Live Updates: House Democrats Push Toward Votes on Biden’s Agenda

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Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Democrats pushed toward House votes on Friday to approve nearly $3 trillion worth of infrastructure, social policy and climate programs, working to line up the support needed to pass two bills that carry the bulk of President Biden’s domestic agenda.

At the White House, Mr. Biden called on lawmakers to pass the legislation.

“I’m asking every House member, member of the House of Representatives, to vote yes on both these bills right now,” the president said.

Spooked by Tuesday’s electoral drubbing, Democrats labored to overcome concerns among moderates about the cost and details of a rapidly evolving, $1.85 trillion social safety net and climate plan and push it through over unified Republican opposition. They also hoped to clear a Senate-passed $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill — the largest investment in the nation’s aging public works in a decade — for Mr. Biden’s signature.

Top Democratic officials said they were confident they could complete both measures by day’s end, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and her team continued to haggle with holdouts.

Several moderates were pushing for more information about the cost of the sprawling plan, including a nonpartisan analysis from the Congressional Budget Office, the official scorekeeper responsible for calculating the fiscal impact of the 2,135-page legislation.

“I think everyone’s waiting for the C.B.O. to do their job,” said Representative Jared Golden, Democrat of Maine, speaking to reporters on Friday morning as he left Ms. Pelosi’s office, where White House officials were also meeting on next steps.

But Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, said the cost estimate would not be ready by the end of the day, and a person familiar with the discussions said a score from the budget office was weeks away from completion.

“We’re working on it,” Mr. Hoyer said.

Ms. Pelosi spent much of the day on Thursday buttonholing lawmakers on the House floor to try to corral support for the social policy bill, which includes monthly payments to families with children, universal prekindergarten, a four-week paid family and medical leave program, health care subsidies and a broad array of climate change initiatives. Mr. Biden and members of his cabinet worked the phones to win over Democratic skeptics.

With Republicans united in opposition, Democrats could afford to lose as few as three votes from their side. As Democrats labored to unite their members behind the bill, Republicans sought to wreak procedural havoc on the House floor, forcing a vote to adjourn the chamber that leaders held open for hours to buy time for their negotiations.

While the Senate approved the $1 trillion infrastructure bill in August, the measure has stalled as progressives have repeatedly refused to supply their votes for it until there is agreement on the other bill.

But the election results from Tuesday confirmed the worst fears of Democrats — who are already worried about losing their slim majorities in the midterms next year — about what would happen if they failed to deliver for voters while controlling the White House and both houses of Congress.

“What I heard loud and clear — and I was walking around with candidates all weekend — was that people want us to act,” said Representative Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, where Republicans made surprising gains in races on Tuesday. “They want us to get things done for them.”

Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times

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. Mr. Biden personally called members of the House on Thursday encouraging them to vote yes on his agenda.

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.”

Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

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. If they succeed, they will pass two marquee pieces of legislation by day’s end, sending one bill to the president’s desk and the other to the Senate.

Here are three votes to watch as the day goes on.

  • The rule: This resolution would set the terms for floor consideration of the $1.85 trillion social safety net and climate change bill, which includes much of Mr. Biden’s domestic agenda. It would allow for two hours of debate before the bill is voted on.

  • The social safety net and climate change bill: After the floor debate, the House would vote on the legislation. If it passed, the focus would turn to the Senate, where Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, said this week that he hoped to begin debate on the measure in mid-November.

    The bill is likely to undergo changes in the Senate, as Democrats need the support of all 50 members of their caucus and must comply with strict rules on what provisions can be included in the legislation under the special process known as budget reconciliation that they are using to avoid a filibuster.

  • 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 clear the bill and send it to Mr. Biden for his signature.

Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

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.

Credit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

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.

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