Ways and Means to begin marking up $3.5T package

Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) speaks to reporters about the budget and infrastructure bill as he leaves a House Democratic Caucus meeting on Tuesday, August 24, 2021.
Greg Nash

The House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday will begin marking up parts of President Biden‘s $3.5 trillion budget plan, as the party continues its race against the clock to craft its massive social safety net package this month.

The committee has unveiled several legislative proposals it plans to take up as it commences its multi-day markup later this week, including universal paid family and medical leave, as well as expanding Medicare coverage to include dental, hearing and vision benefits.

The markup will kick off a complicated process for Democrats as they struggle to maintain a united front amid spending negotiations for the coming package, which the party hopes to pass using a process called reconciliation that allows them to bypass the Senate filibuster.

The committee’s portion of the package is expected to make up a significant chunk of the overall bill and will likely add fuel to already existing tensions between the different factions of the Democratic party over spending.

Democrats face opposition from some centrists in their party over the size of the package, and they are likely to find differences as they get more into the policy details as well. 

A senior Democratic aide acknowledged on Wednesday that the newly-unveiled legislation is a House product and not legislation agreed to by the White House and Senate Democrats, saying it reflects members’ “priorities as work continues behind the scenes to find a common approach between the House, Senate and White House.”

During the coming markup, Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said committee will be considering items like providing 12 weeks of universal paid family and medical leave for all workers and strengthening retirement savings that are popular in the party and are priorities for the left.

However, the panel, which serves as the lower chamber’s chief tax-writing committee, has yet to disclose major details on its plans in store for tackling the crucial portions of the reconciliation package pertaining to taxes.

While the party has promised tax relief for middle-class households as it pushes forward with ambitious spending plans, leadership has said they plan to pay for the social spending package by raising taxes on wealthy corporations and individuals.

The proposed tax hikes have emerged as a thorny issue for the party in recent months, and is expected to be source of contention within the party as it scrambles to finish drafting the $3.5 trillion plan.

Pressure is mounting on budget committee chairs to have their portions of the spending package finished drafting by Sept. 15. The chamber is expected to hold a floor vote on the legislation shortly thereafter.

Leadership faces a tall task in putting together legislation that moderates and progressives will both back, as the party can only afford less than a handful of defections in the House and none in the Senate with its narrow majorities.

In recent weeks, some moderate Democrats have expressed concerns about the proposed $3.5 trillion price tag associated with the package, as well as proposed corporate tax hikes. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) reportedly will only back a package of $1.5 trillion. Some progressives say the package should be larger than $3.5 trillion and that they have already compromised.

Last month, a group of moderate Democrats revolted against plans by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to delay passage on a Senate-approved bipartisan infrastructure package as she moved to set up a vote on a budget resolution that kickstarted the reconciliation process.

The standoff prompted the leader to strike a deal with the group of rebels that ultimately lead to the passage of the budget resolution, but also tied the chamber to a vote on the bipartisan deal for later this month.

The move comes as some progressives have threatened to block the nearly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal if the bill is brought to a floor vote before the reconciliation package, amid concerns over how the latter measure would fare if the bipartisan bill is already passed.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has spearheaded the push to expand Medicaid for months, acknowledged in a call on Wednesday that it is “no great secret” Democrats have had “disagreements” in both chambers as it works to come together on the reconciliation package.

However, despite differences in the party, leadership has maintained Democrats will stick to its self-imposed deadline to have the bill completed soon and sent to Biden for signature.

“We’re moving full-speed ahead. … We want to keep going forward,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Wednesday. “We think getting this done is so important.” 

Tags Bernie Sanders Chuck Schumer Joe Biden Joe Manchin Nancy Pelosi Richard Neal

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