Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better reconciliation bill is undergoing a makeover. It’s expected to shrink to $2 trillion and will be taken up by the House before the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill is voted on.
As recently as Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was saying that the bipartisan infrastructure bill was going to be voted up or down regardless of whether or not Democrats had a framework for their $3.5 trillion social spending/climate change reconciliation bill.
But radicals flexed their muscles and said no. They smelled a double-cross from less fanatical Democrats who are embracing the bipartisan infrastructure bill but aren’t very enthusiastic about the reconciliation bill. That bill is weeks away from being completed. The radicals believed that after getting their infrastructure bill, the moderates would suddenly discover fiscal responsibility and refuse to vote for a $3.5 trillion bill.
Whether that’s true or not, radicals believed it and were insisting that Pelosi link the two bills. Biden agreed. But the price tag for the Build Back Better bill had to come down — way down. On Friday, Biden made the short trip down Pennsylvania Avenue and had a meeting with the entire Democratic caucus in the House.
Behind closed doors, Biden suggested that a smaller topline social policy bill price tag ranging from $1.9-$2.2 trillion could be the compromise in tense negotiations involving the White House, Democratic progressives, moderates and two key Senate Democrats, according to sources in the room.
Such an investment, together with the $1.2 trillion bipartisan highway bill, would still be a huge investment, he told the caucus, the sources said.
“Even a smaller bill can make historic investments,” they quoted Biden as saying.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill “ain’t going to happen until we reach an agreement on the next piece of legislation,” Biden reportedly told them. “Let’s try to figure out what we are for in reconciliation … and then we can move ahead.”
So, it’s the House moderates who’ve been double-crossed. In August, with the reconciliation bill needing their support to advance in the House, the moderates wrangled a concession out of Pelosi — a hard date for a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure deal that had passed the Senate earlier in the summer. That date was September 27. It has come and gone with no vote.
At that time, Pelosi insisted there would be no linkage between the infrastructure deal and the reconciliation bill, but on Friday, the president made clear that there was a linkage. This angered the moderates, who already feel Pelosi has been double-dealing.
On Thursday, some politically vulnerable Democrats were similarly angry at their progressive counterparts for holding up a bill that had broad support.
“When Iowans tell me they are sick of Washington games, this is what they mean,” Representative Cindy Axne of Iowa said in a statement after leaders announced the delay of the infrastructure vote. “All at once or nothing is no way to govern.”
The bottom line here is that Biden is absolutely committed to getting both bills done. It’s his presidency on the line.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s six minutes, six days or six weeks, we’re going to get it done,” the president told reporters on his way out of the meeting.
Two lawmakers told Axios they anticipated it could be another month before both bills can be passed.
While moderates don’t want to wait on the infrastructure vote and progressives don’t want to spend less on the social programs, the pause likely moves the fragile Democratic coalition closer to ultimately securing major portions of the president’s agenda ahead of the 2022 midterms.
Democrats are putting aside their differences because it’s a matter of survival. For better or worse, Democrats now believe that the success of Biden’s presidency depends on getting both bills passed. When put in such stark terms and with no margin for error, all sides are likely to swallow their objections and vote to save the presidency of Joe Biden.