House punts on social spending bill, but will try to pass infrastructure bill

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., (center) joined from left by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.; and House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., walks to update reporters after day of delays in the vote to advance President Joe Biden's domestic policy package at the U.S. Capitol on Friday.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., (center) joined from left by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.; and House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., walks to update reporters after day of delays in the vote to advance President Joe Biden's domestic policy package at the U.S. Capitol on Friday.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Updated November 5, 2021 at 5:15 PM ET

Despite a plea earlier in the day from President Biden for House Democrats to support two bills that represent the bulk of his legislative agenda and pass them "right now," House leaders were unable to muster enough votes to pass both measures.

Instead, House leaders say they will vote on the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that passed the Senate in August and on a rule that governs debate for the Build Back Better bill Friday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she'd bring the $1.75 trillion social spending bill to the floor for a vote before Thanksgiving, after Congress' budget office can analyze the bill.

"We had hoped to be able to bring both bills to the floor today. Some members want more clarification or validation of numbers that have been put forth ... that it is fully paid for," Pelosi said. "And we honor that request."

A handful of House moderates refused to vote on the social spending package, which covers child care, education, health care and climate, unless they received a Congressional Budget Office score, which would show how much the proposed bill would cost American taxpayers. A CBO score can take weeks to get once a bill is finally written.

Pelosi, who has a narrow margin in the House, could only afford to lose three Democratic votes.

Passage of the infrastructure bill remains in question. Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, said in a statement, "If our six colleagues still want to wait for a CBO score, we would agree to give them that time — after which point we can vote on both bills together."

Another set back for the Build Back Better agenda

After weeks of negotiations, Biden on Friday morning publicly urged House members to vote for both bills.

"Right now, we stand on the cusp of historic economic progress: two bills that together will create millions of jobs, grow the economy, invest in our nation and our people, lower costs for families, and turn the climate crisis into an opportunity," he said. "Passing these bills will say clearly to the American people: 'We hear your voices,'" Biden said.

But it became clear — despite numerous conversations, phone calls and a seven hour open vote — Pelosi did not have the votes just yet.

Moderates were not ready to support the bill even with partial analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation. The JCT released a preliminary estimate Thursday morning that about $1.47 trillion of the bill would be covered by the funding sources in the package. House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., said the bill would be fully paid if revenue from better IRS enforcement and prescription drug price savings were included in the analysis.

It's the latest setback for the social spending package is $1.75 trillion, was already trimmed from its original $3.5 trillion proposal.

Negotiations have been constant; just earlier this week, a compromise was finally reached on lowering prescription drug costs for seniors.

Paid family leave has been slashed to four weeks from an earlier pitch of three months (at one point, it appeared to be off the table altogether, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was urged to add it back in in some form on Wednesday).

But even if the bill does pass the House, hurdles in the Senate remain. Originally, Pelosi wanted a negotiated spending package that would pass through the Senate unchanged. That seems unlikely to happen.

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has said he opposes including paid leave in this bill. He has argued that kind of policy change should be done in a bipartisan manner.

In addition, the Senate parliamentarian will have to review the bill to ensure all the elements meet the rules for reconciliation, the budget tool Democrats are using to pass the bill by a simple majority in the evenly divided Senate.

The parliamentarian has ruled against previous attempts to include immigration reform provision in the package. Democrats have included an immigration measure they hope clears the parliamentarian this time.

And after a tense Tuesday election night that brought a Republican governor to Virginia and a surprisingly tight gubernatorial race in New Jersey, Democrats face new pressures to coordinate a strategy and pass meaningful legislation.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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