Democrats scramble to satisfy members on spending package


House Democrats are scrambling to make changes to their $3.5 trillion spending package in order to satisfy disparate groups of members in time for a floor vote as soon as possible.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said over the weekend that the House needs to pass the bill this week, along with a bipartisan infrastructure bill, a prospect that remains daunting. 

With Republicans unanimously opposed to the bill, Democrats can only afford three defections, and some moderates voted against parts of the massive legislation as it was considered by various committees. Others supported the legislation in committee but are demanding changes before a final vote.

Pelosi has acknowledged the need for changes, saying they will be handled by the House Rules Committee.

The $3.5 trillion package includes many of President Biden’s top priorities in areas such as child care, health care and climate. It also includes tax increases on high-income individuals and corporations to offset the bill’s costs. Democrats are aiming to pass the bill using a process called reconciliation that prevents Republicans in the Senate from filibustering the measure.

The exact timing of a vote is unclear as Pelosi balances demand from liberals and centrists related to the $3.5 trillion package and a separate bipartisan infrastructure bill that the Speaker now says will get a House vote on Thursday.

Biden on Monday acknowledged the uncertain fate of his legislative agenda.

“It may not be by the end of the week. I hope it’s by the end of the week,” he said Monday.

The House took a step forward on the reconciliation bill on Saturday, when the House Budget Committee voted to advance it.

But one Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Scott Peters (Calif.), joined Republicans in voting against moving the bill out of the budget committee, saying he was concerned the party was rushing to craft the social safety net package. Peters pointed to concerns he had about some of the spending levels in the legislation and said he had “other objections to the bill that have not been resolved but could be if given more time.”

Peters was also one of three House Democrats, along with Reps. Kurt Schrader (Ore.) and Kathleen Rice (N.Y.), who voted in the House Energy and Commerce Committee against a portion of the bill that would allow the Health and Human Services secretary to negotiate lower drug prices.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) also voted against all of the House Ways and Means Committee’s portions of the bill, saying in a statement earlier this month that the measure includes “spending and tax provisions that give me pause.”

In a statement on Monday, a spokeswoman for Peters said “conversations are ongoing” on the drug pricing issue and that his office feels progress is being made “on a plan to lower drug prices for America’s seniors that everyone can get behind.”

Another issue House Democrats are expected to address before a House floor vote is the state and local tax (SALT) deduction. 

Republicans’ 2017 tax law capped the deduction at $10,000, and many Democrats from high-tax states such as New York, New Jersey and California oppose this limit, arguing that it hurts their residents and states. But repealing the cap is expensive, and progressives are concerned that repeal would largely benefit upper-income households.

SALT deduction cap changes were left out of the legislation while it moved through committees, but some House Democrats have indicated that some type of change to the cap will be added before the full House votes.

Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-N.Y.), a key lawmaker pushing for repeal of the cap, said on a call with reporters Monday that he expects further agreement on the parameters of the reconciliation bill, including on the SALT deduction, to come this week. He said the House Rules Committee could meet about the reconciliation bill as soon as Tuesday.

A Democratic aide said that there have been discussions about potentially including a two-year repeal of the cap.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), another leading advocate for eliminating the cap, told The Hill Monday that full repeal of the cap for two years would be “moving in the right direction.”

Pressure has also been building over language approved by the House Education and Labor Committee earlier this month that advocates say unnecessarily pits historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) against other minority-serving institutions for grant funding.

Under the current text, HBCUs and minority-serving institutions would be able to apply for grants for research and development infrastructure, but advocates say the legislation fails to set up different funding streams for the two groups.

Reps. Alma Adams (D-Ga.) and Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) have threatened to withhold support for the overall package if the language pertaining to grant funding is not amended. Others have also raised concerns about the text, which Wilson says leadership is aware of and has made assurances will be changed before it’s brought to a floor vote. 

Some moderate Democrats have also raised concerns about various tax and energy provisions that are currently in the bill.

Divisions also remain among Democrats over the size of the package, as moderates have balked at the $3.5 trillion price tag associated with the bill while some progressives say it should be larger. 

Pelosi has signaled the figure will go lower as spending negotiations continue between the House and the Senate, where Democrats would need all members to be on board to pass the bill in the evenly split chamber.

“We have to find our common ground, respectful of each other’s views. This isn't about moderates versus progressives,” Pelosi said during a Sunday appearance on ABC's “This Week.”

But Pelosi and other leaders face a tall task in trying to find middle ground between warring demands from both factions as the party races to a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure plan later this week.

Progressive threatened to block the physical infrastructure bill, which passed the Senate last month, if it’s brought to a floor vote before the social spending package, concerned about the fate of the reconciliation plan in the lower chamber if the smaller measure has already passed.

However, some moderates are insistent on quick action on the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Biden and other Democratic leaders are keeping optimistic as lawmakers brace for the grueling week ahead.

“I think things are going to go well,” Biden said on Monday afternoon. “I think we’re going to get it done.”

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