House reconciliation vote could slip to Saturday

CBO price tag for sweeping package expected by end of Friday

New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer and other moderates have agreed to a floor vote on the reconciliation bill this week.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer and other moderates have agreed to a floor vote on the reconciliation bill this week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted November 15, 2021 at 10:11pm

A House vote on the Democratic reconciliation package could stretch into the weekend to await an official cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, senior Democrats said Monday night.

The CBO, the nonpartisan scorekeeper, announced earlier Monday that it would produce its “score,” or price tag for the sweeping tax and spending package, by the end of the day Friday.

Democratic leaders had delayed a planned Nov. 5 vote because a handful of moderates wanted to ensure the CBO’s score aligned with preliminary White House estimates. The moderates had agreed to vote this week even if the full score wasn’t finished, but Democrats seem content waiting now that the CBO has promised it will be ready.

Leaders told members during a Democratic Steeing and Policy Committee meeting Monday night they would hold the vote once the score was made public. Assistant Speaker Katherine M. Clark, D-Mass., said that if the CBO score comes late Friday, the vote would likely be Saturday.

“We’re hoping sooner,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. She said the vote could come as early as Wednesday or as late as Saturday, depending on when the CBO finishes its work.

“We’re now sure that we’ll have the entire bill, all the titles, done by the end of Friday,” CBO Director Phillip Swagel said at a virtual forum Monday hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center. “If we can get it done before then, of course, we will. But certainly by the end of Friday, we’ll have the entire estimate.”

Swagel said he could not yet say whether the estimate will show that the bill pays for itself, as its Democratic backers assert, or would add to annual deficits, as Republicans allege. “We’ll just have to wait because we’re working as fast as we can, knowing the timeline that the Congress is working on,” he said.

The White House has estimated the bill would more than pay for itself, producing a modest $36 billion surplus over 10 years. But some independent watchdogs have disagreed. The Committee for Responsible Federal Budget estimated the bill would add about $200 billion to deficits over a decade.

The chief difference between the two forecasts has centered on a provision designed to beef up IRS tax enforcement. The White House says an $80 billion investment in the IRS would generate a net of $400 billion in new revenue over 10 years from taxes that would otherwise go uncollected.

But Swagel cast doubt on that estimate Monday, saying previous work by his agency found such an enforcement effort would yield only about $120 billion in net new revenue.

“The research literature on this is very mixed,” he said.  “And so we end up … coming down in the middle of that literature, on the effects of deterrence on additional revenues. My understanding is that others take more either optimistic or aggressive positions and really see a lot of weight on deterrence. … It’s just not as we see it in the center of the research literature.”

But Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., a leading moderate who helped force the vote delay two weeks ago, said he would not be troubled if the CBO estimate on tax enforcement revenue came in lower than the administration’s forecast. He said lawmakers had debated the issue when considering the same enforcement provision as an offset for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and Democrats and Republicans generally agreed the CBO estimate was too conservative.

“That was baked in," Gottheimer told reporters. “There’s a difference of opinion there.”

Inflation concerns

Across the Capitol, Senate centrist Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., said he’s eager to see the CBO estimates, both to ensure the measure is paid for and to help evaluate its impact on inflation. However, Manchin said he doesn’t see the recent spikes in inflation trending downward soon “no matter what happens” with the reconciliation bill.

Swagel, who served as assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy in the George W. Bush administration, also said he expects inflation “will remain elevated at least through the first part of next year and, more likely, throughout a large part of next year.”

But he stopped short of offering a more detailed assessment, saying the nonpartisan CBO was just beginning to analyze the issue and would have to weigh the impact of new legislation. “We’re trying to figure out exactly how that goes because it feeds into the budget, and that’s ultimately what we need to know,” he said.

House moderates, including Gottheimer, insisted two weeks ago they want to see additional information from the CBO before voting on the reconciliation bill. But they had stopped short of demanding a final score, and they agreed to a floor vote this week.

Five moderates, in a Nov. 5 statement, said they awaited more “fiscal information” from the CBO to see if it aligns with White House budget projections. But they said they would “remain committed to working to resolve any discrepancies in order to pass the Build Back Better legislation.”

The CBO has released preliminary estimates for eight of the bill’s 13 sets of recommendations by House committees, totaling $298 billion so far, including the Agriculture and Financial Services panels’ estimates unveiled on Monday.

Estimates of major portions of the reconciliation bill, including submissions from the Ways and Means, Education and Labor, and Energy and Commerce panels, haven’t yet been released.

And the Biden administration, meanwhile, expressed confidence that the pending CBO score would not derail passage of the legislation, which would expand the social safety net and combat climate change.

“We’re confident this bill, as it moves through the process, is going to be fully paid for,” National Economic Council Director Brian Deese told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “And not only that, it’s actually going to reduce deficits over the long term.”

Laura Weiss contributed to this report.