Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to vote on President Joe Biden’s sweeping domestic spending plan as soon as Thursday evening. First she has to convince moderate holdouts who want more time to digest the $1.75 trillion bill.
Pelosi and her leadership team spent a chaotic Thursday hustling to narrow the number of holdouts on the sweeping bill, which includes centrists who’ve raised procedural concerns as well as a trio of Democrats who’ve threatened to oppose the bill without immigration reform. That whip effort intensified throughout the day, with Democrats on the floor twisting arms and members of Biden’s cabinet making calls as top Democrats scrambled to get their members on board with the massive bill.
“Things are starting to move in the right direction. Conversations have all been positive,” said House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). “Everybody understands this has to happen.”
“I do expect” a vote tonight, said House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.).
A key part of Pelosi’s push on Thursday has been directed at the five centrist Democrats who have publicly declared they’d be unwilling to back the full bill until Congress’ nonpartisan scorekeepers can prove that the legislation will be fully paid for. Privately, even more centrists have aired the same grievance: Between 12 and 15 moderate Democrats, many from swing districts, had privately told leadership they won’t be ready to vote Thursday unless they had more clarity about exactly what’s in the bill after a slew of changes were unveiled a day earlier, according to multiple people familiar with discussions.
Asked if she was hearing concerns from moderates, Pelosi told reporters as she left the floor: “We’re not hearing concerns. We’re doing our work. We’ll let you know.”
Senior Democrats had hoped to make progress with those moderates thanks to the Joint Committee on Taxation, which released a slew of budgetary information earlier Thursday. The committee’s incomplete estimate found at least $1.48 trillion of spending in the bill would be covered by the legislation’s funding sources.
“It is essential that the legislation is fully paid for and reduces the debt,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to her members Thursday afternoon, where she stressed that newer provisions that weren’t included in that score — prescription drug pricing savings and IRS enforcement — are expected to raise another $650 billion.
But several centrists, who huddled to discuss the budgetary score later in the day, privately said they still needed more information before a floor vote on the social policy measure.
It’s not just the budgetary score: Many centrists have also refused to vote for a bill that won’t pass the Senate, with new provisions on immigration and paid leave provisions that face a grim future across the Capitol.
“It’s hard to make a decision when you haven’t seen the full text and there hasn’t been a CBO score. But I’m hopeful,” said Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), who hasn’t committed to voting for the bill.
Regardless, Pelosi and her leadership team have been forceful in their efforts to bring the massive spending plan to the floor Thursday evening, with a Friday vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill, as she told members in a closed-door meeting Thursday morning. Those remarks came during a two-hour meeting of Democrats, where key committee chairs painstakingly outlined the provisions in the massive domestic policy bill as they readied members to vote for one of the largest bills in history.
“We’re going to pass both bills, but in order to do so, we have to have the votes for both bills,” Pelosi told reporters at her press conference after the meeting, declining to provide a firm schedule.
As they prepared for a last-ditch push Thursday, senior Democrats said they’d made key progress in several areas of contention, which includes immigration. The trio of Democrats who had refused to back the bill without immigration reforms are now expected to back Biden’s spending bill, though they say they remain unsatisfied that the bill does not include a pathway to citizenship.
House Administration Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) confirmed to Democrats in the closed-door meeting Thursday morning that a pathway to citizenship, a long-sought goal for Democrats, would not be in their legislation — a push that had drawn fierce pushback from moderates.
“It’s not everything we wanted, but it’s an improvement over the situation,” Lofgren said.
But including immigration provisions at all has raised concerns from moderates, who have refused to pass a bill in the House that will just be gutted, or perhaps ignored entirely, by the Senate. Many moderates have insisted that the House should instead take up infrastructure on Thursday — which has already passed the Senate and been scored — while spending more time on the $1.75 trillion bill.
“There needs to be some level of understanding as to whether or not this bill, as written, can survive the Senate’s procedural process,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), a centrist leader.
For her, that includes immigration, which she said would be “selling immigrants a false hope” if any provisions are included that will simply be stripped out in the Senate.
Democrats are still hopeful they’ve made a breakthrough on immigration, but there’s still an enormous hurdle: the Senate parliamentarian. House Democrats say their colleagues in the upper-chamber have refused to take their newest compromise language to the upper chamber’s rules arbiter, according to several people familiar with discussions. But those Senate Democrats have countered it’s because they don’t have a full score from the Congressional Budget Office.
“They haven’t gotten a CBO score and without it we can’t make the case,” said Sen. Bob Mendendez (D-N.J.).
Months of infighting over Biden’s two giant bills has roused impatience to vote this week among the Democratic caucus — anxiety that was heightened after Democrats’ shellacking in Virginia and other states in Tuesday’s election.
After several failed attempts to clear one or both of Biden’s priorities, many Democrats said they were unwilling to leave the Capitol this week without achieving something.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, Democrats are still publicly projecting confidence they can take up the broader spending bill before Thanksgiving, but they also could go to a long-delayed defense policy bill if it’s not ready. The Senate leaves for recess on Thursday afternoon and returns Nov. 15.
“At some point, we’ve got to pass something. If Joe Manchin’s saying it’s gonna be weeks, let’s pass something on the House side,” said Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.)
Marianne LeVine and Burgess Everett contributed to this report.