House Democrats hope to begin debate as soon as Wednesday on a roughly $2 trillion proposal to overhaul the country’s health care, education, climate, immigration and tax laws, aiming to adopt the sweeping measure by the end of the week.
The chamber’s majority leader, Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, outlined the timeline in a private meeting with party lawmakers early Tuesday, reflecting Democrats’ revitalized efforts to seize on their recent legislative momentum and advance the remaining component of President Joe 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 sums to combat climate change, and offer a slew of new tax benefits chiefly to aid low-income Americans. Democrats hope to finance the plan through new policies targeting millionaires and companies that pay little in federal taxes.
But the package has been stalled in the House and Senate, largely as a result of cost concerns aired by moderate Democratic lawmakers. An attempt to advance the bill earlier this month—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.
Such a review is expected before the end of the week from the Congressional Budget Office, according to the scorekeeping arm of the Capitol. In recent weeks, White House officials and other supportive Democrats have pointed to existing evidence that show the packaged is financed in full. But Hoyer, speaking to reporters Tuesday, said moderates still want the “confidence” that their unofficial estimates are “the reality.”
“They’re in agreement to vote on this this week,” the majority leader said.
The schedule only illustrates the intense, end-of-the-year scramble ahead for Democrats, as they look to finish the work of securing Biden’s agenda while addressing a slew of looming fiscal challenges. That includes an urgent need to fund the government before a December 3 deadline. Failing to do so would lead to a government shutdown. And Congress also must soon raise or suspend the debt ceiling, otherwise the U.S. could once again face the risk of default.
The week began on a note of jubilation for Democrats, as Biden joined lawmakers from both parties at the White House for a ceremony to sign a roughly $1.2 trillion infrastructure package into law. The bipartisan deal took months to complete, at one point becoming a political casualty in the grand war among Democrats over the future of the president’s other spending priorities.
But party lawmakers broke the logjam after liberals, who wanted the two bills to move together, ultimately agreed with moderates to pass solely the infrastructure measure and return to the rest of Biden’s agenda this week. Their joint statement affirming their pact included a pledge from centrists such as Reps. Josh Gottheimer, D-New Jersey, and Stephanie Murphy, D-New Jersey, who said they would lend their support after seeing a financial analysis of the bill—or alternatively work with liberals in the event the numbers came out skewed.
Entering the week, liberal and moderate lawmakers each sounded an upbeat note, marking a notable shift from the months of public sparring between them. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, the head of the left-leaning Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters late Monday that she still believes “we’ll get a vote this week.”
Murphy, the head of the centrist-leaning Blue Dog Coalition, separately said after an evening vote that she believes it is “important that we don’t draw red lines” on supporting the final package. Asked about the prospects of a negative score from CBO, she said lawmakers need to take in “all the information and the specifics of the bill.”
One potential trouble area for Democrats is their proposal to empower the IRS to pursue tax cheats, an idea that they believe could raise hundreds of billions of dollars to pay for their spending initiatives. Historically, the CBO has evaluated these provisions unfavorably, raising the possibility that the scorekeeper’s upcoming report could show the overall package adds to the deficit even as Democrats contend otherwise.
In an encouraging sign for the president, though, Murphy said lawmakers are “all well aware there’s going to be a discrepancy around the IRS piece.”
“Let’s just reserve judgment until we see the whole package,” she said.