Democrats in the United States House of Representatives were careening towards breakthrough votes on two key pieces of President Joe Biden’s agenda; a $1.75 trillion spending and tax plan, and a $1.25 trillion infrastructure bill.
At the White House on Friday, President Biden was making phone calls to individual House legislators pressing them to vote “yes” on his Build Back Better plan as House Democratic leaders were still whipping votes in their caucus.
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“Right now, we stand on the cusp of historic economic progress,” Biden said. “Two bills that, together, will create millions of jobs, grow the economy and invest our nation and our people.”
At stake in the process are Biden’s social welfare and climate policy proposals likely to define the balance of his presidency and the politics of the US’s 2022 elections. The bill includes child care and family leave benefits for working Americans and more than $500bn for clean energy and climate policies.
Biden and Democrats got a warning signal from voters in Virginia’s election on November 2 when a Republican challenger defeated a favoured Democrat for the state governorship. In New Jersey, a powerful Democratic state legislator was unseated by an unlikely Republican challenger.
“I’m asking every House member … to vote ‘yes’ on both these bills right now. Send infrastructure bill to my desk. Send the Build Back Better bill to the Senate. This will be such a boost when it occurs,” Biden said in remarks at the White House on Friday.
But as the day unfolded on Capitol Hill, members of the president’s party threw up new roadblocks.
A House vote on Biden’s plan was delayed after leaders failed in behind-the-scenes wrangling to resolve questions from legislators about the net cost to the US treasury of the taxes and spending authorised in the budget.
“We had hoped to be able to bring both bills to the floor today,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top House Democrat, told reporters on Friday afternoon.
“Some members want more clarification, or validation of the numbers that have been put forward, its top-line, that it is fully paid for,” Pelosi said.
With the draft budget legislation only finalised late on Thursday, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has not yet produced a score of the legislation’s financial impact.
But a group of centrist Democrats in the House were demanding that the CBO score be made available before voting. That process could take more than a week.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the No 2 House Democrat, said staff aides were working on getting the CBO score completed but said leadership did not view it as necessary for House passage.
House progressives, however, joined the group of six centrist Democrats to demand the CBO report before voting to pass the budget, also putting into question whether the bipartisan infrastructure bill would also pass on Friday.
“If our six colleagues still want to wait for a CBO score, we would agree to give them that time – after which point we can vote on both bills together,” Representative Pramila Jayapal, chair of the progressive caucus, said in a statement on Friday afternoon.
Pelosi, meanwhile, said she planned to force a House vote on the $1.25 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill which has already approved by the Senate. House passage would send the bill to Biden for his signature into law.
Republicans have been vehemently opposed to Biden’s budget plan.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said on Friday the latest election results in Virginia and New Jersey “sent a mandate to their elected officials stop catering to the progressive left and work on solutions that will improve the lives of your constituents”.
“The vote today is rushed and irresponsible,” McCarthy said, adding that “not one person in the House” has had an opportunity to read the final text of the bill.
A separate analysis of the bill by the bipartisan House Joint Committee on Taxation concluded the bill would not add to future budget deficits, bolstering Democratic claims the new spending proposals are paid for with new tax revenue.
Biden on Friday hailed a new labour market report that showed better than expected job growth in the US and unemployment of 4.6 percent, a major improvement as the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic appeared to recede.
The president’s job approval ratings in US public opinion polls have dropped in the past two months as the US economic recovery appeared to stall amid renewed fears of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Republicans, who as the minority in the House cannot block the legislation, used delay tactics on Friday to make the process painful for majority Democrats.
“Democrats are in disarray and it shows,” said Republican Representative Andy Biggs who demanded the House vote on a motion to adjourn.
“We should adjourn until they are ready to vote, if they get the votes for their abominable legislation,” Biggs said.
Democrats rejected Biggs’s motion on Friday morning.