House Ready for Debate, Votes After Bolstering Biden’s Bill
Votes are possible Thursday, with the Democrats anxious to finish up the president’s signature package
The House is preparing to debate and vote on a revised draft of President Joe Biden’s now-$1.85 trillion domestic policy package as well as a companion $1 trillion infrastructure bill, Democrats eager to show voters the party can deliver on its priorities.
With a flurry of late-breaking adjustments, Democrats added key provisions to what has grown to a sprawling 2,135-page package — adding back a new paid family leave program, work permits for immigrants and changes to state and local tax deductions.
Votes are possible Thursday, with the Democrats anxious to finish up the president’s signature package after drawn-out talks on Capitol Hill were partly blamed for the party’s dismal election results in bellwether states this week.
“Get it to my desk!” Biden said in remarks Wednesday at the White House.
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Late Wednesday, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced House votes are possible Thursday on Biden’s big bill of social services and climate change programs, as well as the slimmer bipartisan infrastructure package that had stalled amid deliberations. Voting though could also push until Friday, aides and lawmakers said.
After months of talks, Democrats are desperate to make gains on Biden’s proposals after grim election results for the party in Virginia, a warning that their hold on power could be in peril in next year’s midterms.
Most voters in Virginia said drawn-out negotiations in Washington over Biden’s governing agenda were an important factor in their vote, so blame was flowing to Capitol Hill as Democrats have spent months arguing over details of the package.
“We’ve got to produce,” Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia told reporters at the Capitol. “We’ve got to get results for people.”
The House Rules Committee convened late Wednesday in a hearing that ran past midnight to consider the updated text — a crucial step before what is expected to be a lengthy floor debate that could start Thursday and spill into Friday.
Democrats have been working fervently to shelve their differences, particularly with holdout Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and launch votes on Biden’s big bill and the related infrastructure package that has stalled.
The new family leave provision is expected to include four weeks of paid time off for childbirth, recovery from major illness or caring for family members, less than the 12-week program once envisioned, but all fully paid for with revenue elsewhere.
Biden had reluctantly dropped a scaled-back paid leave proposal from last week’s White House framework after Manchin balked at the cost. But Democrats who lobbied that paid leave has been a party priority for decades continued to push it.
Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said it’s “a policy that will finally give workers and their families the peace of mind” in face of difficulties.
On another remaining issue, the Democrats compromised on a plan partly to do away with the $10,000 limit on state and local tax deductions that particularly hits New York, California and other high-tax states and was enacted as part of the Trump-era 2017 tax plan.
While repeal of the so-called SALT deduction cap is a priority for several northeastern state lawmakers, progressives wanted to prevent the super-wealthy from benefiting. Under the plan, the $10,000 deduction cap would be lifted to $72,500 for 10 years, starting with the 2021 tax year.
And the just-added immigration provision would create a new program for some 7 million immigrants who are in the country without legal standing, allowing them to apply for permits to work and travel in the U.S. for five years. It would also allow the government to tap unused visas to admit people into the U.S.
Resolving the immigration issue was among the last daunting challenges to finishing up the draft of Biden’s package. Biden had set aside $100 billion to fund the immigration changes, which bolsters the overall package from $1.75 trillion to $1.85 trillion — though that could slip if the provision is accepted by the Senate. Lawmakers plan to make their case to Senate parliamentarian in coming days, hopeful the changes will pass muster under Senate rules, those involved said.
“We have to have something for our immigrants,” said Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif.
Both the paid family leave and the immigration law changes have drawn resistance from Manchin, whose support remains crucial in the 50-50 Senate, where Biden has no votes to spare. The overall bill faces united opposition from Republicans.
Manchin wants Democrats to take more time in negotiations, and panned the paid-leave announcement.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s strategy now seems intent on passing the most robust bill possible in her chamber and then leaving the Senate to adjust or strip out the portions they won’t agree to.
“We must strive to find common ground in the legislation,” Pelosi said in a letter to colleagues.
Biden’s $1.75 trillion package would provide large numbers of Americans with assistance to pay for health care, education, raising children and caring for elderly people in their homes. It also would provide some $555 billion in tax breaks encouraging cleaner energy and electrified vehicles, the nation’s largest commitment to tackling climate change.
Much of its costs would be covered with higher taxes on people earning over $10 million annually and large corporations, which would now face a 15% minimum tax in efforts to stop big business from claiming so many deductions they end up paying zero in taxes.
Earlier in the week, the Democrats announced another major addition to the package — a plan to lower prescription drug costs for most older people, capping out-of-pocket Medicare Part D costs at $2,000 and reducing the price of insulin to no more than $35 a dose.
Rep. Colin Allred, D-Texas., said the party’s internal debates have been harmful not only for public opinion, but “also harmful in terms of showing that our democracy is working.” He said Wednesday, “We have to show that we can govern.”
Some moderate Democrats in the House said they want to see a fiscal assessment of Biden’s overall package from the Congressional Budget Office before taking the vote.
Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Alan Fram and Colleen Long contributed to this report.