Pelosi Tries to Muscle Through a Vote

Pelosi Tries to Muscle Through a Vote

U.S. House Speaker Pelosi holds her weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington
JONATHAN ERNST
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Thursday, November 4, 2021

Pelosi Tries to Muscle Through a Vote on Biden’s Agenda

As Democrats look to advance President Joe Biden’s stalled economic agenda in the wake of electoral embarrassments this week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is pressing for a vote on the party’s reconciliation package of social spending and climate measures as soon as Thursday evening, with another vote on the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure potentially to follow Friday morning.

“I was really very unhappy about not passing the [bipartisan infrastructure framework] last week. I really was very unhappy,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday. “So now we’re going to pass both bills but in order to do so we have to have votes for both bills, and that’s where we are.”

That means Democrats aren’t yet where they need to be. As of Thursday evening, Pelosi reportedly doesn’t yet have the votes needed to pass the $1.75 trillion budget plan as lawmakers continue to haggle over various details of the social spending legislation, including its immigration provisions, the details of a plan to lower prescription drug prices and proposed changes to the current $10,000 cap on the deductibility of state and local taxes.

Split on SALT: The House bill would lift the cap to $72,500 through 2031, but Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) have proposed leaving the cap at $10,000 but having it apply only to taxpayers making more than $400,000 a year.

“While the $10,000 cap is much too low, eliminating the cap entirely would result in a massive tax break for the wealthiest families in this country,” Sanders said at a press conference Wednesday. “The multimillionaires and billionaires who own mansions in exclusive neighborhoods, and who can afford to make extremely expensive purchases do not need a tax break.”

A number of centrists also want more time to review the legislative text, which runs more than 2,100 pages long, and have said that they won’t support the bill before they see cost and revenue estimates for it from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT).

The CBO score could still take days, meaning it won’t be ready in Pelosi’s timeframe, but Pelosi on Thursday touted revenue estimates released Thursday by the JCT, which showed that the new spending is essentially paid for (see more on this below). The JCT numbers may not be enough to overcome centrists’ concerns, though. “They’re also worried about changes to prescription drug pricing and immigration,” Punchbowl News reported Thursday morning. “In sum, moderates really want to just slow this whole thing down in order to extract more changes to the legislation. That’s what the demand for CBO score is, in part -- a stalling tactic.”

Moving ahead without Manchin: The race to vote on the two major pieces of legislation represents another tactical turn by Pelosi, who has been forced to change course a number of times as she tries to herd obstreperous Democratic lawmakers toward passing both bills.

Pelosi initially said the House would only take up the infrastructure bill after the Senate passed the larger budget package. She also promised her members that she would only make them vote on a reconciliation bill that could pass the Senate — and yet Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has made clear that he still isn’t on board with the latest version of the legislation. “I have a lot of concerns, let’s put it that way,” Manchin told Fox News Wednesday night. “They’re working off the House bill. That’s not going to be the bill I work off of.”

But House Democrats have apparently tired of trying to win over Manchin. The House bill now includes policies that Manchin has rejected, including four weeks of paid leave and an expansion of Medicare to cover hearing benefits. “Many House Democrats now believe Manchin will never verbally voice support for a package and that voting on their own House bill is the only way to put pressure on Manchin and break the intraparty stalemate,” The Hill reports, adding that Pelosi said of the West Virginia senator: "We hope that he will see the light of day.”

Moving ahead without Manchin carries risks, though, since it erodes the linkage between the two big bills, potentially allowing the Senate to strip out elements of the House version of the budget package and send the revised version back for another House vote — a process that would lengthen the time it takes to pass the plan.

“I wouldn’t be surprised at all if, between the parliamentarian and Joe [Manchin]’s concerns ... whatever the House sends will have to be modified at least a little,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) told Politico. “It will not be enacted as is. Everybody needs to sit with that and get comfortable with it.”

Quote of the Day

“I hope my colleagues absorb this notion that when you’re the majority, the ‘D’ in Democrat should stand for ‘doer,’ not ‘delay,’ ‘dithering,’ ‘do-nothing,’ ‘division.’”

– Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), as quoted by The Hill, arguing that Tuesday’s election results point to an urgent need for Democrats to define themselves for voters by enacting their economic agenda.

Pelosi Says Build Back Better ‘Fully Paid For and Reduces the Deficit’ but Critics Decry Gimmicks

A congressional analysis of the Build Back Better bill finds that the tax increases contained within it would raise about $1.5 trillion over a decade, bolstering Democrats’ claim that a major component of President Biden’s social agenda would be paid for with new revenues and would even help shrink the budget deficit.

The estimate from the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation examines only the proposed changes to the tax code in the still-developing, $1.75 trillion bill, including the creation of a new minimum tax on large corporations and a surtax on individual incomes over $10 million. Other significant elements, such as additional revenues generated by a beefed-up IRS and savings from reduced drug prices, are not accounted for.

Highlighting the JCT report in a message to colleagues Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that other revenue sources in the Democratic bill would raise an additional $650 billion, pushing the revenue total for the bill over $2 trillion. “It is essential that the legislation is fully paid for and reduces the debt,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi also cited analyses from “the nonpartisan Moody’s Analytics and 17 Nobel Prize-winning economists” that concluded the Democrats’ bill would “grow the economy without increasing inflation, because it is fully paid for.”

Some budget experts, however, have questioned the projected revenues associated with some parts of the Democratic plan. Enhanced IRS enforcement, for example, is projected to bring in $400 billion over 10 years, though some experts say it would likely bring in far less.

Still, the JCT analysis shows that Democrats’ proposed tax increases are substantial and go a long way toward offsetting the cost of their bill.

What about the gimmicks? Some fiscally conservative Democrats and budget watchdog groups have criticized the way the spending plans are structured in the bill, with several key provisions set to expire as part of an effort to keep the long-term cost to a minimum.

At a press conference earlier this week, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) blasted the “shell games” and “budget gimmicks” that he said the bill writers are using to artificially reduce the cost of the bill, while speculating that the true cost was twice what Democrats are citing.

The issue is simple: While the bill shows some new program expiring after two or three years, supporters of those programs expect them to continue, extended by lawmakers in a future Congress. If and when that happens, the budget analysis goes out the window as the cost increases each year a given program is extended. An analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found that extending the programs in the Build Back Better bill could cost an additional $2 trillion, meaning that the potential long-term costs of the package are far from covered.

The use of such gimmicks has a long history. As The New York Times’ Alan Rappeport notes, the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 were supposed to expire in 2010, but were extended during the Obama administration, with some becoming permanent. Similarly, the individual tax cuts provided by Republicans in 2017 are scheduled to expire in 2025, but could end up getting extended by Congress, increasing the actual cost of the Trump tax bill.

Now the shoe is on the other foot, with Democrats deploying sunsets to lower the price of their bill, and fiscal conservatives left to complain about it. On Thursday, the ranking Republican members of Senate committees sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) demanding hearings to discuss the spending bill, so to “properly assess what impact a bill will have on the federal budget.”

Waiting on the CBO: While the JCT analysis may mollify some Democratic lawmakers who have concerns about the cost of the Build Back Better bill, others are expected to stick by their demand to see a separate report from the Congressional Budget Office, though it’s not clear if the lack of a CBO score will hold up an expected vote in the House this week.

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