House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has sidestepped a major pothole on the road to passing Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion expansion of the social safety net by agreeing to a deal with House moderates to vote on the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill by September 27. Only after the bipartisan bill is safely on its way to the president’s desk for signing will the moderates consider voting for the expansion of the social safety net.
But House and Senate progressives are not satisfied. They’ve taken a “wait and see” approach to the issue. And if for one moment they suspect the moderates will doublecross them by refusing to vote for their bill, they’re likely to blow the whole process up.
Adding to the speaker’s woes, there may not be enough time to pass either bill considering the legislative hoops Congress will have to jump through to get to the finish line.
The fate of the bills is ultimately tied together if progressives stick to their threat to vote down the infrastructure bill unless the larger budget bill is ready by Sept. 27. Numerous Democratic aides say that either both bills will pass or both will fail.
Failure would deal a heavy blow to Biden’s agenda, with few other major bills moving in the Senate because of the filibuster. Democrats plan to campaign on the infrastructure and safety net expansions in next year’s elections, seeing them as key to their hope to buck the midterm curse and keep power.
But as we’ve seen in recent days, events beyond the control of Congress have a way of changing the politics of a situation. Biden’s Afghanistan debacle will weaken him beyond the beltway. And the calculus that the moderates use to decide whether or not to back the president fully in his safety net expansion will be critical to the fate of both bills.
Time is of the essence for Biden and the Democrats. They might just not have enough time to get both bills loaded up and ready for Biden’s signature. The $3.5 trillion bill will be enormously complex as it deals with so many different issues. Not only could it be the biggest expansion of the safety net in generations, it might become the most irresponsible piece of legislation in the history of Congress.
There are likely to be changes to hundreds of federal programs and the creation of dozens more. There are going to be thousands of pages of changes in rules that govern everything from employment to the environment to race, gender, and sexual preferences. This will be a bill that will take a reasonable person’s breath away. Not one person will be able to read and digest everything. There will not be a single congressman who knows and understands everything that will be in the bill.
And it’s going to be written in the next month? Crazy.
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Pelosi must also consider other legislative priorities.
Democrats will have to work on the bill through September, when Congress faces other key deadlines. It must fund the government by Sept. 30 or face a shutdown, as well as reauthorize expiring measures, like flood insurance.
House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal, D-Mass., said many of the policies in his jurisdiction — including the child cash allowance and taxes — are “very popular with the American people.”
“We’re building on, I think, a good head of steam for what we want to get done,” he said.
There’s also the debt limit, which needs to be raised — a donnybrook guaranteed to take a lot of time away from other legislation.
Chances are good that the Democrats will find some way to get around the deadlines and do what they have to do to pass the spending bills.
Unless the radicals and moderates go to war in which case all bets are off.