US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and the rule that will allow the passage of the Build Back Better Act in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, DC on November 6, 2021.
Roberto Schmidt | AFP | Getty Images
While many Democrats let out a sigh of relief when the House passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill on Friday, the party has a grueling few weeks ahead of it to enact the rest of its economic agenda.
The more than $1 trillion package that would refresh transportation, broadband and utilities fulfills one part of President Joe Biden‘s domestic vision. Democrats now have to clear multiple hurdles to enact the larger piece, a $1.75 trillion investment in the social safety net and climate policy.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said Democrats aim to pass the social spending bill by Thanksgiving. Meeting the deadline will require both chambers of Congress to rush while keeping nearly every member of a diverse Democratic caucus united — a challenge that has led to repeated roadblocks as lawmakers advanced the bills this year.
Biden on Saturday sounded sure that his party would line up behind a sprawling bill that it aims to sell on the midterm campaign trail next year.
“I feel confident that we will have enough votes to pass the Build Back Better plan,” he told reporters. Biden also signaled he could sign the infrastructure bill next week after lawmakers return to Washington.
The House plans to take the next step in passing the social spending plan. The chamber will try to approve the bill during the week of Nov. 15 once it returns from a weeklong recess. With no Republican support expected, Democrats can lose no more than three votes for the package.
It would then go to the Senate. To pass the bill under special budget rules, all 50 members of the Democratic caucus will have to support it.
Schumer will have to win over conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has not yet blessed a framework agreement on the legislation. The House could also send the Senate a bill that includes four weeks of paid leave for most American workers — a provision Manchin has opposed.
Once the Senate irons out any objections from Manchin or other Democrats, in addition to any constraints budget reconciliations rules put on the bill, it could approve a different version of the plan than the House does. The House would then need to vote on the Senate plan or go to a conference committee with the upper chamber to hash out disparities.
All told, Democrats will have to navigate a series of obstacles to get the bill to Biden’s desk in the coming weeks. Pulling it off will require cooperation and trust between centrists and progressives who have disparate views about how large of a role the government should play in boosting households and combating climate change.
The infrastructure bill passed only after House progressives and centrists made a nonbinding pact to pass the social spending plan this month. Five centrists Democrats said they would vote for the larger bill if a coming Congressional Budget Office cost estimate projects it will not add to long-term budget deficits.
On Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who has pulled off a range of legislative high-wire acts in her career — expressed confidence that the centrists will honor their side of the deal.
“As has been agreed, when the House comes back into session the week of November 15th, we will act with a message that is clear and unified to produce results,” she wrote to House Democrats.
The nonpartisan CBO could take weeks to produce a cost estimate for the sprawling plan. However, the centrist holdouts in a Friday statement committed to voting for the legislation “in no event later than the week of November 15th.”
If Democrats can push the bill through Congress this month, they will still have another big lift on their hands before the end of the year. Lawmakers need to raise or suspend the debt ceiling sometime in December — or risk the first-ever default on U.S. debt.