WASHINGTON (The Hill): Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has signaled to colleagues in both chambers that she will not put the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package on the House floor for a vote until it’s clear that it can also pass the 50-50 Senate.
Some Democrats are calling for the House to move as soon as possible on the package, even if two key centrist votes in the Senate, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), haven’t yet signed off on it.
Both Manchin and Sinema say they won’t support a $3.5 trillion package but haven’t publicly said how much they’re willing to spend.
Pelosi has no intention of replaying what happened in 2009, when Democrats last controlled Congress and the White House and moderate House Democrats took an extremely tough vote on sweeping climate change legislation only for the bill to never come to the Senate floor.
Centrists Democrats paid the price the following year when Republicans picked up 63 seats in the 2010 midterm elections — and control of the House.
Pelosi wants to make sure the Senate and House are on the same page this time before scheduling another tough vote that could help determine next year’s midterm results.
“Everybody’s focus here is to try and get a White House-Senate-House agreement. That is what all the energy is going into,” said a senior Democratic aide. “What we are trying to do is pre-conference a bill so that something that comes to the floor is the pre-conferenced agreement.”
Without a deal in sight, there’s no way the House will be ready to vote on the reconciliation package in time to move it next week along with the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package that passed the Senate on Aug. 10.
That puts Pelosi in a tough spot, since she pledged last month to centrist House Democrats led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) that the House would vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill by Sept. 27.
Pelosi also told Democrats in a “Dear Colleague” letter circulated Monday that she would not bring a reconciliation bill to the floor that spends more than what Manchin and Sinema are willing to accept.
“I have promised members that we would not have House members vote for a bill with a higher topline than would be passed by the Senate. Hopefully, that will be at the $3.5 trillion number,” she wrote.
Pelosi also warned that the House bill would have to be modified to comply with the Senate’s budget reconciliation process, which is governed by the Byrd rule.
“We must be prepared for adjustments according to the Byrd rule and the agreed to number,” she cautioned.
Pelosi sounded optimistic after leaving a meeting with President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) at the White House on their strategy for getting Biden’s agenda through Congress.
“We are on schedule. That’s all I will say. And we’re calm and everybody’s good and our work’s almost done. We’re in good shape,” she said.
Budget reconciliation is the vehicle to pass climate policy. It’s time for businesses to get on board.
One Democratic senator who supports Pelosi’s approach said it wouldn’t make any sense for her to force moderates to “walk the plank” by voting on a bill that is doomed to fail in the Senate.
“Unless the House is convinced that we have a bill we can pass, there’s not going to be any movement on anything,” said the Democratic senator, who requested anonymity to comment on internal discussions.
“Why would you want to vote on a bunch of revenue increases if one person in the Senate says ‘no’?” the lawmaker asked.
But Pelosi is coming under pressure from progressives, who want to send a $3.5 trillion package to the Senate even if Manchin and Sinema don’t sign off on it ahead of time.
“I think we have an obligation, having gone through that process in the individual authorizing committees, to present that package,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.). “Otherwise we end up negotiating against ourselves — we cede our position before we even go into the Senate.”
“What we’ve done here is pretty well thought out, and we ought to try to fight for it,” said Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.). “People who just say they want a lower number — why? There’s no magic number.”
Yet Pelosi’s strategy is being endorsed by a different group of lawmakers, who are questioning the logic of voting on a massive bill that has no chance of becoming law.
Those lawmakers, including a number of moderates, would prefer to wait and see what’s possible in the Senate and work toward that figure — “to find the highest common denominator” between the chambers, in the words of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).
Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, threw cold water on the idea of passing a House-only reconciliation bill, saying there’s neither text, nor a cost estimate by the Congressional Budget Office — steps that have to happen before the chamber can vote.
“We could pass our own bill without any regard to what the Senate will pass, but I don’t think anybody wants to do that,” Yarmuth told reporters Wednesday. “We want to give whatever we pass the best chance of passing the Senate.”
One lingering impediment, in the eyes of House Democrats, is that Manchin and Sinema have not specified what they want or how high they’ll go.
“Clearly that’s one of the problems — we don’t know what the Senate will do,” Yarmuth said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) expressed the same frustration.
“We’re going to pass something that can pass the Senate. … What we’re trying to do is get from the Senate what that is, and we’ve had difficulty getting that,” he said. “Right now, apparently, there is not a consensus in the Senate for any particular number.”