House Democrats ready reconciliation package for floor vote next week

Procedural steps to lay groundwork for further negotiations on reconciliation and infrastructure bills

Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., walks up the House steps for the first vote of the day in the Capitol on June 23, 2021.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., walks up the House steps for the first vote of the day in the Capitol on June 23, 2021. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 23, 2021 at 7:22pm

House Democratic leaders are scrambling to ready a sweeping budget reconciliation package of safety net program expansions, tax breaks for families and renewable energy incentives and tax increases on wealthy individuals and corporations for a floor vote next week.

That ambitious timeframe, if it holds, would line up the multitrillion-dollar reconciliation bill with a vote on a smaller bipartisan infrastructure measure that may otherwise be defeated. 

But leadership’s effort to fulfill separate commitments made to the moderate and progressive wings of the party on the two parts of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda may backfire, resulting in an embarrassing schedule reversal or floor defeat they’re currently trying to avoid. 

House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., informed panel members Thursday that they'd meet to package together the recommendations from 13 other House committees on Saturday, in order to get the combined measure to the Rules Committee. 

The Budget Committee's role is procedural, mostly stapling the various committee submissions together and giving the minority a chance to weigh in with nonbinding motions, but a necessary step in the process. The Rules Committee is where major changes to the reconciliation bill could take place. 

The Saturday Budget markup "gives us a chance to just be prepared to move as quickly as possible," Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., said after a meeting of panel Democrats. "And there seems to be enough progress that it makes sense for us to get our piece done, so that no grass grows under our feet, you know, when we get an agreement."

The goal, several lawmakers and aides said, is for leadership to bring the package to the floor next week in conjunction with the separate Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill.  

Last-ditch effort

It’s a last-ditch effort to fulfill two commitments Speaker Nancy Pelosi made. The California Democrat promised progressives she wouldn’t bring the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill, which contains $550 billion in new spending and a five-year reauthorization of existing transportation programs, up for a vote until the larger $3.5 trillion reconciliation package passed both chambers. 

But moderates balked at that plan and threatened to vote against the budget resolution needed to kickstart the reconciliation process if she didn’t de-link the two bills. As part of a deal for moderates to vote for the budget last month, Pelosi agreed to bring the infrastructure bill to the floor on Sept. 27, which is now just four days away. 

Progressives have called that date “arbitrary” and maintained their stance that the reconciliation package must pass before they will vote for the infrastructure bill. That’s prompted moderates to say they won't vote for the reconciliation bill unless the infrastructure bill passes. Pelosi promised to rally support for it, they’ve reminded reporters in recent days. 

Biden held separate meetings with the warring factions on Wednesday, but the confabs did not resolve the dispute. On Thursday morning, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., announced an agreement with the White House on a “menu” of potential offsets for the reconciliation package. 

Pelosi praised the agreement as a “giant step forward,” even as she said the leaders have not yet settled a dispute among their members over the $3.5 trillion topline or underlying policy issues. She declined to say whether the pay-for framework would serve as enough progress to break the logjam. 

“We take it one day at a time,” she told reporters. “I’m confident that we will pass both bills.”

‘Whatever it takes’ 

Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a progressive who has said he wouldn’t vote for the infrastructure bill unless the reconciliation package passed first, said the offset framework has not changed his mind. 

“We still have a few days, and we're optimistic that we'll be able to vote on [reconciliation] before the [infrastructure bill],” the New York Democrat said. 

Absent that, the infrastructure vote should be delayed, Bowman said. “Whatever it takes.” 

The speed at which Democratic leaders are trying to bring the reconciliation package to the floor given the amount of unresolved issues is befuddling Democratic aides affiliated with the moderates. 

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the aides said the timing doesn’t jive with Pelosi’s commitment to not bring a bill to the floor unless it has been pre-negotiated with the Senate. 

Moderates want assurances that whatever package they vote on in the House will have support from all 50 senators and that its contents won’t be stripped for violating the Senate’s Byrd rule that requires all provisions to have more than a “merely incidental” budget impact.

"That's obviously not happening now," Yarmuth said, noting the Senate "is in a lot of different places on some of these things than we are." 

Yarmuth said the differences are "mostly on the revenue side" but also on issues like funding for Medicaid and school construction. And some party moderates have expressed concern about creating new entitlements rather than building off existing programs.

A source familiar with Pelosi’s strategy says she is trying to fulfill her commitments on pre-conferencing with the Senate and ensuring the package is Byrd compliant, despite the short timeframe. 

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., the leader of the moderates who rebelled on the budget to secure the commitments from Pelosi, spoke about both bills on CNN on Thursday evening as if they are still on separate tracks. 

“We'll do it and we'll get the votes,” he said of the scheduled Monday infrastructure vote. “And we're also … going to keep working on that incredibly important reconciliation package." 

David Lerman and Laura Weiss contributed to this report.