Democrats have expressed openness to voting prior to the release of a CBO score but have said they want more information about the cost of the bill.

In remarks to The Hill on Monday, Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Ga.) said having a CBO score on the legislation before it’s brought to a vote in the lower chamber would be “optimal.”

“But I am willing, if I can get some numbers that I think are solid before that, I’m willing to take that into consideration,” she said. 

Bourdeaux also said there are a lot of members who “want to make sure the numbers are nailed down and make sure that we know what’s actually in the bill” before a vote. 

“So I think a lot of that can be accomplished very quickly, but remains to be seen,” she added.

Gottheimer said on CNN Tuesday he was hopeful that lawmakers would quickly receive budget data that will allow them to move forward.

He said that based on previously released CBO estimates, as well as forthcoming information from the JCT and the Treasury Department, “I’m optimistic that that data will give us what we need.”

On the Senate side, not only is a CBO score needed because of budget reconciliation rules, but it could also be critical to securing the votes of every Democratic senator. 

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a key moderate, indicated on Monday that he wants more details about the spending plan’s economic impact.

Manchin’s reluctance to back the spending package could make a vote in the House more difficult as well, because some House Democrats only want to vote on a bill that they know could also pass the Senate.

Some top House Democrats say they think the lack of a CBO score before a House vote won’t be an issue. Yarmuth called such calls “kind of a rationalization.”

“I think anybody who doesn’t think they have a pretty good idea of what the net investment of this bill is not really taking the time to look at it,” Yarmuth added.

Some say the push by moderates for a CBO score could backfire as they call on leadership to hold a vote on the infrastructure bill.

Progressives had vowed for months to block the bipartisan deal without the reconciliation plan, concerned about the fate of the larger social spending package if the physical infrastructure package is already passed.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said she believes a House vote on the infrastructure deal would likely be delayed if a vote on the reconciliation plan is held up in the lower chamber for the CBO score. 

“It seems that there are those who want to delay,” Schakowsky, a close ally of Pelosi, said.

“This is every excuse to stop the legislation from moving forward,” she added.

Tags Build Back Better Carolyn Bourdeaux CBO Climate change Ed Case Infrastructure Jan Schakowsky Jared Golden JCT Jim Costa Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Yarmuth Josh Gottheimer Kurt Schrader Nancy Pelosi Stephanie Murphy

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