Democrats ultimately did not achieve the Thursday vote that they had initially hoped to hold. But they still ended the long day on track to bring the $1.75 trillion bill to the House floor as soon as Friday. The timetable would allow them to turn next to a separate, parallel bill to improve the nation’s infrastructure, which they also hope to adopt before the end of the week.
The marathon stretch of legislating began with Pelosi striking a positive note, stressing to reporters that Democrats had made significant progress in resolving some of the thorny policy battles that have long divided them. Months of internecine bickering among the party’s liberal and moderate ranks had produced a newly retooled $1.75 trillion measure, which Pelosi and her top aides believed could come soon to the House floor.
To bring it closer to that vote, however, Pelosi and her fellow Democratic leaders still had to navigate a slew of unresolved issues, some of which have plagued the party for months. Some lawmakers remained uncomfortable with the bill over the way it handles certain policy issues, including immigration, and they huddled privately with the speaker on the House floor and in her office try to hammer out a resolution.
A handful of moderates, meanwhile, requested more time to study its budgetary impact and address potential roadblocks that the bill might later encounter in the Senate. With some suggesting they were not yet ready to vote for the measure, Pelosi presented them with data showing the bill would not add to the deficit.
By late Thursday, the sum total of Democrats’ efforts appeared to put them on the verge of a breakthrough. Writing her caucus, Pelosi said that they were nearing a final version of the bill with the imminent goal of taking a critical, first procedural step toward bringing it to the floor. The developments came not a moment too soon for some Democrats, who had grown exasperated by the slog of the debate in recent days.
“I’m ready to go — most people are ready to go,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.). “If we wait until absolutely everybody is in agreement at precisely the same moment, I worry that we’re going to be waiting forever.”
The renewed legislative frenzy reflected Democrats’ new vigor for adopting Biden’s agenda in the wake of an adverse gubernatorial election in Virginia and a too-close-for-comfort victory in New Jersey. Some say Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe might have prevailed in Virginia’s race if only he could have pointed to his party’s accomplishments in Washington, especially the passage of infrastructure legislation.
Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, Pelosi said she could not assess whether inaction on Capitol Hill had soured the party in the eyes of voters. But, she stressed: “Getting the job done, producing results for the American people, is always very positive.”
The Senate on Thursday also pledged to accelerate its efforts. Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) opened debate on the chamber floor by noting his hope that lawmakers can complete work on Biden’s spending agenda “before Thanksgiving.”
“We are going to keep pushing to get these great policies over the finish line,” he said.
First, however, the House needed to finalize its work on the $1.75 trillion bill, sorting through a wide array of simmering policy disputes, including unease among Democrats over how to handle immigration. The newly revised bill would allow the government to “parole” undocumented immigrants by giving them five-year work permits that shield them from deportation.
Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus mounted a late attempt to secure a pathway for those immigrants to obtain citizenship, much as Democrats had proposed in their original spending legislation. Lawmakers including Reps. Jesús “Chuy” García, Lou Correa and Adriano Espaillat huddled late Thursday night for more than an hour with Pelosi, after which Garcia said they would not seek to rewrite the immigration section.
House leaders earlier had told the bloc of lawmakers that there would be no more changes to that portion of the bill, as the debate prepares to shift to the Senate, where the future of its immigration provisions remains at the mercy of the chamber’s parliamentarian. Because Democrats are trying to pass the bill under a special budget process that prevents the legislation from being filibustered, it can only contain provisions that primarily affect government spending or tax policy. The parliamentarian has already said an earlier immigration proposal did not comply with these rules.
“This is just the battle. This isn’t the end of the war when it comes to immigration,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) on Thursday. “There are so many things in this bill that will benefit immigrant families that we just can’t lose it all because of this one issue.”
A separate skirmish arose over a plan to lift a cap on the state and local tax deduction. Democrats representing high-costs cities and states, including California and New Jersey, have pushed most for the policy — troubling other party lawmakers who see it as a tax cut that chiefly would benefit the wealthy.
By Thursday night, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and others pushing to rethink the policy known as SALT had not yet resolved the dispute in a way that might satisfy critics across the Capitol, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who this week put forward a more limited proposal. But Gottheimer and other advocates, including Rep. Tom Suozzi, did agree to a new proposal that would raise the SALT deduction cap to $80,000 until 2031, after which it would be reimposed at $10,000, according to two people familiar with the plan who requested anonymity to describe the private talks.
And Democrats further agreed to tweaks to satisfy moderates including Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) on the contentious issue of drug pricing reform. The new agreement essentially delayed the ability of Medicare to negotiate prices on some category of drugs by another year, the two sources said.
Resolving these and other policy fights is critical, since any delay in bringing the measure before the House would further stall a second, separate effort to improve the nation’s roads, bridges, pipes, ports and Internet connections. The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill has been stuck in the House since it passed the Senate in August, as liberals have held up its adoption while they seek to negotiate the rest of Biden’s spending priorities with centrists including Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). The left-leaning bloc has said both bills must move in tandem to win their critical support, a position Pelosi appeared to affirm Thursday.
Asked if she would move infrastructure alone, she replied: “No.”
But the speaker’s approach also rankled some moderates within her own caucus. Roughly a dozen centrists told party leaders in recent days they needed more time to study the revised $1.75 trillion bill, evaluate its budgetary impact, address policy issues including immigration and ensure the full package actually can pass the Senate, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of requested anonymity to describe private talks.
The sources cautioned the situation is rapidly changing, and moderates’ reasons for concern appear to vary. Many members do not appear opposed to the spending initiative, people familiar with their thinking said, they just want more time to process its implications.
Some of the data that may assuage centrists arrived Thursday: An official score released by the Joint Committee on Taxation, which analyzes the revenue effects of legislation on Capitol Hill, found that the bill would raise about $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years.
The tally reflects Democrats’ plans to impose a new minimum tax on corporations and a new surtax on millionaires to pay for a wide array of new spending. It does not factor in other provisions, including Democrats’ aim to negotiate drug costs under Medicare and empower the Internal Revenue Service to pursue unpaid taxes. Party lawmakers say the tax-enforcement provisions alone could capture another $400 billion, which, combined with the rest of the revenue raisers, offer an “objective view that it is solidly paid for,” Pelosi said.
“I’m comfortable that we will eventually have a CBO score,” Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.), a member of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, referring to a second analysis of additional spending in the package that is expected soon from the Congressional Budget Office. “So far, the indications are that the pay-fors are there for what we want to accomplish.”
But other moderates said they are still waiting for that second analysis. By Thursday night, CBO had not yet furnished its numbers, though Pelosi shared additional data from the White House that she said showed the bill did not add to the deficit.
Some moderates earlier this week also pointed to Pelosi’s prior promise, that she would only call the bill for a vote once it had been hashed out with the Senate. Manchin repeatedly has sought to whittle down Democrats’ spending proposal, which once carried a price tag that is roughly twice its current amount.
Pelosi, however, appeared ready to defy that commitment in recent days. In one prominent example, the speaker said Wednesday that Democrats would include in their $1.75 trillion bill a proposal to provide paid family and medical leave to millions of Americans who otherwise do not have it. The proposal is one Manchin has sought to remove from the package, putting the House on a collision course with the Senate.
Pelosi appeared circumspect in addressing the matter Thursday, telling reporters, “I think this is appropriate legislation.”