Nancy Pelosi pulls the plug on a House vote for Biden's infrastructure bill for the second time as progressives threatened to sink it
- Nancy Pelosi pulled a vote on the infrastructure bill amid progressive opposition.
- Biden unveiled a $1.75 trillion social-spending framework on Thursday, cutting many proposals.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pulled the plug on a vote for President Joe Biden's $550 billion infrastructure bill for the second time in a month, as scores of progressives refused to back it without a $1.75 trillion social-spending bill clearing the Senate.
It capped a frenzied week of activity on Capitol Hill that saw Democrats leave Biden empty-handed as he departed for a major climate summit in Scotland. The president hoped he could tout domestic achievements back home to demonstrate America was serious about fighting the climate emergency.
For weeks, Democratic leaders tried to reach an agreement on a skinny social-spending plan containing the bulk of Biden's agenda with Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, a pair of centrist holdouts. It led the party to dramatically curtail its economic ambitions to win the two critical votes, jettisoning provisions like paid leave and tuition-free community college from the package.
Biden traveled to Capitol Hill to personally urge Democrats to end their squabbling and get behind the latest social-spending framework unveiled on Thursday. House Democrats later released the 1,684 page bill, which economists argue will create jobs and cut costs for families.
It would set up universal pre-K, renew monthly cash payments to the vast majority of American families for another year, expand Medicare so it covers hearing, transition the US onto cleaner energy sources and provide child-care subsidies. It's paid for with a collection of tax hikes on the rich and large firms, including a corporate minimum tax and a new surtax on multimillionaires.
"We badly need a vote on both of these measures," Biden privately told House Democrats, according to a person familiar with his remarks. "I don't think it's hyperbole to say that the House and Senate majorities and my presidency will be determined by what happens in the next week."
But Biden's pitch to dislodge the infrastructure bill landed with a thud. House progressives dug in on their position that both the infrastructure and social-spending bills must be approved in tandem. They had encouragement from another pair of influential Senate counterparts: Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
"There is too much at stake for working families and our communities to settle for something that can be later misunderstood, amended or abandoned altogether," Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement. "That is why dozens of our members insist on keeping both bills linked and cannot vote only for one until they can be voted on altogether."
Progressive distrust of Manchin and Sinema is running high. Neither committed to vote for Biden's framework on Thursday. The West Virginia Democrat told reporters only that he was "continuing to negotiate in good faith," though he suggested later in the day that he could back the $1.75 trillion price tag.
Then Sinema wrote on Twitter that "significant progress" was being made on the emerging social-spending bill, adding, "I look forward to getting this done."
-Kyrsten Sinema (@SenatorSinema) October 28, 2021
Their comments did little to quell progressive fears that both could still sink the bill. "Everything those two do is alarming," Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota told Insider, arguing their obstruction was preventing Biden from scoring a major win on his economic agenda.
There are few signs that progressives will drop a blockade that began in the summer, frustrating centrists in the party who want the infrastructure bill passed immediately. "People are frustrated right now," Rep. Jim Costa of California told Insider. "There's a lack of trust, and you got a lot of members that have been here four years or less and they don't seem to understand how you get things done."
'This is not done'
The framework is likely to undergo changes as Democrats in both chambers press to include some of their biggest priorities, like a paid-leave program and prescription-drug price controls. Many are still grappling with the painful sacrifices required for the social-spending plan to clear threadbare majorities and become law. Sanders chiefly authored the initial $6 trillion spending proposal billed as on par with New Deal and Great Society, both endeavors that fortified the safety net and recast the relationship between Americans and the federal government.
That proposal was whittled down to $3.5 trillion in July, and now it's been cut by half. But the price tag is likely to stay locked in as the new ceiling for Biden's economic agenda.
Democrats are relying on a legislative maneuver known as reconciliation, allowing Democrats to approve the legislation with a simple majority vote over unanimous GOP opposition. They have little room to maneuver with only three votes to spare in the House and none in the 50-50 Senate.
Pelosi said earlier on Thursday she wanted paid leave back in the package after it was ejected due to resistance from Manchin. That could lead to several more weeks of negotiations on what's ultimately in and out.
"The deal isn't done until the Senate acts," Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden of Oregon, a chief advocate for government drug-price negotiations, told Insider. "This is not done."
Biden is also considering priorities of his own. "The one thing that the president was very clear about is that hearing aids, he wants it in," Rep. Donald Beyer of Virginia said, referring to the Medicare expansion. "He doesn't have agreement with Manchin and Sinema. I know there's still tremendous energy on both sides to get paid medical leave of some kind back in."
As Insider reported, the only investment that did not get cut was $555 billion for the climate - the largest investment in the bill.
Some Democrats are taking solace at the talks picking up speed. "There has been more negotiation that has happened in the last three weeks than has happened in the last many months," Jayapal told MSNBC. She later told Insider that progressives are backing Biden's framework as it is, though she'd welcome "additive" changes that garner the support of all 50 Senate Democrats.
Others were more cautious about the time the party's dueling progressive and moderate wings will need to resolve major disagreements on taxes and spending priorities in the legislation. "I would say it's close to final, but there's still a lot of stuff to do," Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia told Insider. "It's just that it is a very massive bill."
Kaine said he believed it was possible for the social-spending package to pass sometime before Thanksgiving. But lawmakers are juggling numerous deadlines that fall on December 3, including lifting the debt ceiling, extending government funding, and renewing highway and transit programs.
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