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Judgement day for Biden’s agenda as Democrats plan to vote on Build Back Better and infrastructure

Progressives are fully on board while Democrats worked on moderates all throughout Thursday

Eric Garcia
Friday 05 November 2021 13:39 GMT
APTOPIX Congress Budget
APTOPIX Congress Budget (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

House Democrats plan to vote on both their social spending bill and a bipartisan infrastructure bill on Friday in a crucial test for President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had planned the vote for as early as Thursday, but unresolved issues between progressive Democrats and moderates in the House over drug pricing and immigration meant negotiations were happening during floor votes last night and the House adjourned late in the evening without a final deal.

“I don’t know how far along things are but my hope is that it will be passed this weekend,” Rep Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who serves as the whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told The Independent after House votes on Thursday. When asked if there were any sticking points, Ms Omar said simply, “not on our side”.

The planned votes come after months of negotiations. Earlier this year, Mr Biden proposed an ambitious infrastructure agenda that was eventually split in two. The first half was a traditional infrastructure plan that included roads, bridges, broadband and other aspects. That bill passed in August, with 19 Republican Senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, supporting the bill.

That meant other more ambitious parts of Mr Biden’s infrastructure agenda were left for a second bill. These included policies such as childcare, home services for elderly people and people with disabilities, an expanded child tax credit, and provisions to combat climate change. Democrats, who have only 50 seats, hope to pass that through a process called budget reconciliation, which would allow them to pass it with only a simple majority, sidestepping a GOP filibuster, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie in her role as president of the Senate.

Moderate Democrats initially pressed for the House to pass the bipartisan bill without a concurrent vote on the reconciliation bill, sometimes called Build Back Better. They got a pledge from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi toward the end of September. But that deadline came and went.

Rep Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, who led that charge of moderates, appeared optimistic on Thursday.

“It’s still in motion, we’re still discussing,” he told reporters on Thursday. “We need to make sure all the provisions are worked through because, until it’s finished, it’s hard to know exactly where you are until ... you’ve got to read the finished product.”

Mr Gottheimer specifically also wanted a solution that would lift the cap on state and local taxes that the tax cuts Republicans passed in 2017 under Donald Trump. He also said prescription drug pricing was also a sticking point, though Politico reported there was a deal on prescription drug pricing that would change the number of years that a drug must be on the market before Medicare could negotiate the cost.

Rep Pramila Jayapal, chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, seemed optimistic about the vote on Thursday and said it was about some negotiations about specific details, with some saying they wanted to see a score on the price tag from the Congressional Budget Office.

“I think we’re ok on the immigration provision, but trying to make sure of that,” she said, along with the prescription drug pricing part. “So we’re really close.”

The vote comes on the heels of Republicans winning back the governorship in Virginia on Tuesday a year after Mr Biden won the Commonwealth by 10 points. Some moderate Democrats blamed progressive House Democrats’ unwillingness to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill for the loss, with Sen Tim Kaine of Virginia calling them “purists”, as Insider reported.

Mr Biden had hoped that the bipartisan bill would pass before he left for Europe last week for a meeting with the G20 followed by a trip to Glasgow for COP26 with world leaders to combat climate change, meeting with House Democrats on Thursday of last week.

Mr Biden’s approval rating has dropped precipitously because of a confluence of troubles, including a weak economy, rising cases and deaths from the coronavirus pandemic and an exit from Afghanistan that ended with the Taliban taking control of the nation coupled with an attack that led to the deaths of 13 American service members.

If the bipartisan bill were to pass the House, it would go immediately to Mr Biden’s desk and give him his first major policy win in months, after Congress passed the American Rescue Plan in March.

But the Build Back Better bill’s passage through the House does not guarantee smooth sailing in the Senate. Conservative Democrats Sens Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema have raised multiple objections in the past. Indeed, Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders wanted the bill to be $3.5 trillion before cutting it down to $3.5 trillion.

But Mr Manchin objected still, citing concerns about inflation, which led the White House to say its outlined framework would cost $1.75 trillion. Mr Manchin, who hails from coal-producing West Virginia, also killed plans to include a plan to replace coal and gas-fired plants with renewable energy and objected to including paid family leave in the legislation, which angered his fellow Democrats.

When asked Ms Omar was asked whether she would support the bill without Ms Sinema or Mr Manchin’s commitment, she said she cared more about the bill’s passage.

Earlier this week, Mr Manchin railed against progressives in the House for opposing the bipartisan infrastructure deal until he supported the reconciliation bill. Then on Wednesday, Ms Pelosi put four weeks of paid leave back into the legislation, though it’s entirely possible that could be stripped out again.

Similarly, immigration reform remains in flux, as the Senate Parliamentarian rejected proposals to include it in the bill. When asked if he would support the legislation without immigration reform, Rep Joaquin Castro of Texas, a former chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said “We’re working on getting it in there and looks like it’s in there, so I’m optimistic.”

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