WASHINGTON — Top Democrats abruptly postponed an expected House vote Friday on their $1.85 trillion spending bill as leaders struggled to balance demands from progressives and moderates that dog the pillar of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda.
In a bid to hand him a needed victory, leaders still prepared to try pushing an accompanying $1 trillion package of road and other infrastructure projects through the chamber and to his desk. But even that popular bill’s fate was in doubt. Progressives threatened to vote against it, continuing their demand that the two measures be voted on together to pressure moderates including Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District to support the bigger social measure.
The scrambled plans cast a fresh pall over a party that has tried for weeks to find middle ground on its massive package of health, education, family and climate change initiatives. It has been hard because of slender majorities that mean they need the support of every Senate Democrat and can have no more than three defectors in the House.
Democratic leaders had hoped to see the House approve both measures on Friday, producing twin triumphs for a president and party eager to rebound from this week’s deflating off-year elections and show they can govern.
But those plans were dashed when, after hours of talks, Golden was among a half-dozen moderates who insisted they would vote against the sprawling social and climate bill unless the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office first provided its cost estimate for the measure.
Golden has praised some of the changes made in recent days as Democrats reined in their proposal, including income limits on child care assistance and the removal of a tobacco tax. But in a statement, he noted past instances in which Democratic leaders called for CBO scores before voting on landmark bills, including when Republicans advanced a 2017 tax-cut package.
“I am still at the table and ready to work, but we need the time and information to do this right and I am not currently in a position to support this bill,” he said.
Democratic leaders have said a score would take days or more, however. With Friday’s delay and lawmakers’ plans to leave town for a week’s break, that could mean the budget estimates would be ready by the time a vote is held. The Senate cannot vote without a score.
“In order to make progress on the president’s vision, it is important that we advance the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework and the Build Back Better Act today,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, wrote to colleagues, using the names for the two measures.
The infrastructure measure cleared the Senate easily in August with bipartisan support, including the backing of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. The package would provide huge sums for every state for highway, rail, mass transit, broadband, airport, drinking and waste water, power grids, ports and other projects.
But that bill became a pawn in the long struggle for leverage between Democrats’ progressives and moderates and progressives again said they would back the infrastructure legislation only if the two measures were voted on together.
“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,” wrote Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who leads the 95-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, suggesting that at least some progressives would vote Friday against the infrastructure bill.
That could mean Pelosi, who’s long refused to have votes on any bills unless she knows Democrats will win, would choose that path again and decide against allowing an infrastructure vote until both bills are ready to go.
Earlier Friday, 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.”
Passage of Biden’s larger measure would send it to the Senate, where it would face certain changes and more Democratic drama, chiefly because of demands by Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to contain the measure’s costs. But House approval of the smaller, bipartisan infrastructure measure would send it to the White House, where Biden would take a victory lap. It is projected to create mountains of jobs.
Half the size of Biden’s initial $3.5 trillion package, the new bill exceeds 2,100 pages and has the support of progressive lawmakers, even though it is smaller than they wanted. Republicans oppose the measure as too expensive and damaging to the economy.
The package would provide large numbers of Americans with assistance to pay for health care, raising children and caring for elderly people at home. There would be lower prescription drug costs as Medicare for the first time would be able to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower prices for some drugs, a long-sought Democratic priority.
The package would provide some $555 billion in tax breaks encouraging cleaner energy and electric vehicles. Democrats added key provisions in recent days, restoring a new paid family leave program and work permits for immigrants. Much of the package’s cost would be covered with higher taxes on wealthier Americans and large corporations.
Manchin has panned the new family leave program, which is expected to provide four weeks of paid time off, less than the 12 weeks once envisioned. Senators are also likely to strip out a just-added immigration provision that would let 7 million immigrants in the country without legal standing apply for up to two five-year work permits.
Story by Alan Fram. Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Farnoush Amiri, Kevin Freking, Aamer Madhani, Mary Clare Jalonick and Brian Slodysko and BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.