Speaker Nancy Pelosi, relegated to the sidelines in the stalled Senate debate over a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint, soon must decide whether the House should draft its own tax and spending plan.
Frustrations are mounting on both sides of the Capitol over the Senate’s inability to get firm commitments from the 50 members of its Democratic caucus to back the plan, which pays for the bulk of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday took a procedural step intended to push along negotiations on a related $579 billion infrastructure package. The New York Democrat said he hopes to make progress this week on the budget proposal, but moderates in his caucus are unwilling to back that until the bipartisan infrastructure bill is agreed upon.
Yet with the August recess quickly approaching, multiple segments of the fractious House Democratic Caucus are weighing whether their chamber should take a go-first approach.
Pelosi will huddle Tuesday with her fellow Democrats for the first time since Senate Budget Committee Democrats last week announced their broad budget framework. The closed-door meeting might clarify the extent of any differences within her own ranks and the direction to take.
For Pelosi and her lieutenants, who must manage competing demands from progressives who want larger spending and moderates who want smaller tax increases, pushing through a budget resolution will be a massive undertaking that would be made easier by Senate agreement.
“Someone at the White House said to me, ‘You must lie awake at night thinking about dollar amounts,’” House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat, said on Monday. “And I said, ‘No I lie awake thinking about votes.’”
He added that there is talk among House Democrats about moving forward with a budget first.
“We’ll see what they get done this week, if anything,” he said of the Senate.
Progressives are agitating for “big and bold” changes to the Senate’s budget framework. Key faction leaders like Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal of Washington State plan to take part in a Tuesday rally near the Capitol to push for just that.
Another progressive, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, said the group is in constant contact with Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, and he remains “optimistic” that the Senate can strike a deal allowing that chamber to move first.
Some moderates, at the same time, are urging the speaker to put aside the budget framework for now and instead speed passage of a smaller infrastructure bill before the House departs for the recess.
Others say they want to see a lot more detail before voting to spend trillions.
“There is no text. There is a topline,” Michigan Democrat Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a moderate, said on Monday. “Show me what’s in it and if it is transformational for my community I will seriously consider it.”
Yarmuth said he personally would like to see a higher overall level of spending. Many House Democrats, he said, are discussing tweaks to the Senate proposal to lengthen the timespan of new programs.
But he added that he realizes Democrats have to write something that can pass muster with moderates squeamish about the level of spending.
Yarmuth will give his caucus a state of play at the Tuesday meeting. He said he believes it is still possible to agree to a budget resolution by August.
“The overwhelming majority of the Democrats in the House and Senate want to make to make transformative change of the nature that is in this package and we are going to do everything we can to get it done,” he said.
The math is in Democrats’ favor, but only ever so slightly.
Republicans will regain a seat after a special election in Texas next week, bringing the party breakdown in the chamber to 220 to 212. That means a net loss of four Democrat votes, without any GOP defections, would cause a tie and block passage of a measure.
Pelosi has so far given herself wiggle room to negotiate inside her own caucus, including with those party moderates worried about the top-line costs and taxes in the Senate budget framework. Her language has been notably vague, saying she wants to “stay under the top line as perhaps we realign some of those priorities.”
“I salute the action that they took,” Pelosi said of the Senate Democrats on their budget plan.
But she also referred to it as just “some principles.” In a nod to progressives, she said “it isn’t as green as I would like. It isn’t as people-oriented as I would like.”
Whatever happens, it is unlikely that the budget proposal will gain much, if any, support from Republicans in either chamber.
In a memo Monday to fellow House Republicans. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the Senate budget framework would be the latest of Biden’s “massive increases in government spending” contributing to inflation and price increases.
He said that would come “on top of the $1.9 trillion Democrats passed in March and the over $4 trillion the government spends in a normal year.”
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