In a letter to Democrats on Saturday the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, set her sights high, saying Joe Biden’s $3.5tn spending package, a bipartisan infrastructure deal worth $1tn and a measure to expand government funding “must pass” next week.
Calling 30 September “a date fraught with meaning”, Pelosi said: “This week, we must pass a continuing resolution, Build Back Better Act and the” infrastructure deal.
Government funding will run out at midnight on 30 September. Pelosi did not mention legislation to extend the debt ceiling and prevent a US default, another flashpoint with Republicans.
The letter came against a backdrop of unified Republican opposition and bitter splits between Democratic moderates and progressives which threaten to sink Biden’s first-term agenda.
One Washington Post reporter wrote: “Well, this is raising the stakes.”
During an unusual Saturday session at the Capitol in Washington, Democrats pushed the $3.5tn, 10-year spending bill through the House budget committee. At the same time, leaders tried to resolve internal divisions.
Approval by the Democratic-chaired panel was assured, a necessary but minor checking of a procedural box, edging the mammoth bill a step closer to debate by the full House. The committee was not allowed to significantly amend the 2,465-page measure, the product of 13 other committees.
More important work was happening in an opaque procession of calls, meetings and other bargaining sessions among leaders and lawmakers.
Biden, Pelosi and the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, must resolve differences among Democrats over the package’s final price tag, which seems sure to shrink. There are also disputes over which initiatives should be reshaped, among them expanded Medicare, tax breaks for children and healthcare, a push for cleaner energy and higher levies on the rich and corporations.
Wafer-thin majorities in the House and Senate mean compromise is mandatory. Before the measure the budget committee considered on Saturday even reaches the House floor it is expected to be changed to reflect whatever accords are reached.
“The next few days will be a time of intensity,” Pelosi wrote to Democrats on Saturday, adding that the spending plan, the Build Back Better Act, would “make sure the wealthiest and corporations pay their fair share”.
Corporate lobbying against the plan has been widely reported.
The bill embodies Biden’s top domestic goals. The Democratic budget chairman, John Yarmuth, cited “decades of disinvestment” on needs like healthcare, education, childcare and the environment as the rationale for the legislation.
“The futures of millions of Americans and their families are at stake,” Yarmuth said. “We can no longer afford the costs of neglect and inaction. The time to act is now.”
Republicans say the proposal is unneeded, unaffordable amid federal debt exceeding $28tn and reflects Democrats’ drive to insert government into people’s lives. Its tax boosts will cost jobs and include credits for buying electric vehicles, they say, purchases often made by people with comfortable incomes.
“This bill is a disaster for working-class families,” said Jason Smith of Missouri, the top Republican on the budget committee. “It’s a big giveaway to the wealthy, it’s a laundry list of agenda items pulled right out of the Bernie Sanders socialist playbook.”
A moderate Democrat, Scott Peters of California, joined all 16 Republicans on the committee in opposing the legislation on Saturday. His objections included one that troubles many Democrats: a reluctance to back a bill with provisions that will be dropped by the Senate.
A collapse of the measure at the hands of Biden’s own party would be a wounding preview to an election year. Biden conceded on Friday that talks were at a “stalemate”. Pelosi and Schumer were more positive.
To nail down moderate support for an earlier budget blueprint, Pelosi promised to begin consideration of the $1tn infrastructure package by Monday 27 September. The speaker reaffirmed this week that debate would begin on time. As the House convenes late on Monday it would seem likely that a vote will come on Tuesday.
Many moderates who consider the infrastructure bill their top goal want to cut the $3.5tn spending package and trim or reshape some programs. Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have been among the most visible centrists. Progressives are threatening to vote down the infrastructure bill.
Compromise is a requirement. Democrats can lose no votes in the Senate and a maximum of three in the House. Biden met with more than 20 congressional Democrats this week. The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said such meetings would continue.
In her letter, Pelosi insisted she had “never seen as big a consensus as we have around the Build Back Better initiative”. To her party’s warring factions, ahead of a caucus meeting on Monday, she said: “Thank you for your leadership For The People.”