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Pelosi Plows Ahead With Plan to Break Dem Standoff

·4-min read

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats are plowing ahead with plans to vote on both a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and a broader, multitrillion-dollar package to expand the social safety net, rushing to show progress on President Joe Biden’s economic agenda even as key elements of it are still being negotiated.

The urgency is driven by Pelosi’s promise to a renegade group of centrist Democrats that she’d hold a vote by September 27 on the “hard infrastructure” legislation passed by the Senate six weeks ago — a deadline complicated by progressive demands that Congress act first on the still unfinished “reconciliation” package of social spending, climate programs and tax hikes on the wealthy and corporations.

Pelosi said Friday that she will indeed bring up the infrastructure package as promised. “It will come up on Monday," she told reporters.

Progressives aren’t backing down, though. “It cannot pass,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Friday. “I don't bluff, I don't grandstand. We just don't have the votes for it.”

Pelosi is looking to change that and win over recalcitrant progressives by pressing to advance the reconciliation package. House Democrats on Friday released the full, 2,465-page legislative text of the package, which the Budget Committee is set to consider on Saturday. And Pelosi announced that she’s hoping to bring the legislation to the floor sometime next week. “Have a little patience. Follow it. See it unfold,” she said at a Friday press conference. “We’re very encouraged.”

Biden, though, acknowledged to reporters Friday that Democrats are at a “stalemate” on the bill, saying that while he still expects to sign both bills into law, they would take time to get done. "This is a process and it's going to be up and down," Biden said.

Biden says cost of his Build Back Better plan will be ‘zero’: Both Biden and Pelosi have sought to center discussion on the substance of that package rather than its price tag, trying to clarify which elements Democrats can unite behind and which will have to be cut to ensure the support of their more conservative members.

“Every element of my economic plan is overwhelmingly popular — overwhelmingly popular,” Biden told reporters Friday, adding that he’s urged lawmakers to forget the topline number and focus on the plans they think should be pursued.

He also emphasized that the new spending in the reconciliation bill would be fully paid for. “We’re going to pay for everything we spend,” he said, adding, “Every time I hear, ‘This is going to cost A, B, C, or D,’ the truth is, based on the commitment that I made, it’s going to cost nothing because we’re going to raise the revenue to pay for the things we’re talking about.”

But getting Democratic consensus on the substance of the bill may not be any easier than reaching agreement on a topline number. One example: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said Thursday that Democrats “need to stabilize” Medicare’s finances before they look to expand it.

“By 2026, you understand the trust fund is going to be insolvent,” Manchin said Thursday, according to The Hill. “I want to make sure we are stabilizing what we have before we start going down this expansion role.” That again puts Manchin at odds with Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who has pushed to add dental, vision and hearing coverage to the health care plan for older Americans.

While health care provisions in the budget package are a major area of disagreement for Democrats, they are far from the only sticking point. Those differences will be hard, if not impossible, to resolve before next week, meaning that any budget reconciliation package that’s brought to a vote in the House would still be subject to significant modifications. “As negotiations continue, there may be changes,” Pelosi told colleagues in a letter Friday.

That, in turn, will make progressives less likely to buy into the speaker’s plan. "It's not going to give us any comfort to pass a bill that then the Senate [defeats]," Jayapal said. "That doesn't satisfy our requirements." And moderates reportedly may not support a vote on the reconciliation bill until it’s clear what can get through the Senate.

The bottom line: Democrats, as Biden said, are still at a stalemate, and it’s far from clear if they can break it by next week.

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