As they approach the end of the week and the much-anticipated Congressional Budget Committee analysis, Democratic members and aides remain confident that things are — mostly — on track to pass the Build Back Better plan before the House recesses for Thanksgiving.
What to watch on Wednesday
Any updates in the schedule. The House was supposed to begin debate on the Build Back Better bill Wednesday, but it appears that won’t happen. Aides say that’s largely because the resolution to censure Rep. Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona, and strip him of his committee assignments is going to take center stage, but be on the lookout for how that affects the calendar. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said a vote could come as early as Thursday, but if debate doesn’t kick-start until Thursday, that could push a vote to Friday or yes, even the weekend.
A reminder not to count chickens before they hatch
Yes, things seem to be moving along. And yet, it’s always good to lay out the caveats.
Pelosi’s majority is narrow, there are no guarantees and leadership is going to have to work hard to get this across the finish line. It’s not clear the votes are there yet. But Democrats feel like all the fits and starts, and all the disagreements between progressive and moderate factions, have been building to this moment. Throw in the signing ceremony of the infrastructure bill at the White House on Monday and Democrats are feeling motivated right now.
“It helps to build a sense of momentum and lets everyone bask in the glory of having done something important,” Sen. Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, said summing up the mood right now.
The other factor: Exhaustion
Sometimes the secret to legislating is letting everyone say their piece, letting every member feel empowered to impact the process and letting the process take as long as it’s going to take. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s message has been just that: We’re working and when we’re ready to vote, we will. It takes a long time to do it that way, but it’s a strategy that may pay dividends here. Democratic leadership has done that, the White House has done that. They’ve cajoled, dispatched the President, entertained in the Oval Office, made experts available to walk through the bill and laid out with charts and figures what they believe to be the true cost of the legislation.
It seems to be working and while there are still several members who are legitimately undecided, some key moderates are signaling it’s time to vote.
The CBO factor
As CNN reported Tuesday, the CBO analysis due out by the end of the day Friday is important to many members, but even as the score may come up short, the White House has been preparing for members for discrepancies between their analysis and the CBO’s for weeks.
“I think it is OK,” Rep. Kurt Schrader, a Blue Dog Democrat from Oregon, said of any difference between expected CBO and White House analyses. He called it a “legitimate difference of opinion” that would “not dissuade me” from voting for the bill.
Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a New Jersey Democrat, told reporters Tuesday that expectation setting is important when it comes to CBO and he feels like the White House has done that. He’s not speaking for every moderate here, but Gottheimer is a leader in that caucus and his opinion, his buy-in matters here.
A window behind the scenes
The IRS enforcement issue is a good window into something that has quietly become a central piece of the House Democratic push to get both the infrastructure and economic and climate package across the finish line. The economic and budget estimates and models put together by the White House economic and Treasury Department teams have become the catalyst for action.
The White House budget estimates became the actual baseline for the agreement between the moderates and the progressives. Months of Treasury Department analysis on the tax enforcement revenue potential laid the groundwork for general acceptance that the CBO analysis would fall short. There have been individual meetings with lawmakers, dozens upon dozens of phone calls, detailed analysis circulated broadly, or on demand.
Every administration deploys the full weight of the expertise inside its agencies to help its legislative agenda, but the effort by the White House and Treasury over the course of months is now paying off in a major way in the House — and will be extensively relied upon in the Senate.
Prepare for breaks in the Senate
Even if the House can pull it off and pass their bill this week, don’t expect another signing ceremony at the White House to be imminent. The Senate is going to take its time here. It’s for one key reason: The votes aren’t there. Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, has signaled every which way that he’s not ready to vote. He’s worried about inflation, he has serious concerns about voting before Christmas, he wants to be judicious and talk to more people. There is still a long way to go here.
So, what is the timeline?
The reality is the Build Back Better proposal won’t be the most urgent matter when the Senate returns from its Thanksgiving break. White House officials and congressional Democrats mostly accept the fact funding the government and finding some pathway to raise or suspend the debt ceiling will take priority in the first week of December. That time will also provide a window for the White House — and specifically President Biden — to lock back in on Manchin and figure out what it will take to get him on board.
Still, it’s a very compressed time window and each step — each deadline — has the potential to create a major blow up that could push the domestic agenda into 2022. That’s very, very clearly not the goal or intention. But it’s not out of the realm of possibility. At all.
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