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Vote on $1.75trn spending package delayed as Democrats split

Moderates ask to see non-partisan estimate of cost


Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Speaker Nancy Pelosi

A request by moderate Democrats in the US House of Representatives to see a non-partisan estimate of the cost of President Joe Biden’s $1.75 trillion social policy and climate-change bill held up a potential vote on it yesterday.

The Democratic leadership of Congress wanted to close out a week in which the party suffered embarrassing losses in state elections with a vote on that sweeping legislation and another, approved in a bipartisan Senate vote in August, to invest $1trn in rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure. Weeks of bickering between moderate and progressive Democrats have held up the bills.

House proceedings ground to a halt yesterday, as moderate House Democrats, who have demanded a bill analysis from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi behind closed doors.

Asked when the votes would occur, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters, “We’re working on it.” He added that a CBO report on the $1.75trn (€1.5trn) bill would not be done by Friday. Democratic Representative Kurt Schrader acknowledged that some involved in the discussion had “a different view of how to get it done”.

The two pieces of legislation include the biggest upgrade of America’s roads, bridges and airports in a generation and the largest expansion of social programmes since the 1960s.

An affirmative vote would bolster the credibility of Mr Biden’s pledge to halve US greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2030 during the UN climate conference taking place in Glasgow.

Mr Biden, who left for Europe last week for the climate conference and a meeting of G20 leaders without a deal on the legislation, spent part of Thursday night calling various House members and urging them to approve the $1.75trn reconciliation bill, a White House official said.

The party is eager to show it can move forward on the president’s agenda and fend off Republicans in the 2022 midterm elections, when control of the House and Senate will be on the line. But distrust between the party’s factions remained high. Moderate Representative Jared Golden told reporters his group was waiting to see the CBO report on the bill before voting.

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Progressive Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez expressed anger, saying, “Moderates are threatening to tank the bill over the CBO score.”

With razor-thin majorities in Congress and a united Republican opposition, Democrats need unity to pass legislation.

The infrastructure bill, which passed the Senate in August with 19 Republican votes, would fund a massive upgrade of America’s roads, bridges, airports, seaports and rail systems, while also expanding broadband internet service.

The ‘Build Back Better’ package includes provisions on child care and pre-school, eldercare, healthcare, prescription drug pricing and immigration. Debate over that legislation quickly put on display a stark partisan contrast between Democrats and Republicans, who call the social-policy and climate-change agenda a “socialist” tax and spending bill.

“This is potentially a very black day for America,” said Republican Representative Glenn Grothman, who characterised the legislation’s child-care and pre-school provisions as a “Marxist” effort to have the federal government raise children. His comments were rebutted by Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, who said the bill would create a brighter future by supporting American families. “Today is going to be a bright day in America, as Democrats govern and lead and make a difference,” Ms Jackson Lee said.

The non-partisan US Joint Committee on Taxation issued a report scoring the ‘Build Back Better’ legislation’s tax revenue provisions at $1.48trn over the next decade.

But top Democrats argued that the bill was fully paid for. Ms Pelosi and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal said the joint committee’s analysis did not account for additional revenue from provisions intended to enhance the IRS tax collection and to lower the cost of prescription drugs for the Medicare programme for the elderly.

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