Facing pushback by conservative-leaning members in their ranks, Democratic leaders put their $1.85 trillion social policy, climate and tax package on hold on Friday, instead moving toward a vote on a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package.
The retreat came after centrist Democrats balked at supporting the social policy plan without a formal estimate of its cost and economic impact. Hoping to convey movement toward approving it, House leaders said they would hold a procedural vote that would allow consideration of the measure sometime in the future, with hopes of passing it by Thanksgiving.
But the delay was a setback for President Biden and Democratic congressional leaders, who had hoped to pass both measures on Friday after weeks of feuding between moderates and progressives that has stalled their agenda. An off-year electoral drubbing this week dramatized the stakes.
“We are not a lock step party,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California told reporters at the Capitol as she announced the postponement. “It’s an additional challenge, but I see every challenge as an opportunity.”
The most immediate question was whether the infrastructure legislation would have the votes to pass. Liberal Democrats, frustrated and angry that moderates were withholding their support after days of frenzied negotiations, indicated they might oppose the measure. And while it was expected to draw some Republican support, it was not clear whether that would be enough to offset Democratic defections.
Asked whether she had the votes to pass the infrastructure bill, Ms. Pelosi told reporters, “We’ll see, won’t we?”
The Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose members have refused to support the $1 trillion public works bill until legislative text for the social policy bill was ready, huddled Friday afternoon to discuss the path forward. Several liberals privately scoffed over the insistence from at least four conservative-leaning Democrats that the social policy bill be delayed until they had an official cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, the legislative scorekeeper on Capitol Hill.
“If our six colleagues still want to wait for a C.B.O. score, we would agree to give them that time — after which point we can vote on both bills together,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the Progressive Caucus chairwoman.
Heading into the meeting, Representative Cori Bush, Democrat of Missouri, said she was a “hard no” on passing the infrastructure bill on Friday without also passing the social policy plan. “There is no phone call I could get or offer that could change my mind,” she said, adding that progressives’ trust in their centrist colleagues was “hanging by a thread.”
The shift in strategy came despite public and private appeals from Mr. Biden for lawmakers to quickly get behind his agenda. As Ms. Pelosi held a marathon round of meetings in her Capitol office to try to resolve the internal disputes, the president called the holdouts and pushed for a quick resolution.
“I’m asking every House member, member of the House of Representatives, to vote yes on both these bills right now,” Mr. Biden said at the White House as party leaders huddled privately with the centrists in a frenzied effort to assuage their concerns and keep plans for Friday votes on track.
After calling moderate skeptics to try to win them over for the social policy bill, Mr. Biden then pivoted to phoning progressives, including Ms. Jayapal, in an effort to facilitate passage of the infrastructure measure.
But divisions among Democrats, spooked by Tuesday’s electoral drubbing, appeared as deep as ever, imperiling both pillars of the president’s agenda. House leaders started the day aiming for votes to advance the social policy bill and clear the infrastructure measure — the largest investment in the nation’s aging public works in a decade — for Mr. Biden’s signature.
But by midday, their efforts had stalled as a 15-minute House vote dragged on more than seven hours, held open while Ms. Pelosi worked to line up the support she needed to move forward. Republicans, united in opposition to the social policy bill and gleeful over the legislative chaos, kept forcing procedural votes to further derail the process.
The delay felt painfully familiar to Democratic lawmakers and Mr. Biden, who have tried and failed twice in the last several weeks to push the pair of bills through the House, only to see their plans impeded by internal divisions.
President Biden called on House members on Friday to advance two bills filled with nearly $3 trillion worth of infrastructure, social policy and climate programs, an explicit directive to pass legislation central to his presidency that has been bogged down by intraparty divisions.
“Passing these bills will say clearly to the American people: We hear your voices. We’re going to invest in your hopes,” Mr. Biden said at the White House, where he spoke about the October jobs report.
Democrats appeared to be close to advancing both a $1.85 trillion social safety net and climate plan and a Senate-passed $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill in what would be the largest investment in the nation’s public works in a decade. The infrastructure bill would go to Mr. Biden’s desk for his signature, and the social safety net measure would head to the Senate for consideration.
But at least four House Democrats — Representatives Jared Golden of Maine, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Ed Case of Hawaii and Stephanie Murphy of Florida — were demanding an official cost analysis from the Congressional Budget Office before they vote on the social safety net package, enough to derail the legislation.
On Friday, another Democrat, Representative Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia, publicly denied that she was a holdout on the bill and announced her support for it on Twitter.
There are a lot of rumors swirling. Let me be clear—this bill is paid for and it has a number of my priorities in it. If it comes to the Floor today—I will support the Build Back Better Act.
— Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux (@RepBourdeaux) November 5, 2021
Democratic leaders have tried to use an analysis by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation on the tax side of the social welfare bill and a White House analysis of the spending costs to win the undecided Democrats over, to no avail. Leadership aides said that Mr. Biden was personally calling them on Friday.
For Mr. Biden, the House approval of the bills would mark significant progress at a particularly vulnerable moment for the White House. The president returned from an overseas trip this week to find Republicans surging momentum in Tuesday’s election after the party’s candidate, Glenn Youngkin, won the governor’s race in Virginia.
That loss for Democrats, as well as a surprisingly tight contest in the New Jersey governor’s race, highlighted growing worries within the party that the lack of progress on Mr. Biden’s agenda was fueling dissatisfaction among voters.
Mr. Biden’s approval ratings have also declined in recent months amid concerns about increasing inflation, a persistent pandemic and the botched U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Enacting the infrastructure bill and advancing the social safety net legislation could provide the administration with tangible signs of progress to trumpet to voters in the months to come.
“I’m asking every House member, member of the House of Representatives, to vote yes on both these bills right now,” the president said. He added, “Let’s show the world that America’s democracy can deliver and propel our economy forward.”
Mr. Biden concluded with a succinct message for lawmakers: “Let’s get this done.”
The funeral for Colin L. Powell, former secretary of state, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and national security adviser, brought out a Washington that barely exists anymore: Republicans and Democrats, including President Biden and two of his predecessors, uniformed military and diplomats, and people on all sides of the Iraq war.
No one would have been more amused by the turnout than Mr. Powell himself, who often ran a smiling, half-whispered, commentary on the city’s temporary loyalties and back room machinations. Yet on Friday, the Washington National Cathedral was filled with them all — former officials who were at Mr. Powell’s side in the Persian Gulf War and on the seventh floor of the State Department, where he often waged a behind-the-scenes battle for influence in the Bush White House.
Mr. Biden did not speak, nor did the two former presidents who attended, Barack Obama, whom Mr. Powell endorsed during the 2008 campaign, and George W. Bush, who made Mr. Powell his first secretary of state. Instead, among the eulogists was a Democrat who had often clashed with Mr. Powell over the general’s reluctance to commit American forces to battles for which the general, seared by the experience of his service in Vietnam, did not see a clear, successful outcome.
“He said I almost gave him an aneurysm,” the Democrat, Madeleine Albright, who served as secretary of state in the Clinton administration, told the mourners, recalling Mr. Powell’s reaction after she famously asked him, “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”
They argued and argued, and the argument delayed the American intervention in Bosnia.
But over time they also became the close friends, which became critical after the disputed 2000 election. When Mr. Powell was named her successor, she said, he drove over to her house in Georgetown, walked in the door and together they began planning a succession — something that did not happen twenty years later, when, paralyzed by President Donald J. Trump’s refusal to admit his defeat, the Trump administration resisted a cooperative handover of power. (Mr. Trump, who denounced Mr. Powell a day after he died, was not present at the ceremony, and not mentioned.)
“He made pragmatism charismatic,” Ms. Albright said of Mr. Powell.
Throughout the ceremony, there were many such stories from a seemingly lost Washington, as participants told the story of how a son of Jamaican parents grew up in the Bronx, had his life given meaning in the Army, and rose through the ranks serving presidents of both parties. It was what his son, Michael K. Powell, a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, called a true “American journey,’’ a phrase drawn from the title of Mr. Powell’s autobiography.
Even the scene of the funeral itself seemed a rare celebration of a figure whose party affiliations seemed far less interesting, and less concrete, than his approach to war, diplomacy and problem-solving. The National Cathedral is traditionally the site of presidential funerals — Ronald Reagan’s was held there, along with George H.W. Bush’s — but only rarely for other notable figures, including Senator John McCain, who died in 2018.
Mr. Powell’s ability to lead — whether he was in charge of troops or the diplomatic corps — was recalled by Richard Armitage, who served alongside him in Vietnam, became his closest friend and his deputy secretary of state. “One day I asked General Powell what is the secret of leadership,” Mr. Armitage recalled.
“You see some people, they look great,” he recalled Mr. Powell saying, with their impressive uniforms. “But the fact of the matter is that they can’t lead a horse to water.”
“You see some people who look like an unmade bed,’’ he continued. “But they can lead people anywhere.”
Democratic leaders in the House, aiming to break through an intraparty stalemate, are trying to hold key votes on President Biden’s agenda on Friday.
Once again, their plan did not unfold as intended.
House leaders were proceeding with votes on the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and on a procedural step that would pave the way for the House to debate and vote on the $1.85 trillion social safety net and climate change bill. But they scrapped plans for a vote on passage of the social safety net measure amid resistance from moderate lawmakers.
Here are two votes to watch on Friday.
The infrastructure bill: The $1 trillion bipartisan measure was approved by the Senate in August, and a few weeks later, the House passed a rule for its consideration that will allow an hour of debate before a vote. House passage on Friday would send the bill to Mr. Biden for his signature.
The rule for the social safety net bill: This resolution would set the terms for floor consideration of the social safety net bill, which includes much of Mr. Biden’s domestic agenda. It would allow for two hours of debate before the bill is voted on. House leaders decided not to hold a vote on passage of the bill on Friday, as they had originally planned. Instead, they are now aiming to hold the vote later in the month. If the bill passed at that point, the focus would then turn to the Senate, where it is likely to undergo changes.
The budget reconciliation process gives Congress an expedited way to advance certain spending and tax bills. Democrats are using the process to pass their sweeping $1.85 trillion social safety net and climate change measure, which carries much of President Biden’s agenda, in the face of united Republican opposition.
While it is designed to smooth the path for fiscal legislation, it also comes with strict limitations that can make life difficult for those employing it to try to win adoption of ambitious policy measures. Democrats have been grappling with the strictures of the process for months.
Here are some key things to know about the legislative maneuver.
Reconciliation bills cannot be filibustered.
A major advantage of the process is that reconciliation legislation is not subject to a filibuster, meaning that it can be passed on a simple majority vote, freeing lawmakers in the Senate from the 60-vote threshold most legislation must meet to be considered.
It’s a multi-step, often cumbersome process.
The process begins with a budget resolution, which establishes a blueprint for federal spending and directs congressional committees to write bills to achieve certain policy results, setting spending and revenue over a certain amount of time. Its name refers to the process of reconciling existing laws with those directives.
The House and Senate passed their blueprints, which laid out plans for a $3.5 trillion social policy package, in August. Then House committees set to work drafting legislation to be reconciled with the blueprint. But centrist Democrats in the Senate balked at the price tag, prompting a prolonged negotiation that has nearly halved the cost of the bill and has forced Democrats to drop some provisions and find alternative ways to pay for others.
Budget resolutions and the reconciliation bills that are produced to carry them out are both subject to what is known as a “vote-a-rama,” a marathon session — often stretching overnight — where the Senate considers a number of amendments in rapid succession, and which is often used by the minority party to force politically difficult votes.
The Senate held one in August when it passed the budget resolution, and another awaits as soon as this month, when its leaders have said they hope to take up the reconciliation bill.
There are strict rules on what can be included.
While reconciliation allows senators to scale procedural and scheduling hurdles, it is also subject to strict limits that have constrained the social policy package.
In the Senate, the “Byrd Rule,” established by former Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, bars extraneous provisions — disqualifying any measure that does not directly change revenue or spending, that affects Social Security or that increases the deficit after the period of time covered in the budget resolution. It is intended to ensure that the reconciliation process cannot be abused to jam through unrelated policies.
The rule’s name lends itself to a number of bird-related puns commonly used to describe the stages of the process. There is the “Byrd bath,” when the Senate parliamentarian scrubs and analyzes a bill for any provision that violates the rule. Anything that does not survive the scrutiny is known as a “Byrd dropping” and is removed from the legislation.
The parliamentarian has already disappointed many Democrats by rejecting proposals to include a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the social policy bill.
Vice President Kamala Harris, as president of the Senate, could overrule the parliamentarian, but that has not been done since 1975.
The expansive $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which the Senate passed in August, is the product of months of negotiating and years of pent-up ambitions to repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. The bipartisan plan would amount to the most substantial government expenditure on the aging public works system since 2009. The bill is also stuffed with pet projects and priorities that touch on nearly every facet of American life. Here are some of the major provisions.
About $110 billion will go to roads, bridges and transportation programs.
Much of the legislation is directed toward roads and bridges, devoting billions of dollars to address an expansive backlog of repairs across the country and shoring up the nation’s highways and other infrastructure to withstand the toll of climate change.
The bill also increases funding for programs intended to provide safe commutes for pedestrians, and creates a $350 million pilot program for projects that reduce collisions between vehicles and wildlife. And the legislation formally establishes a federal program intended to encourage children to walk or bike to school.
Transportation experts say the $110 billion is just a fraction of what is needed to address the nation’s unaddressed repair needs, with the latest estimate from the American Society of Civil Engineers estimating a $786 billion backlog for roads and bridges alone.
The measure also includes $66 billion in new funding for rail to address Amtrak’s maintenance backlog, along with upgrading the high-traffic Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston. For President Biden, an Amtrak devotee who has taken an estimated 8,000 round trips on the line, it is a step toward fulfilling his promise to inject billions into rail.
For climate, a substantial investment that falls short of the administration’s goals.
The measure includes billions of dollars to better prepare the country for the effects of global warming and the single largest federal investment in power transmission in history.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would get an additional $11.6 billion in construction funds for projects like flood control and river dredging. The Forest Service would get billions of dollars to remove flammable vegetation from the lands it manages, in an effort to make wildfires less damaging.
The bill would also include money for “next-generation water modeling activities” and flood mapping at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which would also receive funds to predict wildfires.
The legislation also includes $73 billion to modernize the nation’s electricity grid to allow it to carry renewable energy, $7.5 billion for clean buses and ferries and $7.5 billion to develop electric vehicle charging stations across the country. It would provide $15 billion for removing lead service lines.
The bill also includes more than $300 million to develop technology to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, and $6 billion to support struggling nuclear reactors. It directs the secretary of energy to conduct a study on job losses associated with Mr. Biden’s decision to cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline.
New resources for underserved communities — but far fewer than the president wanted.
The legislation creates a new $2 billion grant program to expand surface transportation projects in rural areas.
It would also increase support for tribal governments and Native American communities, creating an office within the Department of Transportation intended to respond to their needs. It would provide $216 million to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for climate resilience and adaptation for tribal nations, which have been disproportionately hurt by climate change. More than half of that money, $130 million, would go toward “community relocation” — helping some Native communities move away from vulnerable areas.
It would also help improve access to running water and other sanitation needs in tribal communities and Alaska Native villages.
A major investment in closing the digital divide.
Senators have also included $65 billion meant to connect hard-to-reach rural communities to high-speed internet and help sign up low-income city dwellers who cannot afford it. Other legal changes seek to stoke competition and transparency among service providers that could help drive down prices.
Mr. Biden had initially proposed $100 billion toward closing the digital divide, but he agreed to lower the price to strike a compromise with Republicans.
Reporting was contributed by Nicholas Fandos, Lisa Friedman, Madeleine Ngo, Luke Broadwater and Stacy Cowley.
House Democrats had hoped Friday would be a day of action, when they could finally puncture through months of grueling negotiations to pass President Biden’s ambitious domestic agenda.
But instead of a flurry of legislative activity, the House floor was a den of stagnation, as Democratic leaders let a procedural vote that began on Friday morning languish for nearly seven hours while they privately struggled to entice conservative-leaning holdouts in their ranks to support their $1.85 trillion social safety net, climate and tax package.
The tactic — holding a vote open indefinitely while trying to secure critical support — is a well-worn strategy on Capitol Hill. In 2003, Republicans held open a vote for nearly 3 hours in the wee hours of the morning to pass President George W. Bush’s legislation adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. They did so around dawn by a five-vote margin, setting a record for the longest roll call vote in House history.
Democrats easily eclipsed that record on Friday, underscoring just how difficult it has been for party leaders working with a razor-thin majority to unite their caucus around Mr. Biden’s agenda, including the social policy bill and a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure measure.
It was the third time in recent weeks that Democratic congressional leaders and White House officials had seen their hopes for quick votes on both bills dim amid feuding within their ranks.
So on Friday, rather than the usual end-of-week spasm of frenetic activity — typically marked by lawmakers scurrying to cast their last votes and leave Washington — the House slipped into a state of limbo.
As morning stretched into the afternoon, the hallways around the House floor stayed eerily quiet, save for the rustling of reporters clustered around Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office in the Capitol, in search of even the smallest scheduling update.
While Ms. Pelosi and her deputies could be seen buttonholing lawmakers on the House floor on Thursday, those efforts played out behind closed doors on Friday, as she met with both the critical moderates, who were demanding more information about the cost of the rapidly evolving legislation, and members of the powerful Congressional Black Caucus.
Signs of progress were elusive, as party leaders slipped in and out of Ms. Pelosi’s office with few updates and some rank-and-file lawmakers privately fretted that the legislative standoff would creep into the weekend.
On the House floor, the 15-minute vote clock that began at 8:12 a.m. had long since ceased its ticking.