Panel OKs Dems’ $3.5T bill, crunch time for Biden agenda

Washington, Sept. 26 (BUS): Democrats pushed a $3.5 trillion 10-year bill to strengthen the social safety net and climate programs through the House Budget Committee, but one Democrat voted “no,” illustrating the challenges party leaders face in Winning the upcoming elections. They will need their consensus to push the sprawling package through Congress.

The Democratic-controlled committee, which met almost Saturday, approved the measure in a quasi-partisan vote, 20 to 17. The passage was a necessary but secondary check of Democrats’ procedural box by bringing it a step closer to debate by the full House. Under budget rules, the committee was not allowed to significantly modify the 2,465-page procedure, the product of 13 other House committees, the AP reports.

The most important work was taking place in a shadowy procession of unannounced phone calls, meetings, and other negotiating sessions between party leaders and ordinary lawmakers. President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York State have led a behind-the-scenes search for compromises to resolve internal divisions, and they hope to allow a massive bill to be approved soon.

Pelosi told fellow Democrats on Saturday that they “must” pass the social and environmental package this week, along with a separate infrastructure bill and a third measure to prevent a government shutdown on Friday. Her letter to colleagues highlighted the critical pile of work that the Democratic majority in Congress faces in the coming days, and appeared to be an attempt to increase the urgency to quickly resolve long-standing disputes.

“The next few days will be a difficult period,” she wrote.

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Moderate Representative Scott Peters, a California Democrat, joined all 16 Republicans on the Budget Committee in opposing the legislation. His objections included one that worries many Democrats: a reluctance to support a bill containing provisions that the Senate might later drop.

Many Democrats don’t want to become politically weak by backing potentially controversial language back home, only to see that it doesn’t become law. This preference to vote only on a social and environmental bill that is already a compromise between the House and the Senate may complicate Pelosi’s efforts to vote in the House this week.

Peters was among three Democrats who voted earlier this month against a plan favored by most of his party to cut drug costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate the drugs it buys.

Party leaders have been trying for weeks to resolve disputes among Democrats over the final price of the package, which certainly look set to shrink. There are also disagreements over which initiatives should be reshaped, among them expanded Medicare, tax credits for children and Medicare, a push toward cleaner energy and higher fees for the rich and businesses.

The meager majority of Democrats in the House and Senate means that compromise is mandatory. Before the measure approved by the budget committee on Saturday reaches the House floor, it is expected that it will be changed to reflect any agreements reached between the House and Senate, and additional revisions are likely.

The overall bill embodies the core of Biden’s domestic goals. Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmouth, a Democrat from Kentucky, cited “decades of underinvestment” on needs such as health care, education, child care and the environment as a rationale for the legislation.

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The future of millions of Americans and their families is at stake. We can no longer afford negligence and inaction. “It’s time to act now,” Yarmouth said.

Republicans say the proposal is unnecessary and unsustainable amid a cumulative federal debt of more than $28 trillion and a reversal of Democrats’ campaign to bring government into people’s lives. They said the tax boosts would cost jobs and would include credits for electric car purchases, purchases often made by people with comfortable incomes.

“This bill is a disaster for working-class families,” said Representative Jason Smith of Missouri, the committee’s first Republican member. “It’s a huge boon to the wealthy, it’s a laundry list of agenda items pulled straight from Bernie Sanders’ socialist playbook.”

The extraordinary weekend session came as top Democrats step up efforts to end the increasingly bitter rifts between the party’s centrist and progressive wings that threaten to undermine Biden’s agenda.

Biden acknowledged Friday that talks between Democrats were at a “stalemate,” although Pelosi and Schumer were more positive in an apparent attempt to build momentum and quell differences. The collapse of the measure at the hands of his own party would be a sore preview of the upcoming election year, in which control of the House and Senate is at stake.

To determine moderates’ support for an earlier budget plan, Pelosi promised to begin House consideration by Monday of another pillar of Biden’s domestic plans: a trillion-dollar package of roads and other infrastructure projects. Pelosi reiterated this week that the infrastructure debate will begin on Monday.

However, many moderates who see the infrastructure bill as their ultimate goal also want to cut the $3.5 trillion social and environmental package and scale back or reshape some programs. Among them is Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va. , and Kirsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

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In response, the progressives — whose top priority is the $3.5 trillion measure — are threatening to vote against the infrastructure bill if it comes to a vote first. Their opposition will likely be enough to thwart that, and Pelosi hasn’t said definitively when a vote on the final pass of the infrastructure measure will occur.

With each part of the party threatening to overturn the other’s most important goal — a political disaster in the making for Democrats — senior Democrats are seizing the moment to speed up conversations about massive social and climate legislation. A party cannot lose any votes in the Senate and a maximum of three in the House to succeed in a narrowly divided Congress.


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