With no votes to spare, Democratic leaders were forced to throw a legislative “Hail Mary” on Friday in hopes of finally pushing President Joe Biden’s multitrillion-dollar domestic spending plans through the House.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other leaders met privately with a handful of centrists who say they want an official cost estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office before voting on a 10-year, $1.85 trillion spending bill. Democrats can lose no more than three votes in the narrowly divided House to pass the legislation.
Biden, meeting reporters to tout a strong monthly jobs report, said he was returning to the Oval Office “to make some calls” to lawmakers. He said he would ask them to “vote yes on both these bills right now.”
Democratic leaders want to pass that legislation, and a separate bipartisan five-year, $1 trillion package of road and other infrastructure projects, to quickly notch accomplishments just days after Tuesday’s crushing election defeats in Virginia and elsewhere. They also want the votes to occur before Congress leaves by the weekend for a week-long recess.
Leaders have said complete CBO numbers won’t be available for days or more. “We’re working on it,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said of the talks. By late morning, a House procedural vote was underway that started over three hours earlier as behind-the-scenes discussions continued.
House passage of Biden’s larger measure would send it to the Senate, where it would face even more Democratic dysfunction. That’s chiefly because of demands by centrist Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to contain the measure’s costs and curb or drop some of its spending initiatives.
But House approval of the smaller, bipartisan infrastructure measure would send it directly to the White House, where Biden would be certain to take a victory lap. That bill had been blocked by House progressives to pressure moderates to back the larger spending wish list.
Pelosi met late Thursday with lawmakers wanting the larger measure to go as far as possible in helping illegal immigrants remain in the U.S. Their prospects are limited by strict Senate rules, though.
After months of negotiations, House passage of the big spending bill would be a crucial step, sending to the Senate Biden’s effort to expand health care, child care, and other social services and deliver huge spending to fight climate change.
Alongside the slimmer package for roads, bridges, and broadband, it adds up to Biden’s answer to his campaign promise to rebuild the country from the COVID-19 crisis and confront a changing economy.
Pelosi’s strategy seemed focused on passing the most robust bill possible in her chamber and then leaving the Senate to adjust or strip out the portions its members won’t agree to. In late tweaks to the bill to get votes, the House Rules Committee approved revisions to a state-and-local tax deduction and other issues.
Half the size of Biden’s initial $3.5 trillion package, the bill exceeds 2,100 pages and has the support of far-left progressive lawmakers, even though it is smaller than they wanted. But the chamber’s more centrist and fiscally conservative Democrats continued to mount objections.
Republicans unanimously opposed the measure as too expensive and damaging to the economy.
Democrats have so far been unable to resolve their differences, particularly with Sens. Manchin and Sinema, who forced cutbacks to Biden’s bill but championed the slimmer bipartisan infrastructure package that had stalled amid deliberations.
Manchin has panned the new family and medical leave program, which is expected to provide four weeks of paid time off after childbirth, for recovery from major illness or for caring for family members, less than the 12-week program once envisioned.
Senators are also likely to strip out a just-added illegal immigration provision that would create a new program for some 7 million illegals who are in the country, allowing them to legally work and travel in the U.S. for five years. It’s not clear that addition would pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian under special budget rules being used to process the package.
The Associated Press contributed to this article