One more time (at least): House to try to pass reconciliation bill today

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

How many attempts will this be? The fifth, perhaps? The Washington Post reports this morning that House Democrats are “on track” to hold a rules vote today that could possibly get a reconciliation bill “deemed” into existence, but … we’ve heard that before too:

House Democrats on Thursday raced to unite their caucus and hold a vote soon on a $1.75 trillion plan to overhaul the nation’s health care, education, climate and tax laws, seeking to put an end to months of arduous political wrangling over President Biden’s economic agenda.

The new burst of activity played out in private meetings that stretched late into the night, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) embarked on an all-out campaign to finalize the legislation, wrangle sufficient support in the narrowly divided chamber and bring the debate over the long-stalled tax-and-spending measure to a close.

Democrats ultimately did not achieve the Thursday vote that they had initially hoped to hold. But they still ended the long day on track to bring the $1.75 trillion bill to the House floor as soon as Friday. The timetable would allow them to turn next to a separate, parallel bill to improve the nation’s infrastructure, which they also hope to adopt before the end of the week.

Supposedly Pelosi planned to hold a vote last Thursday or Friday on the reconciliation bill too, before the Virginia election. The Sunday before, she claimed that her caucus was in “90%” agreement on its contents. How did that turn out?

Note well that the Post doesn’t have any more clarity on the percentage of agreement that supposedly came out of last night’s meetings than anyone did last week:

The marathon stretch of legislating began with Pelosi striking a positive note, stressing to reporters that Democrats had made significant progress in resolving some of the thorny policy battles that have long divided them. Months of internecine bickering among the party’s liberal and moderate ranks had produced a newly retooled $1.75 trillion measure, which Pelosi and her top aides believed could come soon to the House floor.

“Significant progress” isn’t “agreement.” It may not even be closer to an agreement than House Democrats were last week, and that was before Pelosi started larding up the bill with progressive agenda items that have zero chance of passing the Senate. That itself is a massive climbdown for Pelosi, Punchbowl points out, and a major headache for Democrats who have already spent three months becoming the poster children for disarray:

Pelosi and her leadership team sweated over the course of two months to pass a bill that essentially amounted to a political message. The speaker said she’d never let her House Democrats vote on a bill that didn’t have Senate buy-in, and she’s allowing the House to vote on a bill that doesn’t have Senate’s buy-in. The House is voting for the bipartisan infrastructure bill without any closure or any assurances on the BBB piece — something she and a variety of Democrats promised would never happen.

Pelosi’s House and Schumer’s Senate seem incompatible right now. Biden has proven to have limited sway with House Democrats. And this won’t get any better or easier in the next phase. The Democratic leadership must solve this. How do Schumer, Pelosi and the White House bridge the divide between the House and the Senate?

So even if Pelosi has an agreement, which no one is claiming yet, and even if she can get a rules vote, House Democrats will have to do this all over again anyway. Why would House Democrat moderates agree to vote for a radical package with no chance of succeeding, only to have to go through this grinder all over again anyway? Given what happened in New Jersey and Virginia on Tuesday night, that would be political suicide.

That’s especially true after reading the true cost of the proposal, as explained in … the New York Times?

President Biden’s new framework for tackling climate change, bolstering child care and a wide range of other economic programs assumes that the package will be fully paid for with an estimated $2 trillion in tax increases on corporations and high earners.

But budget experts, along with some moderate Democrats, say the true cost of the legislation will be closer to $4 trillion because of the way the programs are structured and accounted for in the budgetary process. For instance, many of the provisions in Mr. Biden’s framework would expire, or “sunset” after only few years, even though Democrats anticipate that they would eventually be extended.

The assumption that spending on those programs will cease in a few years reduces their overall cost during the 10-year budget window that Congress uses to determine whether a bill will add to the federal deficit. That is especially important given the way in which Democrats are trying to pass this particular bill. Lawmakers have limited room for adding to the deficit over a 10-year period because of the budget procedure known as reconciliation that will allow them to pass the legislation without Republican votes.

Joe Manchin has already said he will refuse to vote on any bill with such budgetary gimmicks. The NYT points out that Democrats complained about the same issue when the GOP set up straw-sunset provisions on its tax cuts, only to have them extended under regular order later. In fact, Democrats are still complaining about those tax cuts and the accounting for them even as they exponentially expand spending on the same rationalizations and gimmickry.

Do House Democrats in vulnerable districts — likely dozens of them now — really want to stand before voters and explain support for $4 trillion of progressive hobby-horse spending? Not after Tuesday, if they have any sense of self-preservation. With that in mind, I’ll believe we’ll have a vote today when I see it taking place — or at least when media outlets report “agreement” rather than rely on Pelosi’s claim of “significant progress.”