Biden Speaks After Meeting With Democratic Lawmakers
President Biden expressed optimism that his legislative agenda would be passed after meeting with House Democrats, but he indicated that it could still take days or even weeks to reach an agreement between various factions of his party.
Reporters: “Mr. President —” “How was the meeting?” “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Thank you.” Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “No, no, no, no, no.” “You ask me 1,000 different questions, and they’re all legit. I’m telling you, we’re going to get this done.” Reporter: “When?” “It doesn’t matter when, it doesn’t matter whether it’s in six minutes, six days or six weeks, we’re going to get it done.” Reporter: “Why has it been so challenging to unite the party, Mr. President? Why has it been so challenging to unite the party?” Reporter: “Why isn’t the party united?” “Are you serious?” Reporter: “Why isn’t the party united?” “50-50. Come on, man, unite the party, 50-50, I got it.” Reporter: “How big is this bill going to —” “You’ve got to get [unclear], man.” [laughter] Reporter: “Mr. President?”
President Biden expressed optimism that his legislative agenda would be passed after meeting with House Democrats, but he indicated that it could still take days or even weeks to reach an agreement between various factions of his party.CreditCredit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
President Biden, facing an intraparty battle over his domestic agenda, put his own $1 trillion infrastructure bill on hold on Friday, telling Democrats that a vote on the popular measure must wait until Democrats pass his far more ambitious social policy and climate change package.
It was largely a bid to mediate the impasse that has stalled a planned vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which progressives refuse to support until they see action on the remainder of Mr. Biden’s agenda in a major budget bill to expand health care, education, climate change initiatives and paid leave.
“I’m telling you, we’re going to get this done,” Mr. Biden said at the Capitol after huddling with Democrats who have been feuding over the two bills. He added: “It doesn’t matter when. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in six minutes, six days or six weeks. We’re going to get it done.”
In private remarks, he counseled Democrats that while he wanted both pieces of legislation to become law, final passage of the Senate-passed infrastructure bill needed to wait until the party agreed to the details of the broader reconciliation package. But he also warned liberal Democrats that a proposed $3.5 trillion price tag would probably need to drop in order to accommodate centrist holdouts, and he tossed out a range of figures around $2 trillion as a possible alternative.
- Oliver Contreras for The New York Times
- Samuel Corum for The New York Times
- Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
- Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
“He is the president of the United States, and he says that he wants to get this done, and he basically linked them together,” said Representative Henry Cuellar, Democrat of Texas. “I think if we get it done, there’ll be a victory. The question is when do we get that victory?”
Mr. Cuellar noted that moderates had an agreement with Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California to vote on the bill this week, and said it was up to her how to handle that promise.
On Friday evening, Ms. Pelosi indefinitely postponed a vote on the infrastructure bill that she had promised to moderates who had publicly pushed for a stand-alone vote. She wrote in a letter to colleagues, “Clearly, the bipartisan infrastructure bill will pass once we have agreement on the reconciliation bill.”
“Our priority to create jobs in the health care, family and climate agendas is a shared value,” she wrote, adding that leading lawmakers were “still working for clarity and consensus.”
Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Mr. Biden “was very clear” that the two bills were tied together.
He emphasized that he supported the bipartisan infrastructure bill, according to Ms. Jayapal, and said, “If I thought I could do it right now, I would, but we need to get this reconciliation bill.”
“It’s going to be tough,” Ms. Jayapal added. “Like we’re going to have to come down in our number, and we’re going to have to do that work and see what we can get to.”
The House will now leave Washington for two weeks of remote committee work, with the promise of 72 hours’ notice before being called back.
Mr. Biden’s visit to Capitol Hill came after a closed-door meeting Ms. Pelosi had called on Friday morning did little to resolve the disputes. In it, lawmakers from swing districts pleaded for passage of the infrastructure bill and liberals in safe Democratic seats said they would not vote yes until the Senate agreed on the larger measure.
Many Democrats had issued public pleas for Mr. Biden to become more personally involved in the negotiations, saying he needed to allay the escalating mistrust and frustration among Democrats.
“I think the president might be the only person that can bridge both the trust gap and the timing gap,” said Representative Dean Phillips, Democrat of Minnesota.
Ms. Pelosi opened the morning meeting with an appeal for unity, telling her troops they could stay strong if they united, according to multiple people familiar with the session who described it on the condition of anonymity.
The infrastructure bill, which would provide $550 billion in new funding, was supposed to burnish Mr. Biden’s bipartisan bona fides. It includes $65 billion to expand high-speed internet access; $110 billion for roads, bridges and other projects; $25 billion for airports; and the most funding for Amtrak since the passenger rail service was founded in 1971. It would also accelerate a national shift toward electric vehicles, with new charging stations and fortifications of the electricity grid that will be necessary to power those cars.
While lawmakers passed a short-term spending bill to avert a government shutdown this week, surface transportation programs lapsed because of the impasse over the bipartisan infrastructure plan.Credit…Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times
The House approved a stopgap bill on Friday night to revive key surface transportation programs that lapsed at the end of the fiscal year on Thursday and bring back nearly 4,000 furloughed workers.
While Congress passed legislation on Thursday to avert a government shutdown, it did not address expiring transportation programs that would be reauthorized by the bipartisan infrastructure bill President Biden and lawmakers negotiated this year. With a vote on that legislation delayed by deep disputes among Democrats, the new fiscal year began on Friday with those programs temporarily frozen and about 3,700 Transportation Department workers furloughed.
The stopgap bill, which passed the House by a vote of 365 to 51, would extend the programs through Oct. 31. The Senate will seek to pass it on Saturday, Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said on Friday night.
House Democratic leaders had tried to use the fiscal year deadline to pressure rank-and-file lawmakers to support passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill on Thursday, though they were ultimately unsuccessful. The infrastructure bill would update and maintain highway, transit and rail programs for five years, among other provisions.
Jim Tymon, the executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, called the inaction “disappointing” and “detrimental to our economy and the quality of life of our communities.”
The bill includes $66 billion in new funding for railways to address Amtrak’s maintenance backlog.Credit…Bryan Anselm for The New York Times
Amtrak would see its biggest infusion of money since its inception a half-century ago. Climate resilience programs would receive their largest burst of government spending ever. The nation’s power grid would be upgraded to the tune of $73 billion.
The sprawling, $1 trillion bill that the Senate passed last month — a bipartisan deal that is the product of months of negotiating and years of pent-up ambitions to repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure — would amount to the most substantial government expenditure on the aging public works system since 2009. It includes $550 billion in new funds and the renewal of an array of programs otherwise scheduled to expire at the end of September.
It is also stuffed with pet projects and priorities that touch on nearly every facet of American life, including the most obscure, like a provision to allow blood transport vehicles to use highway car pool lanes to bypass traffic when fresh vials are on board and another to fully fund a federal grant program to promote “pollinator-friendly practices” near roads and highways. (Price tag for the latter: $2 million per year.)
The measure represents a crucial piece of President Biden’s economic agenda, and the agreement that gave rise to it was a major breakthrough in his quest for a bipartisan compromise. But it was also notable for the concessions Mr. Biden was forced to make to strike the deal.
For example, the legislation includes $73 billion to modernize the nation’s electricity grid, which energy analysts said would lay the groundwork for pivoting the nation off fossil fuels. But it contains only a fraction of the money Mr. Biden requested for major environmental initiatives and extends a lifeline to natural gas and nuclear energy, provisions that have angered House progressives.
Senator Kyrsten Sinema at the Capitol on Thursday.Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times
With Democrats pleading for a deal on a hard-fought social safety net bill, one of the key holdouts, Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, left Washington on Friday. The reason, her spokesman said, was a medical appointment for a foot injury.
But on Saturday, she is also scheduled to attend her political action committee’s “retreat” with donors at a high-end resort and spa in Phoenix, three different sources confirmed, including an attendee. The hotel also confirmed the event, which kicks off with a cocktail reception at 5:30 p.m., Saturday, followed by a dinner.
Fund-raising for lawmakers is, of course, not unusual, but Ms. Sinema’s timing is sure to raise the level of frustration that her fellow Democrats are already feeling toward the senator. President Biden and congressional Democratic leaders are trying to hammer out a framework agreement on a climate change and social policy bill that can pass with the votes of every Senate Democrat and virtually every House Democrat.
That need for unanimity has given Ms. Sinema veto power. The senator, who is not up for re-election until 2024, has met repeatedly with White House negotiators, but some Democrats say she has not been engaged in the intense negotiations needed to at least come to agreement on a 10-year cost of the bill. In contrast, the other holdout, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, is remaining in Washington this weekend.
Earlier this week, Ms. Sinema’s “Sinema for Arizona” fund-raising arm held a Capitol Hill event with five business lobbying groups, many of which fiercely oppose the bill she is supposed to be negotiating. Under Ms. Sinema’s political logo, the influential National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors and the grocers’ PAC, along with lobbyists for roofers and electrical contractors and a small business group called the S-Corp political action committee, invited association members to an undisclosed location on Tuesday afternoon for 45 minutes to write checks for between $1,000 and $5,800.
This weekend’s event is billed as a “retreat” for her political action committee.
The senator’s spokesman, John LaBombard, said on Friday, “Senator Sinema is in Phoenix currently where she has a medical appointment today for her broken foot, and where she continues remote negotiations with the White House. Before departing Washington for Arizona, she offered the White House times for continued remote negotiations.”
She was scheduled to begin her next call with White House officials at 2:30 p.m., he said.
President Biden spent much of the week welcoming key lawmakers to the White House for discussions.Credit…Oliver Contreras for The New York Times
President Biden is acting as a cheerleader, a sounding board and, increasingly, a prod for holdout Democrats in the most consequential negotiation of his presidency: his effort to unite warring factions of his party behind a pair of bills that carry the bulk of his economic platform and other domestic agendas.
Mr. Biden, who met with House Democrats at the Capitol on Friday afternoon, spent much of the week welcoming key lawmakers to the White House for discussions. He has telephoned others from the Oval Office, or sometimes from its adjoining private dining room.
Those close to the president say Mr. Biden still sees himself as uniquely positioned to broker an agreement, citing his success in uniting the party around a $1.9 trillion economic aid bill earlier this year. But the president has found these negotiations more difficult and slower going than the relief bill as donors and activists are urging each wing of its party to hold a tough line in negotiations.
He has practiced patience with progressives and moderates alike, even as Democrats in the House and Senate traded shots over their positions on the size of a spending-and-tax cuts package and as the House barreled past deadlines for a vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Aides say Mr. Biden’s strategy has been to keep the negotiations going, in order to keep them — and his agenda — alive. As the week wore on, administration officials and their outside allies began to brace for the legislative push to stretch deep into the autumn, and possibly run into the December holidays.
In his meetings with lawmakers, Mr. Biden has stressed the political peril he and his party face if his agenda fails in Congress. He frequently extols the potential benefits to American workers and families, and what opinion polls suggest is strong nationwide popularity of his spending and tax plans. He has also listened to lawmakers’ concerns about the size and scope of the plans, and sometimes individual provisions. He has pushed for their support but not threatened to break off talks.
Mr. Biden and his team entered the week with a clear objective. They hoped to persuade holdout centrist Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia to endorse a framework agreement, including a maximum amount of new spending programs, for a sweeping bill that Democrats are pushing through the fast-track budget reconciliation process and hope to pass with a simple majority.
As of Friday afternoon, the deal remained elusive, despite late-night efforts on Thursday at the Capitol by members of Mr. Biden’s policy team. The president’s efforts have been hampered, some administration officials concede privately, by distrust among factions in his party and by his own falling poll numbers, which slumped this summer as the United States suffered another wave of Covid-19 infections and deaths and as the administration staged a chaotic troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, at the Capitol on Friday. Eleventh-hour negotiating has become the norm for big budget packages and legislative deals.Credit…Samuel Corum for The New York Times
The wrenching intraparty battle taking place among Democrats on Capitol Hill is a unique, perhaps historical, reckoning — but it is also the most Groundhog Day of Washington crises: a frenzy of last-second action preceded by epic procrastination.
The stakes are immense: President Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan, another $3.5 trillion toward human capital and social welfare programs, the fate of the progressive agenda and, quite possibly, the viability of a fragile Democratic governing coalition.
Which explains why Democrats have delayed the current confrontation like it was the mother of all dentist’s appointments.
Just how much they procrastinated became all too apparent on Thursday. The declaration by Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia that liberals needed to pare $2 trillion from their social spending plan to get his vote stunned many Democrats, who had assumed their leaders had gotten much closer to a deal since July, when a preliminary agreement on infrastructure was announced.
“I am trying to get something over the finish line at the last minute this week too, so I get it, I really do,” wrote Luppe B. Luppen, a liberal lawyer and commentator wrote on Twitter Thursday night. “But we all would’ve been so much better off if the events of today in Congress had happened on like august 5th.”
Serious negotiations did not really hit stride until the past two weeks, according to congressional and White House aides. The intense round of talks intended to close a gap of many hundreds of billions between warring Democratic factions began in just the past 48 hours, as the party crashed through Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s self-imposed deadline for a deal.
The slow-walk, fast-finish pace — however maddening to all involved — is part of a venerable legislative pattern that dates back decades.
Most of the biggest budget packages and sweeping legislative deals in recent history have been the subject of intense 11th-hour horse-trading, very often between Democratic progressives and party conservatives. (The historian Robert Caro has filled volumes with details of Lyndon Johnson’s high-pressure tactics in ramming through civil rights legislation both as a Senate leader and as president.)
But the proliferation of dramatic, last-second deals has increased dramatically in the hyperpartisan environment of the past quarter-century. That has made every issue that requires bipartisan cooperation a choke point, and matters like budget-making and fiscal policy, once routine, have become subject to anguished last-minute negotiations, giving individual lawmakers — like Mr. Manchin — immense power to veto, alter and delay.
Like severe weather, the legislative procrastination is getting worse. Over the last decade, raising the debt limit, once a pro forma vote, has become an issue of heated contention, often pushing the country to the brink of crisis.
Spending battles, even when it comes to more mundane yearly budget negotiations, are even harder to resolve. They are now always settled at the 11th hour, or far past deadline — as evidenced by 22 government shutdowns since 1980 — with each faction seeking to leverage fear over delays and shutdowns to their advantage.
The longest was the most recent, a 35-day shutdown from late 2018 to early 2019 that occurred when former President Donald J. Trump tried, and failed, to pay for his plan to build a wall on the border with Mexico. But both President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama presided over shutdowns of two to three weeks. On Thursday, just hours before the midnight deadline, Congress approved and Mr. Biden signed a spending bill that extends federal funding through early December.
But the two measures being discussed this week are even more monumental, transformative and politically charged. And at the center of it all is Mr. Biden, a former senator who views the upper chamber as a benign deliberative body that has the right to take its time. He is not prone to make the kind of the lapel-clutching demands of Mr. Manchin that President Johnson would have, but the pressure on him is increasing.
Thus far, the pace of negotiations has been dictated by the legislative leaders like Ms. Pelosi, who is eager to prove things are moving ahead but unable as of yet to control the outcome.
She spent much of Thursday insisting she would get an infrastructure bill to the House floor before midnight.
As Thursday dragged into Friday, Ms. Pelosi conceded the vote would be delayed, telling reporters “we’re not trillions of dollars apart” and cheerfully asserting “there will be a vote today.”
By keeping the House in recess on Thursday night, instead of adjourning as it does at the end of most days, leaders were able to keep the chamber in the Sept. 30 legislative day.Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
It is the first day of October. The air is crisp in Washington, Halloween is near, and yes, it’s time for that same Green Day joke about September ending.
But in the House of Representatives, it is still Sept. 30.
When Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Democratic leaders moved Thursday night to delay a planned vote on a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, they also effectively stopped time, hitting a legislative “pause” button that was aimed at placating the moderate wing of their party.
Only in Congress, which is governed by arcane rules and traditions that often operate like a parallel reality, is it possible to extend a day for more than 24 hours. In this case, by keeping the House in recess on Thursday night, instead of adjourning as it does at the end of most days, leaders were able to keep the chamber in the Sept. 30 legislative day, regardless of the actual passage of time.
It allowed lawmakers, aides and White House officials who had toiled all day to reach an elusive deal among warring Democratic factions on President Biden’s flagship domestic policy bill to go home for a few hours of sleep without officially calling it quits. And it smoothed the path for leaders pushing to strike a compromise on Friday to head immediately to the floor for a vote if they are able to reach a breakthrough.
But the bigger reason for Ms. Pelosi’s calendar trick was political. She had promised a group of moderate Democrats who demanded a vote on the infrastructure bill this week that it would see action by Sept. 30. By refusing to allow Oct. 1 to roll around, Ms. Pelosi was upholding her commitment in the very most technical of ways, and offering the moderates a fig leaf to cover for the failure to secure the vote they had been promised.
“It ain’t over yet! This is just one long legislative day — we literally aren’t adjourning,” Representative Josh Gottheimer, Democrat of New Jersey and a leading proponent of the infrastructure measure, wrote on Twitter late Thursday evening. “Negotiations are still ongoing, and we’re continuing to work. As I said earlier: grabbing some Gatorade and Red Bull.”
‘We Will Deliver Both,’ Rep. Jayapal Says of Biden’s Agenda
Representative Pramila Jayapal, the leader of the Democrats’ progressive caucus, voiced optimism about passing both pieces of President Biden’s domestic agenda. Her group opposes passing an infrastructure bill until the social spending plan advances.
Reporter: “Do you remain where you are on the infrastructure bill if they bring it to the floor today —” “Yes.” “Your caucus remain where you are? There’s been a couple who have said they will vote for it.” “No, I’m very confident of our numbers, and the reality is, look, we’re going to do both of these things. They’re both part of the president’s agenda. We are making sure we’re holding up the women who need child care, the families who need child care and paid leave. The folks who need climate change addressed, housing, immigration. These are all the things that are 85 percent of the president’s agenda, and they’re contained in the Build Back Better Act. So we are at the table to try to deliver both things, and I believe we will. And I’m just so proud of our caucus, because they are standing up for people who feel like they have not been heard in this country for a very long time. People who came out and voted for the president because of this agenda, people who came out and delivered us the House, the White House and the Senate because of this agenda. And they want to see us fighting for this agenda. And that’s what we’re doing. And at the end of the day, we’ll deliver both. Thanks, you guys.” “Thanks so much. Thank you.”
Representative Pramila Jayapal, the leader of the Democrats’ progressive caucus, voiced optimism about passing both pieces of President Biden’s domestic agenda. Her group opposes passing an infrastructure bill until the social spending plan advances.CreditCredit…Samuel Corum for The New York Times
Progressive activists have long lamented what they see as liberal lawmakers’ tendency to back down in the middle of tough negotiations with Democratic leaders. Not so last night.
With the nearly 100-member Congressional Progressive Caucus holding firm against passing a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill until it sees action on the Build Back Better plan — a far more ambitious $3.5 trillion social spending and climate change policy package — liberal members of the House forced their leaders to delay a planned vote on the public-works measure, a priority of centrist Democrats.
Liberal lawmakers immediately took a victory lap after the postponement, and activists allied with them hailed the delay as a victory for pushing forward with the larger spending bill, which is moving through Congress through a budget process known as reconciliation.
“The Congressional Progressive Caucus did its name justice, aligning with constituents instead of corporations in protecting the fate of the Build Back Better plan,” trumpeted the Green New Deal Network, a national coalition of environmental groups. “The victory is a testimony to the grass roots that showed up to vote in progressive leaders while also advancing progressive agendas to secure a bold investment in climate, care, jobs and justice. It is a step forward to passing the Build Back Better Act.”
Representative Jamaal Bowman, Democrat of New York, wrote on Twitter: “We can’t run on progressive policies and not govern on them.”
We can’t run on progressive policies and not govern on them. We are here to do the people’s work.
— Jamaal Bowman (@JamaalBowmanNY) October 1, 2021
Before the vote on the infrastructure bill was delayed late on Thursday evening, Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington and leader of the progressive caucus, encouraged members during a private meeting to vote “no” on the infrastructure bill if Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it to the floor. But she also told caucus members not to gloat if they were victorious, according to a person with knowledge of her comments.
Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota and the whip, or top vote-counter, for the progressives, nevertheless took aim at Representative Josh Gottheimer, Democrat of New Jersey, a leading centrist who had confidently declared that he was “1,000 percent” sure that the infrastructure bill would pass Thursday.
“In Congress, we don’t make predictions like this until we know we have the votes,” Ms. Omar wrote on Twitter. “Some of us get this, others bluff & fall on their face. Hopefully, @JoshGottheimer and the other 4% of Democrats will not obstruct but negotiate and help us get @POTUS’s agenda done for the people.”
In Congress, we don’t make predictions like this until we know we have the votes. Some of us get this, others bluff & fall on their face.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) October 1, 2021
The liberals’ tactics were reminiscent of those employed in the past on the right by the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, whose members routinely threatened to withhold their bloc of votes unless Republican leaders met their demands. More moderate Republicans, particularly those from competitive districts, became incensed with the group, blaming its members for standing in the way of popular bills that were political imperatives.
On Thursday, some politically vulnerable Democrats from conservative-leaning districts were similarly angry at their progressive counterparts for holding up a bill that has broad support.
“When Iowans tell me they are sick of Washington games, this is what they mean,” Representative Cindy Axne of Iowa said in a statement after leaders announced the delay of the infrastructure vote. “All-at-once or nothing is no way to govern.”
The stand by progressive lawmakers came amid a rise of activism aimed at Congress by the left. On Thursday, activists held signs in front of the Capitol that said “Pass Reconciliation First,” and another group of activists paddled kayaks to confront Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia and a key holdout on the $3.5 trillion bill, in the waters next to his large houseboat docked at a Washington marina.
On the other side of the country, a group with a sign saying “Override the Parliamentarian” shut down traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge.
The parliamentarian, an official little known outside the Beltway, is the Senate’s top rules enforcer. Since 2012, the post has been held by a former civil servant, Elizabeth MacDonough. She has rejected several proposals progressives are pressing to include in the reconciliation bill, including two separate efforts to create a path to citizenship for about eight million immigrants.
Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, insists that he will not support his party’s bill for anything more than $1.5 trillion in social spending. Efforts to bring Democrats together appeared to falter on Thursday.Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times
Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a key centrist holdout, panned the prospects of reaching a deal on Thursday on a framework for an expansive domestic and social policy package, holding firm to a $1.5 trillion price tag that liberals have said is too small.
Emerging late in the evening from a lengthy huddle with top White House officials and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Mr. Manchin said, “I don’t see a deal tonight, I really don’t.”
The comments underscored just how far apart the intraparty factions were as they struggled to salvage both pieces of President Biden’s sprawling economic agenda. On a day when Congress united to keep the government funded until early December, divisions within the Democratic Party threatened his $1 trillion infrastructure bill as well as the social spending bill.
Hours after Mr. Manchin confirmed that he would not support anything larger than $1.5 trillion in social spending — less than half of what liberals have sought — efforts to hammer out a framework had yet to deliver a deal.
“I’m at $1.5 trillion — I think $1.5 trillion does exactly the necessary things we need to do,” he said. Ms. Sinema did not comment as she left the meeting.
Liberal House Democrats have so far refused to support a final vote on the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill Mr. Manchin helped negotiate without a vote on the sprawling domestic policy package carrying many of their legislative ambitions. White House officials — Louisa Terrell, the director of legislative affairs; Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council; and Susan Rice, the director of the Domestic Policy Council — shuttled between meetings with Democratic leaders and the two centrist holdouts.
In a letter to her caucus late on Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered few updates but counseled that “it has been a day of progress in fulfilling the president’s vision.”
“All of this momentum brings us closer to shaping the reconciliation bill in a manner that will pass the House and Senate,” she wrote. But she delayed the vote on the infrastructure bill, which she had pledged to bring to the House floor on Thursday.
External pressure was intensifying on both sides of the entrenched debate. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. and other labor unions issued statements in support of immediately taking up the infrastructure bill, while grass-roots organizations were cheering liberal lawmakers to “hold the line” and hold out for a reconciliation bill.
The reconciliation process allows Congress to advance certain spending and tax bills on a simple majority vote.Credit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times
The budget reconciliation process allows Congress to advance certain spending and tax bills on a simple majority vote, freeing lawmakers in the Senate from the 60-vote threshold most legislation must meet to be considered. Democrats are aiming to use the process to pass the sweeping $3.5 trillion social safety net and climate change measure, which carries much of President Biden’s agenda, in the face of united Republican opposition.
The process begins with a budget resolution, which establishes a blueprint for federal spending and directs congressional committees to write bills to achieve certain policy results, setting spending and revenues over a certain amount of time. Its name refers to the process of reconciling existing laws with those directives. Here are some key things to know about the legislative maneuver.
The process is subject to strict rules that limit what can be included.
While reconciliation allows senators to scale procedural and scheduling hurdles, it is also subject to strict limits that could constrain the scope of any pandemic relief package Democrats seek to pass.
In the Senate, the “Byrd Rule,” established by former Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, bars extraneous provisions, including any measure that does not change revenues or spending, affects the Social Security program or increases the deficit after a certain period of time set in the budget resolution. It is intended to ensure that the reconciliation process cannot be abused to jam through any unrelated provision.
The rule’s name lends itself to a number of bird-related puns commonly used to describe the stages of the reconciliation process. There is the “Byrd bath,” when the Senate parliamentarian scrubs and analyzes a bill for any provision that violates the rule if a senator raises a concern about a violation. Anything that does not survive the scrutiny is known as a “Byrd dropping,” and is removed from the legislation before it can advance.
Vice President Kamala Harris could also overrule the parliamentarian, but that has not been done since 1975.
The process is in motion, but the legislative math is proving tough for Democrats.
A budget blueprint on the social spending and climate bill was advanced in August and committees have been working on drafting the reconciliation legislation, but key centrist Democrats in the Senate who have balked at the $3.5 trillion price tag have brought the process to an impasse as party leaders try to negotiate a compromise.
Because Republicans have made it clear they are unified in their opposition, Democrats cannot afford to lose even one vote from their party in the Senate. In the House, the math is almost as challenging; if every member voted, Democrats could afford to lose only three of their members and still pass the legislation.