The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a budget framework that will pave the way for Democrats to spend up to $3.5 trillion on a sweeping economic package to expand the social safety net that President Joe Biden has made a signature agenda item.
The House vote came after painstaking negotiations between Democratic leaders and a group of moderates yielded a compromise that paved the way for passage. But deadlock over the issue led to a standoff that derailed efforts to move forward Monday evening. The issue underscored the challenge leadership faces in attempting to unite the party’s moderate and progressive wings.
Ultimately, the House voted on a rule to advance both the budget deal and a separate $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. Due to a procedural maneuver, passage of the rule also approved the budget resolution, bypassing a separate vote. In a concession to moderates, the rule also directs the House to take up the bipartisan bill by September 27.
The Senate approved the budget resolution earlier this month. Budget resolutions do not become law and are not signed by the President, but the framework will act as an important policy blueprint. Both chambers must adopt the resolution for Democrats to use a process known as budget reconciliation to later pass legislation addressing the climate crisis, aid for families, health care and more that cannot be defeated by a GOP filibuster in the Senate.
The budget resolution includes a set of instructions for House and Senate committees that will allow them to write reconciliation legislation with a total price tag of as much as $3.5 trillion. The final reconciliation package, once it is drafted, is expected to be considered in the fall.
“With regard to the $3.5 trillion topline number for this package, the President has been clear: this is the number that will honor his vision to Build Back Better,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote in a letter to House Democrats over the weekend. “This is the number that has been agreed to in the Senate and is now before us in the House. Accordingly, we will write a reconciliation bill with the Senate that is consistent with that topline.”
Divisions among Democrats have been prominent as the party has pushed ahead with the effort. In the House, moderates pushed to first vote on a separate $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill prior to voting on the budget resolution, while progressives took a stand counter to that by saying they would not support the bipartisan plan on its own without the larger reconciliation package.
The deadlock forced House leadership into negotiations late into the evening on Monday attempting to reach a deal with moderates that would allow them to move ahead with a vote to pass the resolution, but shortly after midnight members were notified that no further votes were expected in the House for the night.
Both moderates and Pelosi sounded optimistic by late morning that such a deal was within reach.
“I’m sorry that we couldn’t land the plane last night, and that you all had to wait,” Pelosi told her caucus on Tuesday morning, according to a Democratic aide in the room. “But that’s just part of the legislative progress … I think we’re close to landing the plane.”
Rep. Henry Cuellar, a moderate Democrat from Texas, told CNN on Tuesday that “good progress” has been made when asked if moderates have reached a deal with leadership.
In a clear signal of the high stakes moment, Biden himself joined members of his senior team in making calls to some of the holdout moderates, according to a White House official. Biden’s senior aides and top legislative affairs officials have been in regular touch with the moderate group for several weeks and publicly backed Pelosi’s approach. But several House Democrats have quietly voiced desire for Biden himself to weigh in – something Biden did with some members Monday.
The optimistic tone Tuesday morning stood in stark contrast to the heated division on display Monday evening, when tension in the Democratic caucus came to a boiling point in a heated, expletive-laden meeting. Multiple sources confirmed that lawmakers grew visibly angry when Pelosi emphasized lawmakers shouldn’t “squander” the opportunity to pass these bills with their majority in the House.
“You all have to vote for the goddamn rule,” House Rules Chair Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, also said, to cheers in the room, according to a source familiar. Moderates, who are refusing to vote on the rule, were not present in the room when McGovern made his comments, which Politico first reported.
The demand from moderates comes as Pelosi has made clear for months that the House won’t take up the bipartisan bill until the Senate passes the larger and more sweeping package through budget reconciliation. Progressives have said they won’t support the infrastructure bill on its own without the larger economic package that would expand the social safety net.
Trying to find common ground, Democratic leadership attempted to put forward a vote that would pass the budget resolution using a special procedural move instead of requiring it to have its own vote.
In the 50-50 partisan split Senate, Democrats have no room for error and cannot afford to lose a single member of their caucus – and some moderates in the Senate have already taken issue with the price tag. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona has said that she does not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion, though she has signaled she is willing to negotiate.
Democrats have ambitious goals for the legislative package, which opens the door for them to implement key priorities across a wide range of policy issues. Republicans are steadfastly opposed to the effort and have denounced it as a reckless partisan tax and spending spree.
A summary of the budget resolution released after Democrats formally unveiled the measure outlines a plan to invest in four major categories: families, climate, health care, and infrastructure and jobs. According to the summary, the measure seeks to establish universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds and make community college tuition-free for two years. Among other provisions, it calls for the establishment of a Civilian Climate Corps, adds new dental, vision and hearing benefits to Medicare coverage and would make a “historic level” of investment in affordable housing.
The budget resolution sets a target date of September 15 for committees to submit their reconciliation legislation.
Democrats will ultimately be subject to constraints on what they can include under the budget reconciliation process. Provisions have to directly impact the budget, and the Senate parliamentarian may rule that certain priorities cannot be included as a result. The parliamentarian is responsible for advising the chamber on how its rules, protocols and precedents operate.
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Tuesday.
CNN’s Phil Mattingly, Ryan Nobles, Melanie Zanona and Morgan Rimmer contributed to this report.