House Democrats clear path toward passing $3.5 trillion budget bill and infrastructure plan after breaking stalemate

Key Points
  • The House voted to approve a $3.5 trillion budget resolution, advance a bipartisan infrastructure bill and move forward with sweeping voting rights legislation.
  • After centrists threatened to derail Democrats' economic agenda by pushing for swift approval of the Senate-passed infrastructure plan, party leaders pledged to vote on it by Sept. 27.
  • Democrats are trying to pass their $3.5 trillion proposal to expand the social safety net without a vote from Republicans, who oppose the spending and the proposed tax increases to pay for it.
Biden on House pushing through budget, developments in Afghanistan
Biden on House pushing through budget, developments in Afghanistan

House Democrats forged ahead with President Joe Biden's economic plans Tuesday after they broke a stalemate that threatened to unravel the party's sprawling agenda.

In a 220-212 party-line vote, the chamber passed a $3.5 trillion budget resolution and advanced a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. The vote allows Democrats to write and approve a massive spending package without Republicans and puts the Senate-passed infrastructure plan on a path to final passage in the House.

The measure includes a nonbinding commitment to vote on the infrastructure bill by Sept. 27, which aims to appease nine centrist Democrats who pushed the House to consider the bipartisan plan before it took up the Democratic budget resolution. The vote also advances a sweeping voting rights bill, which Democrats aim to pass as soon as Tuesday.

House Democrats have enough votes to pass $3.5 trillion spending package
House Democrats have enough votes to pass $3.5 trillion spending package

In a statement Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she is "committing to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill by September 27" and would "rally" her caucus to pass it. She also stressed that she aims to pass a budget reconciliation bill that could get through the Senate — meaning it may prove smaller than House progressives want.

The opposition from the nine holdout Democrats threatened an agenda that supporters say will boost the economy and provide a lifeline to working-class households. Democratic leaders have cast the budget plan as the biggest expansion of the American social safety net in decades and the infrastructure bill as an overdue refresh of transportation and utilities.

"The bottom line is, in my view, we are a step closer to truly investing in the American people, positioning our economy for long-term growth and building an America that outcompetes the rest of the world," Biden said Tuesday after the vote. "My goal is to build an economy from the bottom up and middle out, not just the top down."

Pelosi has pushed to pass the bipartisan and Democratic plans at the same time in order to ensure centrists and progressives back both measures. The nine Democrats withheld their support, leaving Pelosi and her top deputies scrambling to find a path forward to salvage the party's economic plans.

All the Democrats ended up voting with their party Tuesday. In a statement after the vote, the Democrats led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey said their deal with party leaders "does what we set out to do: secure a standalone vote for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, send it to the President's desk, and then separately consider the reconciliation package."

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) arrives for a House Democratic caucus meeting amidst ongoing negotiations over budget and infrastructure legislation at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. August 24, 2021.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

The vote to advance the measures preserves the party's hopes to push through massive economic proposals this year. Democrats still need to overcome several hurdles — and write a budget bill that can win support from spending-wary centrists and progressives alike — to get the proposals through a narrowly divided Congress.

Underscoring the challenges ahead, House leaders face pressure to write and pass the reconciliation plan before they approve the infrastructure bill — which Pelosi pledged to do in about a month. In a statement Tuesday, Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said the two proposals are "integrally tied together, and we will only vote for the infrastructure bill after passing the reconciliation bill."

Democrats in the Senate and House hope to write their bill to strengthen the social safety net and invest in climate policy in the coming weeks. The budget measure calls for expanding Medicare, child care and paid leave, extending strengthened household tax credits passed last year, creating universal pre-K and making incentives for green energy adoption.

While the resolution allows for up to $3.5 trillion in spending, centrists will likely try to trim the price tag.

Many Republicans have supported the bipartisan infrastructure bill, saying it will jolt the economy. But they have opposed the trillions more in spending proposed by Democrats and the tax hikes on businesses and wealthy individuals the Democrats hope to use to pay for it.

The GOP has also argued the Democratic plan would increase inflation, which White House officials have disputed.

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