The House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to move forward a key part of President Joe Biden’s agenda: a massive, $3.5 trillion budget plan to expand social programs like Medicare, tackle climate change and fund pre-K and community college.
But the narrow vote — 220 to 212 — signaled the tricky process facing the White House and Democrats in the month ahead, as leaders try to appease the various wings of the party.
A group of House moderates, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), initially threatened to withhold their support for the budget resolution until there was a vote to pass a separate, $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package. That bill would fund such things as roads, bridges, rail and water improvements, as well as a massive expansion of broadband. In the end, what the moderates got was a promise by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to take up the infrastructure package by Sept. 27.
Pelosi said in a statement, “I am committing to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill by September 27. I do so with a commitment to rally House Democratic support for its passage.”
Biden said in brief remarks, “We are a step closer to truly investing in the American people, positioning our economy for long-term growth and building an America that out competes the rest of the world.”
Meanwhile, Republicans hammered Democratic leaders for pursuing the legislation given the unfolding situation in Afghanistan, as U.S. forces race to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies by an August 31 deadline.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) told reporters, “Our entire focus, Republican, independent, Democrat alike, should be nothing else than bringing our Americans home. We shouldn’t work on other items, especially the spending of trillions of dollars. He later said that the situation was “too important to deal with anything else.”
“What you are mad about is we are delivering for the American people,” said Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) said on the floor, after a number of Republicans railed at Democrats and Biden.
Yet the vote on the budget resolution was to take place swiftly Monday, but was delayed as Democratic leaders held talks with party moderates to garner their support. Those lawmakers had demanded a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill before taking on the budget resolution, putting them in conflict with Democratic leaders’ timeline and strategy of moving the two White House priorities through at the same time.
On the progressive side of the party, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) said that the moderates’ demands ultimately was a “little fiasco,” saying that the Sept. 27 date was not binding. “There was no leverage that was gained by them. I actually think they lost leverage,” she said.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) dismissed concerns of discord in party ranks and what it means for chances to ultimately pass the massive legislation. “Democracy is messy, and Democrats are not a cult. We’re a coalition.”
Over the next month, Senate and House committees will fill in the details on the $3.5 trillion plan, something that already has triggered fierce lobbying in D.C.
A key question is how it will be paid for, as the Biden administration has proposed raising taxes on corporations to 28%, from the current 21%, as well as increasing rates for upper-income earners. But that will be a balancing act, as some Democratic moderates have expressed reluctance at the size of the plan and the tax hikes.
Progressives, meanwhile, are watching to see if the $3.5 trillion plan, now being called the Build Back Better Act, is significantly scaled back. That will make for delicate negotiations by Democratic leaders on size and timing. In the House, Democrats have only a few votes to spare. In the Senate, the 50-50 split means they have none.
Hollywood studios, along with other major corporations, oppose increases on the corporate rate. Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, tasked with writing the tax plan into law, responded with a bit of lighthearted exasperation when asked where he thinks the rate will end up. “Oh, God. Good try,” he said.