Pelosi dares Democrats with plan for votes on Biden agenda

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D- Calif., speaks during her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)
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Erik Wasson and Laura Davison Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is attempting to line up consequential votes next week on President Joe Biden’s economic agenda, making a high-stakes wager that warring Democratic factions won’t sink the bills if their competing demands aren’t met.

At stake is the fate of the most significant investment in domestic programs in decades, totaling as much as $4 trillion in new spending on social programs like child care and elder care, as well as roads, bridges and other physical infrastructure.

Still, some Democrats on Friday expressed skepticism that their differences would be resolved so quickly.

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Democratic leaders in both chambers for weeks have been navigating deep divisions between the party’s progressives and moderates, who differ on the size and scope of the larger of the two packages, a budget reconciliation bill totaling as much as $3.5 trillion.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said early Friday that a House vote on the tax and social spending plan, worth as much as $3.5 trillion, next week was possible.

“That’s the plan,” Pelosi said.

While a critical step in the process, the move may not be enough to persuade progressive lawmakers who are the strongest supporters of the legislation to back a separate vote expected Monday on a bipartisan infrastructure bill. Biden on Friday cautioned that time will be needed to determine the outcome of his agenda later this year.

Hoyer said the House may not actually complete work on the $550 billion infrastructure bill on Monday, an acknowledgment of the political difficulty ahead.

“We’ll have to see how the debate goes on Monday,” Hoyer said.

The roads-and-bridges bill has bipartisan support and has already passed the Senate, but House progressives have said they would block it if the larger package of social programs and tax increases does not receive a vote first. Progressives’ support for the infrastructure bill is likely vital for its passage through the closely divided House.

Pramila Jayapal, the Washington state representative who chairs the House Progressive Caucus, said the planned House vote on the reconciliation bill doesn’t meet her demands or allow her members to vote yes on infrastructure. She said Friday that the infrastructure bill “will fail” on Monday if it’s brought up, and continued to condition her support for it on confidence that the Senate would pass the reconciliation bill.

Assurances from Biden would be insufficient, Jayapal added, demanding agreement with Senate Democrats “signed in blood.”

There were signs Friday that progressives were at least hopeful that deals could be struck over the weekend.

Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, a staunch Jayapal ally, said the situation in the the caucus is “not as tense” as it was several weeks ago.

“There has to be strategy, movement in order for us to be able to get what we all want,” Omar said. “And I trust the speaker will come up with the best strategy forward.”

The House Budget Committee has scheduled a rare Saturday session to approve the tax and spending package and forward it along to the House Rules Committee, which governs floor debate. That panel’s chairman, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, said his committee could consider it as soon as Tuesday, which would line up a mid-week vote.

That schedule would put the vote on the so-called reconciliation package on a path for a final vote by mid-week.

Pelosi had promised moderates last month that the House would vote on the infrastructure bill by Sept. 27. On Friday, California Representative Jim Costa, a member of the moderate Blue Dog coalition, warned there would be a big problem if the bill doesn’t receive a final vote Monday.

Costa and other moderates, meanwhile, don’t want to take what could be a difficult vote on the reconciliation package — as the bigger, social-spending bill is known — until it’s clear it can pass the Senate.

Costa said he reiterated that long-held stance to Pelosi on the House floor on Friday. Pelosi, he said, assured him that the reconciliation bill the House ultimately votes on would have the support of 51 senators.

For that to happen, every member of the Senate Democratic caucus would have to support the reconciliation bill in the face of united GOP opposition. Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have balked at the $3.5 trillion price tag. Manchin has said he wants a package closer to $1.5 trillion.

Costa said he made clear to White House staff Thursday night he won’t support “regressive” tax increases and he has concerns about inflation.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida, a moderate Democrat, said she will only support a bill that has been “pre-conferenced” with the Senate. She questioned whether that could happen next week.

“It would take an awful lot of work and I certainly hope that that is happening right now,” Murphy said. “That those conversations are happening with members who have expressed concerns in the Senate as well as in that, in the House.”

Biden on Friday urged the public to have patience with the process, saying the full impact of his agenda won’t be felt until later in the year.

“I don’t expect this to be done, and us be in a position where we can look back and say, ‘Okay, did we get it done?,’ until basically the end of the year,” he said at the White House. “This is a process, and it’s going to be up and down.”

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