Budget, infrastructure bills slotted for Friday votes in House

Manager's amendment reflects deal New Jersey Democrats reached to raise the limit on 'SALT'

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House leaders want to wrap up the bill Friday.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House leaders want to wrap up the bill Friday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted November 4, 2021 at 8:52pm, Updated November 5, 2021 at 12:40am

House Democrats planned to vote Friday on their sweeping budget reconciliation package after moving to iron out a handful of unresolved issues.

Party leaders posted a 10-page manager's amendment late Thursday evening before reconvening the Rules Committee to report out a rule for consideration of the roughly $2 trillion tax and spending bill.

The House was also slated to take up a separate bipartisan infrastructure bill to provide $550 billion in new spending. It already passed the Senate and would head to President Joe Biden's desk after a monthslong wait.

Earlier Thursday, Democratic leaders struggled to round up the votes to pass the budget bill amid pockets of concern over process and policy, including how to provide relief to undocumented immigrants and raise the cap on state and local tax deductions without benefiting the wealthiest households.

There were also questions about the language of prescription drug price negotiation provisions to ensure the text matched the agreement reached between House and Senate Democrats and the White House earlier in the week.

The manager's amendment, among other things, would clarify the scope of the drug pricing program and implement a deal New Jersey Democrats reached late Thursday to raise the $10,000 limit on "SALT" deductions to $80,000 for this year through 2030.

That's up from $72,500 in the base text, which would have been good through 2031; in the updated proposal, the cap shrinks back to $10,000 in the final year. But the net effect over a decade would be to save $14 billion, up from $2 billion in the prior proposal.

The manager's amendment, which would also tack on an extra $500 million for federal information technology upgrades, will be "self-executed," or automatically inserted into the underlying bill upon adoption of the rule for floor debate.

Changes to immigration provisions in the base text won't be included.

A trio of Hispanic members who'd been threatening to vote against the bill without a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants met with Speaker Nancy Pelosi late Thursday. They initially said they planned to hopefully attach revised language to the manager's amendment, but ultimately decided against that.

"All options remain on the table, but we are not drafting new language" for the reconciliation bill, Rep. Jesús "Chuy" García, D-Ill., tweeted after the meeting. "Speaker Pelosi shares our concerns for the immigrant community, recognizes their contributions and is committed to keeping immigration in play."

Concerns over the total cost of the package were also a factor in the delays, as centrist Democrats pushed for a full Congressional Budget Office "score" and more time to review the measure.

To try to tamp down such concerns, Pelosi sent a "Dear Colleague" letter late Thursday with an attached informal estimate from the White House combined with an earlier official revenue score from the Joint Committee on Taxation. The White House claimed the roughly $2 trillion gross cost would be fully offset and in fact produce $36 billion in net savings in the first decade, and as much as $2 trillion in the second decade.

With the new budget estimate and deals coming together on the few remaining open issues, Democratic leaders were feeling confident about passing the reconciliation package Friday, according to a senior Democratic aide.

If that happens, the House will also vote on the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill containing $550 billion in new spending and a five-year reauthorization of existing programs.

The House plans to reconvene at 8 a.m. Friday to “take votes” on both bills, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said in a floor notice.

'Radical requirement'

With Republicans universally opposed to the reconciliation bill, Democrats can’t afford to lose more than three votes in the narrowly divided House.

It was not immediately clear late Thursday if leaders had locked down enough votes from the members who had reservations earlier in the day.

Stephanie Murphy of Florida, Kathleen Rice of New York, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and other moderates wanted more time to review the bill and see Congressional Budget Office cost estimates. Despite release of JCT's revenue tables Thursday morning, the centrists were looking for a complete picture.

“I’d like to see how much this bill is going to cost,” Murphy said. “I have this radical requirement to know how much of taxpayer dollars I'm spending when I go to vote on a bill.”

"It's hard to make a decision when you haven't seen full text and there hasn't been a CBO score. But I'm hopeful," Rice said.

"We want to make sure revenues match, of course, all outlays," Gottheimer said. "We've asked for certain CBO tables. We're waiting on that and waiting for certain information we're owed."

Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal expressed confusion about moderates' position on the offsets, given that progressives and Blue Dogs struck a deal at the beginning of the 117th Congress to consider climate-related spending exempt from pay-as-you-go rules that require deficit-increasing legislation to be offset with tax increases or spending cuts.

That’s “a significant part of this package,” Jayapal, D-Wash., said.

Immigration

Three members who’ve long vowed to vote against the reconciliation package if it did not provide a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants earlier hadn't been ready to vote for the bill either.

García and Democratic Reps. Lou Correa of California and Adriano Espaillat of New York weren't satisfied with the latest language, which would provide temporary work permits and deportation protections to undocumented immigrants instead of a pathway to a more permanent legal status.

Correa, speaking alongside García and Espaillat after they huddled in the speaker’s lobby off the House floor Thursday afternoon, said they still had “a couple cards left to play.” He admitted, however, they are “not the best cards we’ve had in the last few weeks.”

That’s because the Senate parliamentarian has rejected two of Democrats' options for providing a pathway to citizenship as broad policy changes that only have a “merely incidental” impact on the budget, which violates the Senate's "Byrd rule" for what’s allowed in reconciliation.

One of those options was to update the immigration registry date to allow individuals who entered before 2010 to apply for green cards. “We still haven’t given up on registry. We’re looking for a way,” Espaillat said.

Later after meeting with Pelosi in her office, the trio said they were drafting new language reflecting “good, positive changes,” but they declined to reveal specifics.

“We're not trying to be evasive, but we do need to continue to work with them on the condition of confidentiality,” Correa said.

While the three lawmakers earlier said the language could be ready Thursday night, they acknowledged there may be an alternative path to resolving their concerns.

“Yes, there’s other ways. We’re exploring each and every avenue,” Correa said.

Jayapal said earlier García and Espaillat are the only Progressive Caucus members that have not yet committed to supporting the reconciliation package.

'SALT'

Another unresolved issue earlier Thursday was how best to provide relief for high tax states like New Jersey, New York and California from a $10,000 cap on the deduction for state and local taxes.

Some Democrats weren't happy with the latest proposal in the House bill, which would lift the $10,000 cap to $72,500 and extend its expiration date from the end of 2025 through 2031. But three lawmakers who'd been pushing for a generous SALT fix — "No SALT, No Deal" was their mantra — announced their support for the new $80,000 cap in a statement late Thursday.

"This fix will put money back in the pockets of hardworking, middle class families in our districts and help ensure that our local communities can continue making the investments that we need," said Democratic Reps. Mikie Sherrill and Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Tom Suozzi of New York.

Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., who devised the original House plan, predicted earlier Thursday evening that he and his colleagues could reach a compromise. "I'm confident we're gonna get full deductibility back for the vast majority of our constituents," he said. "That's the most important issue.”

Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal was prescient earlier Thursday when he said the House’s SALT plan looked “pretty sturdy” though there could be some minor changes “on the edges."

One reluctant member leadership won over earlier in the day is Rep. Henry Cuellar. The Texas Democrat has concerns about a methane fee in the House bill that could impact oil and gas producers in his state. But he said he’d vote “to move the ball forward” with the expectation it may be removed in the Senate, where West Virginia centrist Joe Manchin III shares his concerns.

Cuellar said he’s not surprised other moderates still have concerns, given leadership has made promises to them they’re no longer upholding.

“They had told us that they were not going to move this until they have 50 votes in the Senate,” he said. “There is certainly a lack of trust among some of the moderates on that.”

Progressives also once shared an interest in knowing there’d be 50 votes in the Senate, but they’ve given up waiting on Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema to offer public commitments and instead are relying on President Joe Biden to eventually deliver the votes, as he promised he will.

The majority of the Democratic Caucus is ready to vote.

“I think it’s time to just say this is where we are with the House,” Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., said. “Sen. Manchin, his pronouncements are vague and squishy. … I see a Sen. Manchin that’s wrestling with all of this.”

Laura Weiss, Joseph Morton, David Lerman, Suzanne Monyak, Jessica Wehrman, Paul M. Krawzak and Mary Ellen McIntire contributed.