House votes Friday on infrastructure, budget bill rule in doubt

Signs of progress in resolving intraparty disputes appeared on life support, with no guarantee either vote would occur

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal speaks with reporters on the Build Back Better Act and the infrastructure bill outside the Capitol on Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal speaks with reporters on the Build Back Better Act and the infrastructure bill outside the Capitol on Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted November 5, 2021 at 11:07am, Updated at 6:13pm

House Democrats were planning to take up a long-stalled bipartisan infrastructure bill and the rule for floor debate on a broader social safety net and climate spending package Friday, while continuing to work with centrists on their concerns with the larger measure before a final vote on that bill.

But even that sign of progress in resolving intraparty disputes seemed on life support Friday afternoon, with no guarantee either vote would occur after some progressives said they wouldn't support the infrastructure bill until moderates were ready to back the larger budget bill.

Several moderates have said they won't vote for the roughly $2 trillion budget reconciliation bill without a formal cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, which wasn't available yet Friday. Democratic leaders on Friday afternoon formally pulled the plug on voting for that sprawling package before next week's Veterans Day recess.

"I am absolutely convinced, beyond a doubt, that before Thanksgiving, the week of the 15th, we will pass the 'Build Back Better' legislation," House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer told reporters, using the nickname the Biden administration has affixed to the reconciliation bill.

The compromise hatched in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office earlier Friday was to vote on the infrastructure bill that moderates support, which would boost spending by $550 billion. That vote would be followed by a vote on the rule for floor debate on the reconciliation bill Friday, with final passage at a time to be determined.

But progressives, who've said for months they won't vote for the infrastructure bill without also voting for the larger reconciliation package, threw a wrench into that strategy shortly after it was announced.

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., took aim at "six Democratic members who want to have a formal CBO score" before voting on reconciliation, without naming them.

She said substantial cost information had already been provided, but "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."

Without most of the Progressive Caucus' support, House passage of the infrastructure bill — the last stop before reaching President Joe Biden's desk —was on shaky ground. GOP votes for that measure were only expected to be in the single digits.

As a result, it wasn't clear when either bill would receive a vote, as lawmakers prepared to head home for a weeklong Veterans Day recess, leaving President Joe Biden without a win on his top legislative priorities for the time being.

"I'm asking every House member, member of the House of Representatives, to vote 'yes' on both these bills, right now," Biden said earlier in the day after remarks touting an upbeat monthly jobs report.

Pelosi said earlier she thought "there are a large number of Progressive Caucus members who will vote for the bill." But after Progressive Caucus members huddled Friday afternoon to discuss next steps, how much support there was within that caucus was uncertain.

"If it's a standalone vote on the [infrastructure bill] before we get to the other things, then yeah, I'm a 'no,'" Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., said after the meeting. Rep. Kai Kahele, D-Hawaii, likewise said he'd vote against the infrastructure bill.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., said he hadn't decided yet, but was concerned about the moderates' intentions, calling them "not trustworthy." 

CBC weighs in

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus met for hours with party leaders in Pelosi's office to try to dislodge the two bills, settling on the strategy of voting on infrastructure and then the rule for budget reconciliation.

"We're going to have two votes today," CBC Chair Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, said after the meeting. "We're going to go and vote on the bipartisan infrastructure and we're going to vote then on the rule. And we're going to continue to work together as an entire caucus."

"The CBC was at the table because these bills will impact Black America," Beatty said.

Pelosi confirmed in a "Dear Colleague" letter after the meeting that the House would vote on the infrastructure bill first and then the rule for floor debate on the budget reconciliation measure.

Earlier, House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., told reporters it would demonstrate "forward movement" to at least adopt the rule for debate on the reconciliation bill before a weeklong recess was set to begin.

Cost concerns

Pelosi huddled in her Capitol Hill office earlier Friday with a group of centrists who've said they need to see a formal Congressional Budget Office estimate of the measure's deficit impact and total price tag. Leadership can only afford to lose three votes among Democrats with all Republicans expected to vote "no" on the huge bill, and early indications were that they hadn't yet corralled enough support.

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., said "I think we're down to five" holdouts on the reconciliation bill, which would provide hundreds of billions of dollars for clean energy incentives, paid family leave, affordable housing, tax credits for families, health insurance coverage and more.

"In all my years, I think this is the most complicated negotiation I've ever been part of. I can tell you that," Neal said. Throughout the process, he added, “it would seem as though we answered all the questions, only to discover that perhaps we hadn't." 

Neal and Pelosi on Thursday brandished an official estimate of the tax provisions' deficit impact from the Joint Committee on Taxation, which showed revenue increases totaling roughly $1.5 trillion along with tax breaks costing around $560 billion.

The White House then pitched in late Thursday with an informal analysis that drew on preliminary scores and the JCT estimate, purporting to show the $2 trillion-plus cost was more than covered by the tax increases and provisions to lower the cost of prescription drugs. 

But moderates were evidently in "trust, but verify" mode, with the CBO the official arbiter of legislative price tags. A source familiar with the discussions said the moderate holdouts have committed to vote for the reconciliation bill if a CBO score comes back consistent with the White House-provided numbers.

The CBO hadn't officially scored prescription drug pricing provisions yet, for example, and the White House's estimate of revenue collected from beefed-up IRS tax enforcement is about $280 billion higher than what the CBO has said previously.

“We’re waiting for the CBO score,” Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, said as he left Pelosi’s office on Friday morning, adding he was a "no" without a score.

Voting on the infrastructure bill first could help with Golden, however, who told reporters he wanted a vote on the infrastructure bill before voting on the more expansive social safety net and climate package. 

Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., said Democratic leaders had “a little work to do,” but that he was hopeful the reconciliation bill could pass Friday. “I think it’s more of a scoring issue right now, to make sure people are in a comfortable spot,” he said.

Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., a third moderate, said lawmakers are “just wanting to get the job done.” But he declined to offer any prediction on what would happen or when on the votes. "You should be talking to the speaker, I’m just a little old country veterinarian from Oregon," Schrader joked.

Progressives, meanwhile, were somewhat amused by their centrist colleagues' stance. After months of holding out, the progressives had finally acquiesced to clearing the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill before securing commitments from the Senate that they'd have the votes to pass the reconciliation bill. 

Now, moderates appeared to be the holdup on both the reconciliation bill and the infrastructure vote they've been pushing for since September.  The centrists are "threatening to tank the bill over the CBO score," Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said Friday. 

“I don't want to speak for any of those holdouts. But I will say that I feel like there's a difference between progressives holding out, and us going back to our communities and say, 'We're doing this for child care, immigration, universal pre-K, health care extension,'" Ocasio-Cortez said. "And I think it's a lot harder to go back to a person's community and say, ‘Hey, I'm doing this for a CBO score.'"

The infrastructure bill would add $256 billion to deficits over a decade, the CBO has said. Moderates also agreed early this year to exempt climate-related spending from pay-as-you-go budget requirements, which progressives argue should alleviate concerns about voting for the reconciliation bill since clean energy incentives make up a large chunk of the package.

Lengthy vote

While all the behind-the-scenes vote wrangling occurred, the longest vote in modern House history was taking place on the floor, according to Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

A motion to adjourn offered by Republicans to protest the massive spending bill was held open for about seven hours, dwarfing a three-hour vote in 2003 on legislation to create the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

The vote began at 8:12 a.m. Friday and was gaveled to a close at 3:18 p.m. The tally was 207-219; the motion was not adopted.

Later in the day Friday, another procedural vote, on a point of order against the rule for floor debate, was being held open well beyond normal procedures as Democrats discussed next steps. The vote began at 3:39 p.m. and was still going after 6 p.m.

David Lerman, Lindsey McPherson, Laura Weiss and Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.