House Democrats hope to start debating a roughly $2 trillion proposal to overhaul the country’s health care, education, climate, immigration, and tax laws as soon as Wednesday, with the goal of passing the bill by the end of the week.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), the chamber’s majority leader, outlined the timeline in a private meeting with party lawmakers early Tuesday, reflecting Democrats’ reenergized efforts to capitalize on their recent legislative momentum and advance the remaining component of President Biden’s broader economic agenda.
The roughly $2 trillion plan would expand Medicare to include hearing benefits, authorize universal prekindergarten for all American children, invest new funds to combat climate change, and provide a slew of new tax breaks, most of which would benefit low-income Americans. Democrats hope to fund the plan with new policies aimed at millionaires and businesses that pay little in federal taxes.
However, the bill has been stalled in the House and Senate, largely due to cost concerns raised by moderate Democratic lawmakers. An earlier attempt to advance the bill — along with a second, now-enacted measure to improve the nation’s infrastructure — faltered after House centrists said they wanted to see an official financial analysis to determine if it added to the deficit.
According to the Capitol’s scorekeeping arm, such a review is expected from the Congressional Budget Office by the end of the week. In recent weeks, White House officials and other Democratic supporters have pointed to existing evidence that shows the package is fully funded. However, Hoyer told reporters on Tuesday that moderates still want “confidence” that their unofficial estimates are “the reality.”
The schedule only exemplifies Democrats’ intense end-of-year scramble, as they seek to complete the work of securing Biden’s agenda while addressing a slew of looming fiscal challenges. This includes an urgent need to fund the government by December 3rd. Failure to do so will result in a government shutdown. Furthermore, Congress must raise or suspend the debt ceiling as soon as possible, or the United States will face default once more.
Democrats began the week on a high note, with Biden joining lawmakers from both parties at the White House for a ceremony to sign a roughly $1.2 trillion infrastructure package into law. The bipartisan agreement took months to complete, and it almost became a political casualty in the Democratic Party’s grand war over the future of the president’s other spending priorities.
Liberals, who wanted the two bills to move together, eventually agreed with moderates to pass only the infrastructure bill and return to the rest of Biden’s agenda this week, breaking the logjam. A pledge from centrists such as Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Stephanie Murphy (D-NJ) to lend their support after seeing a financial analysis of the bill — or to work with liberals if the numbers came out skewed — was included in their joint statement affirming their pact.
As the week began, both liberal and moderate lawmakers struck an upbeat tone, signaling a significant shift from months of public sparring between them. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington), the leader of the left-leaning Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters late Monday that “we’ll get a vote this week.”
Murphy, the leader of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, stated separately after an evening vote that she believes it is “critical that we don’t draw red lines” in supporting the final package. When asked about the possibility of a negative CBO score, she stated that lawmakers must consider “all of the information and the specifics of the bill.”
One potential source of contention for Democrats is their proposal to give the IRS authority to pursue tax evaders, which they believe could raise hundreds of billions of dollars to fund their spending initiatives. Historically, the CBO has rated these provisions unfavorably, raising the prospect that the scorekeeper’s upcoming report will show that the overall package adds to the deficit, despite Democrats’ claims to the contrary.
Murphy, on the other hand, said lawmakers are “all well aware there’s going to be a discrepancy around the IRS piece,” which is a positive sign for the president.