House votes on infrastructure, reconciliation hang in the balance

2021-09-24 | Roll Call

House leaders said Friday they’ll try to pass both major pieces of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda in their chamber next week in a high-stakes test of Democratic Party unity and resolve. But they aren’t making firm promises on timing.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would consider a bipartisan infrastructure package on Monday, though she left the door open to postponing a final vote on the measure. “We will have a vote when we have the votes,” she said. 

Asked about a floor vote next week on the still-evolving $3.5 trillion package of new spending and tax breaks for clean energy, child care, health insurance, affordable housing and more, Pelosi hedged. “That’s the plan,” she said. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, told reporters he planned to announce the reconciliation bill as a “possibility” for next week’s floor schedule.”

A little later on her way out of the Capitol, Pelosi gave a more mysterious answer. “Have a little patience,” she told reporters. “Follow it, see it unfold. It’s very interesting. We’re very encouraged.” 

To set the table for potential movement on the larger reconciliation package next week, the House Budget Committee is scheduled to mark up the 2,465-page measure on Saturday. The panel’s role is procedural, and it can’t make any substantive changes to the bill, nor are any amendments allowed.

Actual changes to the legislation that 13 other panels contributed to earlier this month wouldn’t come until the measure heads to the Rules Committee, which Budget Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., said wouldn’t be any earlier than Tuesday.

It’s likely there will be some changes to win over wavering House members, potentially on issues like prescription drug pricing, before a floor vote. But it’s far from clear differences between House and Democrats can be papered over before a potential House vote next week. 

And that’s causing problems for both the reconciliation vote and the separate infrastructure package, which would provide $550 billion in new spending above current projections for a range of programs, from roads and bridges to broadband and wastewater treatment projects. Progressives say they have the votes to defeat the Senate-passed infrastructure bill unless they have at least a commitment from senators that the broader reconciliation bill can pass in that chamber.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., a leader of the moderate faction pushing the bipartisan infrastructure bill, wouldn’t promise a vote on the measure on Monday, despite securing a provision last month affording them the ability to bring the bill to the floor by then.

“We’re going to vote next week,” was all he said. But, Gottheimer added: “Let me be clear. We’ve got the votes.”

‘I don’t grandstand’

But progressives said again Friday they are prepared to tank the infrastructure bill unless there is a firm agreement between House and Senate Democrats on the size and shape of the broader reconciliation package. The infrastructure bill “cannot pass,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “I don’t bluff. I don’t grandstand. We just don’t have the votes for it.”

Jayapal told reporters that her caucus wouldn’t be satisfied with considering the House’s reconciliation package, or an edited version of it, unless there’s buy-in from Senate Democrats like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin III and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, who’ve raised concerns. 

“It’s not going to give us any comfort to pass a bill that then the Senate, you know, that doesn’t satisfy our requirements,” Jayapal said, adding that she might be convinced to vote for it if “every single detail is worked out [between the chambers] they’re signed in blood, you know, public commitment.”

Moderates have pushed for a smaller price tag from the current $3.5 trillion reconciliation estimate and have balked at some of the proposed tax increases. Even if the reconciliation package passes the House next week, Senate Democrats made clear they want to make changes to it, particularly on the size and shape of tax increases that would pay for it. 

Initial hopes of “pre-conferencing” the package between the two chambers have faded. “That’s obviously not happening now,” Yarmuth said Thursday night, pointing to discrepancies that must be resolved with Senate Democrats.

If the House takes up a bill that hasn’t won the support of all 50 Senate Democratic Caucus members, the result could be a need to ping pong back and forth between the two chambers.

Jayapal’s comments that she’s not on board with that process put her in the same camp as some of the moderate members her group sparred with over the budget resolution (S Con Res 14) that unlocked the reconciliation process last month. “At this point we need to be convinced that everyone’s on the same page here,” Jayapal said. 

A vote on the initial House version of the reconciliation measure is itself uncertain, since Democrats can afford to lose no more than three of their own members to win a majority amid united Republican opposition. And they risk defections over several contested provisions, including measures to lower prescription drug costs and providing a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants.

Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., said in a statement Friday that he “cannot fully support” a budget reconciliation bill that does not include immigration provisions, making him the third House Democrat to draw that line.

Even as they try to get Biden’s agenda across the finish line, lawmakers are starting down a Thursday deadline to pass a stopgap funding measure needed to avoid a partial government shutdown when the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

A partisan standoff over an attached provision suspending the debt limit through next year has put the fate of the stopgap measure in doubt. A leading think tank on Friday issued new projections that the debt ceiling may need to be raised as soon as Oct. 15, while the House doesn’t have any floor votes scheduled for the two weeks prior to that.

With so much to do and so little time, Hoyer in floor remarks Friday suggested House members could be spending additional time in Washington during October. “We may have to have more floor time than is currently provided for by the committee work week schedule,” he said. 

Suzanne Monyak, Jennifer Shutt and Laura Weiss contributed to this report.

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