House Democrats expect to pass Biden spending package this week


House Democrats are racing this week to pass President Biden’s $1.75 trillion social and climate spending package, which would give the party a burst of momentum heading into the Thanksgiving recess.

Debate over the package has been filled with drama throughout the summer and fall, with progressive and centrists battling over the measure’s contents, pushing an embarrassing intra-party fight into the national spotlight.

Those battles will continue in the Senate, which is unlikely to take action on the measure before December. Centrist Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — whose arguments have helped whittle the once $3.5 trillion package in half — have yet to formally back the measure, and more changes are possible.

All the same, Democrats feel they are on the verge of a huge milestone in the House, where passage would be a big victory of the party.

House moderate holdouts have vowed to support the bill when it comes to the floor this week, even as they continue to wait for new numbers from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to see if the package will add to the deficit.

Biden on Monday will sign into law the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, a favorite of the centrists, which will make it easier for reluctant moderates to swallow the massive tax-and-spending plan. Many, including Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), will be at the president’s side for the ceremony.

Despite the possibility of new dramas in the Senate, senior Democrats say they are confident the Congress can send the package to Biden’s desk by the end of the year.   

“I think we'll get it passed before Christmas,” one senior Democrat, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (N.C.), former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said.   

The debate arrives at a fraught moment for Biden and the majority Democrats, who are under fire for a host of disturbing economic trends, including a spike in inflation, a private-sector labor shortage and a supply-chain bottleneck that’s hindered retail markets — all while the COVID-19 crisis continues to frustrate federal efforts to keep it in check. 

The combination has taken its toll on the president: A recent poll conducted by USA Today and Suffolk University found that just 38 percent of voters approve of Biden’s performance. 

The Democrats’ troubles were reflected in state elections across the country earlier in the month, when Republicans outperformed even their rosiest predictions. That was true particularly in Virginia, where GOP businessman Glenn Youngkin — surpassing President Trump’s 2020 numbers in every county — upset former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a state Biden had won by 10 points just a year earlier. 

McAuliffe’s defeat sparked a new round of internal calls for Democrats to revamp their messaging tactics heading into a difficult 2022 midterm cycle, when House GOP leaders are predicting they will flip dozens of seats and win back the majority.

“Democrats need to reassess their strategy,” said progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). “We need to have legislation that actually, forcefully delivers for working people.”

Vulnerable moderate Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) is supportive of several key elements of the Biden package — tackling climate change, extending the child tax credit and lowering prescription drug prices — but she said Democrats have failed to explain how the legislation will help struggling American families.   

“People are busy, they have jobs, they have lives, they have worry, they have kids, they have joys. If someone turns on the news and [hears] ‘We really need to make these major investments in human infrastructure,’ and they say, ‘There they go again. What the heck are those Democrats doing?’” Spanberger said during an appearance on the New York Times podcast, “The Daily.” 

“Now, if we're saying, ‘I want to invest in the next generation of America's children, and I want to do it by ensuring every kid goes to pre-K’ — like, that's a different discussion, right?”

Part of the Democrats’ messaging challenge stems from the fact that the Build Back Better bill is still in flux. With inflation recently hitting a 30-year high, Manchin will have fresh leverage to demand cuts to the House’s $1.75 trillion package, which features several provisions he’s consistently resisted, including paid family leave and a Medicare expansion. 

Manchin, a former coal broker who has made millions of dollars from the industry, has also opposed certain provisions promoting a shift to cleaner energy sources — a position that’s prompted a backlash from more liberal Democrats pushing an aggressive green-energy agenda as part of the massive spending package. 

Fueling that debate was this month’s global climate summit in Glasgow, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) led a delegation of environmentally minded Democrats, who are returning to Washington with a new zest for going big in the fight against climate change. 

“Our grandchildren are not going to praise us for doing what was politically possible,” Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.), a participant in the summit, said Friday. “They're only going to praise us if we did what was scientifically necessary.”

The family leave provision and several others could be stripped out of the House bill once it hits the floor of the Senate, which is prepared to hold a vote-a-rama to see which policies can secure 51 votes and survive.

So, it’s all but inevitable the Senate will send an altered package back to the House next month, when it will compete for floor time with two huge but separate fiscal fights: one to fund the federal government and stave off a shutdown; the other to prevent a first-ever default on the nation’s debt, which the Treasury Department has warned would happen after Dec. 3. 

“I think this bill will make it over the finish line …” Spanberger told The New York Times. But she added: “Ultimately, this bill may not be identical to what we pass in the House when it does make it over the finish line.” 

Knowing they will need Manchin’s support, key Biden officials are gently pushing back on centrists’ concerns over inflation and the bill’s price tag. The package will reduce the deficit, according to White House estimates, thanks to a corporate minimum tax, tax hikes on the wealthiest households, and cutting the cost of prescription drugs under Medicare. Officials also said the cost of not passing the package will mean that poor and middle-class families will continue to pay more for things like child care, housing and prescription drugs for seniors.     

“If we don't act on Build Back Better … we won't be able to cut child care costs … We won't be able to make preschool free for many families starting in 2022, saving many families $8,600. We won't be able to get ahead of skyrocketing housing costs … And we won't be able to save Americans thousands of dollars by negotiating prescription drug prices,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday. 

“So our view is this makes a strong case for moving forward with this agenda,” she said. “Because what we're really talking about is the cost to American families.”

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