House passes $3.5T budget framework after Pelosi standoff

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House passes $3.5T budget framework after Pelosi standoff

House Democratic leadership managed to get moderate Democrats to fall in line to support a $3.5 trillion budget resolution, clearing the way for a sweeping, partisan spending bill later this year.

The budget blueprint, which passed Tuesday in a 220-212 vote, lays the groundwork for Democrats to proceed with plans for a massive not-yet-written social spending bill, which is expected to address several of the Biden Administration’s top priorities, including immigration reform, climate change and the expansion of social programs.

The budget resolution was passed using a fast-tracked process, with leaders attaching it to a rule allowing for debate on the John Lewis voting rights bill and the bipartisan infrastructure bill. The expedited approach, which allowed members to avoid taking a record vote on the standalone bill, came in the wake of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) striking a deal with 10 centrists, led by Problem Solvers Caucus Co-Chair Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) following a tense showdown over the House’s timing for a vote on the Senate-passed $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal.

The group of centrists attempted to strong-arm the Speaker into holding a vote on the bipartisan bill before bringing the budget framework to the floor, but ultimately agreed to vote for the rule after language was added to guarantee them a vote on the measure addressing traditional infrastructure by Sept. 27.

Despite intense pressure from moderates, with powerful Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) throwing their weight behind the House centrist efforts, Pelosi held strong in her vow to act on the budget framework first. The California Democrat repeatedly voiced her belief that the House needed to move forward with the reconciliation process — which provides them with the opportunity to circumvent the filibuster in the upper chamber on the massive “human infrastructure” bill — siding with progressives who argued passing the bipartisan measure first would derail their efforts to pass bold changes to an array of policy areas without the help of members across the aisle.

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) walks to the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the Capitol on August 23, 2021 in Washington, DC.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi brokered a deal with moderate Democrats led by New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer.
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Top Democrats said they are seeking for the final reconciliation bill to include provisions to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans and corporations, allow the government to negotiate prices for pharmaceuticals it purchases, tax imported carbon fuels and strengthen IRS tax collections. The budget blueprint, which narrowly passed Senate earlier this month, also sets the stage for Democrats to create a host of new programs including tuition-free pre-kindergarten and community college, paid family leave and a Civilian Climate Corps to tackle environmental projects in addition to the expansion of Medicare and immigration reforms to provide a pathway to citizenship.

“Passing this rule paves the way for the building back better plan which will forge legislative progress unseen in 50 years, that will stand for generations alongside the new deal and the great society,” Pelosi said on the floor ahead of the vote.

“This legislation will be the biggest and perhaps most controversial initiative that any of us have ever undertaken in our official lives. … Any delay in passing the rule threatens the Build Back Better plan, as well as voting rights reform, as well as the bipartisan infrastructure bill.”

Holding her caucus together proved to be a daunting task, with the California Democrat only able to afford three defections as Republicans lambasted the budget as an attempted power grab to pursue a grab bag of partisan priorities.

House Democratic leaders’ deal with moderates came in the wake of tense negotiations running late into Monday evening, with members huddled in Pelosi’s office until shortly after midnight. The standoff led to Pelosi punting plans to hold the vote on Monday evening as they struggled to hash out a plan that would placate centrists without deterring liberals’ support well into Tuesday morning.

Whipping efforts intensified in the days leading up to the vote, with multiple lawmakers telling The Post that Democratic leadership underestimated moderates’ willingness to cave in withholding their votes. One centrist Democrat told GOP members that whipping tactics used in an attempt to gain their support on the budget included threats to target them during the redistricting process, a member’s relative potentially losing their job within the administration if they did not vote in favor, and pressure from former President Bill Clinton, according to a senior GOP source with knowledge of the conversation.

While the budget vote ultimately came to the floor before the bipartisan plan saw a vote, the assurances moderates received on vote timing on the bipartisan bill complicates Democratic leaders’ two-part plan to pass both the human and hard infrastructure as companion bills, muddying the timeline as negotiations begin on the reconciliation measure.

The final reconciliation bill is also expected to face a number of hurdles due to the razor-thin majorities in both chambers, with moderates expressing concerns about the price tag and progressives pushing for numerous controversial provisions to be included in the legislation.

Sinema, a key vote from Democrats in the upper chamber, asserted on Monday she could not support $3.5 trillion in social spending, with her office releasing a statement that the “House will have no impact on Kyrsten’s views about what is best for our country.” Senate moderates have signaled they will work to scale down the numbers, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) needing to hold his entire caucus together due to the 50-50 majority, with Vice President Kamala Harris expected to provide the tie-breaking vote.

Republicans have vowed to target vulnerable Democrats for voting in favor of the budget, accusing them of opening the gateway toward the passage of far-left priorities like the Green New Deal and alleging they support policies that could further exacerbate inflation. GOP lawmakers have also been highly critical of Democrats’ plans to unwind key portions of Republicans’ landmark tax reform bill to pay for the social spending plan.

“They call it the For the Children Act, it really should be called the Mountains of Debt for the Children Act because that’s what it does. If you look at inflation today, every family in America’s facing inflation. They’re paying over 40 percent more for gasoline, for cars, for things that they buy at the grocery store,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said on the floor ahead of the vote. “Families know that if you add trillions more debt, trillions more spending, trillions more in taxes, inflation will only go up, and you know who’s going to pay for it? It’s not anybody in this chamber, Madame Speaker.”

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