(WASHINGTON) — House Democrats on Thursday appeared to clear one of the final hurdles to passing their $1.75 trillion social policy package, as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released its cost estimate of the full proposal.
The analysis could pave the way for Democrats to pass the sprawling Build Back Better plan in the House as early as Thursday night, sending it to the Senate and moving it one step closer to President Joe Biden’s desk. House Speaker Pelosi announced the plan would be taken up this evening after an hour of debate on the House floor.
House Democrats scrambled Thursday evening to make last-minute technical changes to the proposal for it to be compliant with the Senate’s strict budget rules — and the mechanism that will allow Democrats to approve the full package with their slim 50-seat majority. A number of moderate House Democrats had demanded to see the CBO’s full analysis before voting.
According to the CBO’s latest projections, the proposal in the package to beef up IRS enforcement of tax-dodging would yield an additional $207 billion in revenue. That’s less than the Biden administration’s own projections that the provision would raise $400 billion to help pay for the larger package, but in line with what lawmakers have expected.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Thursday argued to reporters that Democrats have coalesced around a transformative proposal that would lower prescription drug, health care and childcare costs.
But a proposal for four weeks of paid family leave faces an uphill climb in the Senate among some Democrats, as do some provisions to shield some undocumented immigrants from deportation, and another to raise the federal tax deduction for state and local taxes — a controversial change to the 2017 GOP tax law supported by Democrats in California, New York and New Jersey but decried by others as a change that will benefit high earners.
Republicans have hammered Democrats for the total price tag of the proposal in the House and argued that it will do little to combat inflation ahead of the Thanksgiving holidays. No Republicans are expected to support the package in either chamber.
The social spending bill contains $555 billion for climate and clean energy investments. It would reduce the cost of some prescription drugs, extend the child tax credit, expand universal preschool and includes electric-vehicle tax credits, paid leave, housing assistance and dozens more progressive priorities.
“As soon as we get the scrub information we can proceed with our manager’s amendment to proceed to a vote on the new rules, the manager’s amendment, reflecting the scrub, not any policy changes, but just some technicalities about committee jurisdiction, etc.,” Pelosi said earlier in the day. “And then we will vote on the rule and then on the bill. Those votes hopefully will take place later this afternoon.”
The House vote would then send the package to the Senate, which is expected to amend the proposal in the coming weeks after the Thanksgiving recess as Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin have not committed to the package in its current form.
Since Democrats plan to pass the measure through reconciliation, a lengthy budget process that would not require them to have any Republican support since Democrats have a narrow majority in both chambers, the legislation — months in the making — still has a long way to go, including back to the House, before it would even hit Biden’s desk.
Pelosi expressed confidence that with control of Congress hanging in the balance ahead of the midterm elections less than a year away, Democrats will be able to successfully sell their work to the American people — and do so more effectively than they did in 2010 after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, due, in part, to Biden using the “bully pulpit.”
“Joe Biden is very committed to messaging this. As you’ve seen he’s already on the road,” she said. “There’s no substitute for the bully pulpit of the president of the United States reinforced by the events we will have across the United States.”
Democratic members of Congress are also planning to hold 1,000 events before the end of the year to make clear to Americans “what we’re doing in this package,” according to the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, speaking to part one of Biden’s policy agenda on infrastructure signed into law on Monday.
“The messaging on it will be immediate, and it will be intense, and it will be eloquent, and it will make a difference,” Pelosi said.
Giving remarks in Woodstock, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, Biden also endorsed Pelosi’s timeline to pass part two of his infrastructure agenda this week.
“I’m confident that the House is going to pass this bill. And when it passes, it will go to the Senate,” Biden said. “I think we’ll get it passed within a week.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, in his quest to become the House speaker, blasted Pelosi at his press conference and said the reconciliation bill will “be the end of their Democratic majority.”
While the already-passed bipartisan infrastructure law itself and its individual components — rebuilding and repairing bridges, ports and roads, expanding broadband internet, and more — are widely popular, a new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Americans aren’t giving Biden credit for championing the law and getting it through Congress. The president’s approval rating is at an all-time low at 41%.
Democratic leaders and the White House continue to insist both pieces of legislation will be fully paid for, in part by imposing a 15% minimum tax on corporate profits that large corporations report to shareholders.
Pelosi on Thursday also tried to defend Democrats’ “Build Back Better” proposal from criticism over a key tax provision that has angered some in the caucus. Some moderates and leading progressives have criticized plans to undo a cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deductions — a reversal of Republicans’ 2017 tax law — popular in California, New York and New Jersey, given that the change would benefit wealthy suburban property owners.
The change would allow taxpayers to deduct up to $80,000 in state and local taxes from their federal tax returns after Republicans imposed a $10,000 cap on federal deductions four years ago.
A recent analysis from the Toxic Policy Center found the SALT cap increase would primarily benefit the top 10% of income-earning Americans. About 70% of the tax benefit would go to the top 5% of earners, who make $366,000 a year or more, the analysis said.
“That’s not about tax cuts for wealthy people. It’s about services for the American people,” Pelosi said. “This isn’t about who gets a tax cut, it’s about which states get the revenue they need to help the American people.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at her briefing Thursday that the White House was “comfortable” with the SALT cap increase being included in the version of the “Build Back Better” bill on which the House is expected to vote — but she wouldn’t say the president’s excited it.
“It is a component that wasn’t initially proposed,” Psaki said. “This is a part of compromise. It’s not something that would add to the deficit…as it is included in the package, and certainly we’re comfortable with it moving forward.”
Pressed on that response, Psaki repeated the provision was the result of a compromise.
“This is a part of the bill that the president — that has been proposed, that is important to key members, as you all know,” Psaki said. “That’s why it’s in the package. The president’s excitement about this is not about the SALT deduction. It’s about the other key components of the package. And that’s why we’re continuing to press for it to move forward.”
ABC News’ Trish Turner and Mariam Khan contributed to this report.
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