U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, arrives to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021.
Craig Hudson | Bloomberg | Getty Images
President Joe Biden’s economic plans stalled in the House on Friday as Democrats scrambled to muster enough support to pass the core of the party’s agenda.
After a day of wrangling between the progressive and centrist planks of the party, a potential breakthrough emerged that could allow the party to forge ahead with late-night votes. But the plans’ fates were still up in the air as the clock ticked toward Saturday and lawmakers began voting on a $1 trillion infrastructure bill just before 11 p.m. ET.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi can only afford three Democratic defections as she tries to pass a $1.75 trillion social safety net and climate plan along with the complementary bipartisan infrastructure bill. The party appeared to lack the support to go through with its plan to approve both measures Friday.
Centrist Democrats demanded to see a Congressional Budget Office estimate of how the safety-net plan would affect federal deficits before they voted for it. When Democratic leaders attempted to pass only the infrastructure bill and hold a procedural vote on the social spending bill, a group of progressives opposed the maneuver.
The House was in recess late Friday as Democratic leaders tried to resolve the stalemate and move forward with bills they view as a lifeline for American households and the key to their electoral fortunes in next year’s midterm elections. After hours of talks to break the impasse — and prodding from Biden himself — a possible deal to break the stalemate emerged. Progressives could vote to pass the infrastructure plan, while centrist could support a procedural vote — or a rule — related to the larger Build Back Better spending plan.
“Tonight, members of the Progressive Caucus and our colleagues in the Democratic Caucus reached an agreement to advance both pieces of President Biden’s legislative agenda,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said in a statement. “Our colleagues have committed to voting for the transformative Build Back Better Act, as currently written, no later than the week of November 15.”
She continued: “All of our colleagues have also committed to voting tonight on the rule to move the Build Back Better Act forward to codify this promise. The President has affirmed these members gave him the same commitment.”
Centrist holdouts separately issued a statement committing to voting for the social spending package.
“We commit to voting for the Build Back Better Act, in its current form other than technical changes, as expeditiously as we receive fiscal information from the Congressional Budget Office — but in no event later than the week of November 15th,” said Democratic Reps. Ed Case of Hawaii, Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Stephanie Murphy of Florida, Kathleen Rice of New York and Kurt Schrader of Oregon.
The lawmakers said they are “committed to working to resolve any discrepancies” in order to pass the bill if the CBO assessment differs from other estimates issued this week. The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation and the White House both released forecasts Thursday projecting that the plan would not increase long-term deficits. It could take weeks for the CBO to issue a cost estimate.
Before the centrists issued the statement, potential assurances did not appear to assuage some progressives. Lawmakers including Reps. Cori Bush, D-Mo., and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said they would vote against the infrastructure bill, according to NBC News.
The delay marked only the latest setback for Democratic leaders as they try to push an ambitious agenda through Congress with razor-thin majorities. Pelosi can lose only three votes in the House, while Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has to keep every member of the Democratic caucus on board in the chamber split 50-50 by party.
Pelosi has moved both bills together to ensure they can pass. The Senate-passed infrastructure bill would go to Biden for his signature once the House approves it. The social spending package would go to the Senate after passage, and could go back to the House if the Senate approves a different version of it.
Amid the setback Friday, Biden pressed his party to pass the packages, which make up the core of his domestic agenda and could serve as Democrats’ top selling point as they try to defend their congressional majorities in next year’s midterms.
“I’m asking every House member … to vote yes on both of these bills right now. Send the infrastructure bill to my desk. Send the Build Back Better bill to the Senate,” he said earlier Friday.
Biden spent much of the day working the phones, speaking to reluctant House Democrats and staying in close touch with Pelosi. He called into a Progressive Caucus meeting.
As talks on Capitol Hill collapsed Friday afternoon, White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden would “continue to work the phones,” and “stay in lock step with Speaker Pelosi on getting this done.”
“There’s a sense of urgency, as you’ve heard us say, from everyone, from all the members on the Hill to get this done for the American people,” Jean-Pierre told reporters at the White House. “Inaction is not the answer. So, we’re going to try and get this done.”
This story is developing. Please check back for updates.