U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, center, holds a news conference with Reps. James Clyburn, left, and Steny Hoyer, right, on Nov. 5, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Ariana Figueroa/States Newsroom)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Friday night forged ahead with votes on President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion physical infrastructure bill, as well as a procedural vote on his sweeping social spending package — though it was unclear if there would be enough support for passage of either.
The decision capped a day of turmoil over Biden’s domestic agenda, even as the president urged Democrats to back both bills Friday. But with few votes to spare in her 221-member caucus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has had to try to bridge a divide between centrist and progressive Democrats that has stalled passage of the plans for weeks.
The centrists this week said they wanted to hold off on a vote on the so-called Build Back Better plan until the Congressional Budget Office releases its report confirming the $1.85 trillion measure is fully paid for. The CBO is the independent scorekeeper for Congress.
Meanwhile, progressives said they want both Build Back Better and the physical infrastructure plan voted on at the same time. “If our six colleagues still want to wait for a CBO score, we would agree to give them that time —after which point we can vote on both bills together,” said House Progressive Caucus leader, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., in a statement Friday.
The Senate passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill in August, and if the House approves it, it would go to Biden for his signature. It is possible some House Republicans could vote in favor of it.
Pelosi, during a press conference late Friday afternoon, confirmed the votes coming later that night, one on the physical infrastructure bill and the other on the rule for the social spending bill.
The rule sets the terms for the debate of that bill, but it would still have to be passed separately by the House — something Pelosi said could be accomplished by Thanksgiving.
She added that Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina had the official whip count, but that “I have a speaker’s secret whip count.” She would not answer questions about whether she had secured the 218 votes needed to pass both measures.
Earlier in the day on Friday during an address to the nation, the president called on the House to vote on both bills.
“I’m asking every House member, member of the House of Representatives, to vote yes on both bills right now,” Biden said Friday. “Send the infrastructure bill to my desk. Send the Build Back Better bill to the Senate.”
But Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., wrote on Twitter Friday that “it’s not going to happen” that progressives would vote for the infrastructure bill without a guarantee that the Senate will pass Biden’s social safety net package.
Meanwhile, Republicans lobbed criticism at Democrats and demanded they slow the process down.
As the day began Friday, Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., made a motion to adjourn, but it was struck down, 219-207.
What made it notable was that Democratic leaders held the vote open for a record seven hours, a sign they were working to convince members to vote for the bills.
The massive social safety net package, slimmed down from its original $3.5 trillion, makes historic investments of $400 billion in universal pre-K for 3-and 4-year-olds and helps ease the cost of child care for families.
But it faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
One Senate Democrat, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, is opposed to the price tag, along with the House’s plan to include four weeks of paid parental and medical leave.
Still, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday he expected the chamber to vote on the social spending plan the week of Nov. 15.
Senators would be able to amend the House package before passing it. All 50 Senate Democrats would have to vote in favor for the measure to pass, meaning Manchin and other moderates would have the power to strip provisions they don’t support.
In addition to seeking a CBO score, House moderates, including Maine Democratic Rep. Jared Golden, raised objections to some of the social spending package’s contents.
In a Medium post Thursday, Golden said a provision to extend through 2022 the enhanced $3,600 cap on the child tax credit from its baseline of $2,000 was too generous to upper income brackets.
And a late-added provision dealing with deductions for state and local taxes from federal returns, a priority for New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer, would result in a huge tax break for the wealthy, Golden said.
Spokespeople for Golden and fellow moderate Democratic Reps. Stephanie Murphy of Florida, Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Henry Cuellar of Texas did not return messages seeking comment Friday
Pelosi touted a report released Thursday by the Joint Committee on Taxation, which found that the tax provisions in Biden’s social package could pay for the $1.85 trillion measure over 10 years.
However, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, found that the legislation will likely cost around $4 trillion as some programs scheduled to expire within a few years would likely be extended.
“Extending these policies could end up costing up to $2 trillion over the decade, or perhaps even more,” Maya MacGuineas, president of the think tank, said in a statement.
She suggested that instead of making certain programs temporary, such as universal pre-K, which has funding for six years, Congress should “swap out temporary proposals for permanent ones.”
The House’s version of Biden’s social safety net package also includes changes in immigration policy.
The provision would update the green card registry from 1972 to 2010, making undocumented people who entered the country before 2010 eligible for the cards that extend permission to reside and work in the U.S.
During a press conference Thursday, Pelosi said she was concerned that any immigration provisions that the House passed through reconciliation would be stripped out by the Senate parliamentarian, who has already shot down Democrats’ plans to create a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented people.
But she said she believed that the green card registry Democrats included would be accepted.
The Biden administration has also set aside $100 billion for immigration policies, which is separate from the social spending package, to help reduce immigration backlogs, assist processing at the border and expand legal representation.
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