Pelosi Pressed by Progressives to Move First on Budget Plan
(Bloomberg) -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi, relegated to the sidelines in the stalled Senate debate over a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint, faced increased pressure Tuesday from some members of her fractious caucus for the House to draft its own tax and spending blueprint.
Frustrations are mounting on both sides of the Capitol over the Senate’s inability to get firm commitments from the 50 members of its Democratic caucus to back the plan, which pays for the bulk of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda.
And while some key lawmakers, such as House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth, remain hopeful Senate Democrats will coalesce around their blueprint, other Democrats are increasingly impatient with the slow pace across the Capitol and are pressing for a go-first approach.
“If that doesn’t move forward, we will have to move forward,” Washington Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal, chair of the House Progressive Caucus, said after Democrats huddled Tuesday morning.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday took a procedural step intended to push along negotiations on a related $579 billion infrastructure package and set a Wednesday deadline for his caucus to agree on a budget framework. But moderates in his caucus are unwilling to back that until more details are available and the bipartisan infrastructure bill is agreed upon.
Tuesday’s meeting of House Democrats was the first since Senate Budget Committee Democrats last week announced their broad budget framework. It is unclear whether the closed-door meeting clarified the extent of any differences among Democrats and the direction they might take in the weeks before the August recess.
For Pelosi and her lieutenants, who must manage competing demands from progressives who want larger spending and moderates who want smaller tax increases, pushing through a budget resolution will be a massive undertaking that would be made easier by Senate agreement.
“Someone at the White House said to me, ‘You must lie awake at night thinking about dollar amounts,’” Yarmuth, a Kentucky Republican, said Monday. “And I said, ‘No I lie awake thinking about votes.’”
He added that there is talk among House Democrats about moving forward with a budget first.
“We’ll see what they get done this week, if anything,” he said of the Senate.
Progressives are agitating for “big and bold” changes to the Senate’s budget framework. Key faction leaders like Jayapal plan to take part in a Tuesday rally near the Capitol to push for just that.
Another progressive, Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, said the group is in constant contact with Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who is a member of the progressive caucus, and he remains “optimistic” that the Senate can strike a deal allowing that chamber to move first.
Some moderates, at the same time, are urging the speaker to put aside the budget framework for now and instead speed passage of a smaller infrastructure bill before the House departs for the recess.
Others say they want to see a lot more detail before voting to spend trillions.
“There is no text. There is a topline,” Michigan Democratic Representative Elissa Slotkin, a moderate, said on Monday. “Show me what’s in it and if it is transformational for my community I will seriously consider it.”
Yarmuth said he would like to see a higher level of spending. Many House Democrats, he said, are discussing tweaks to the Senate proposal to lengthen the timespan of new programs.
But he added that Democrats have to write something that can pass muster with moderates squeamish about the overall amount of spending.
“Bernie invited us to propose more,” Yarmuth said after briefing Democrats at Tuesday’s caucus meeting. “Whether we will or not, we will see.”
A House Democrat confirmed that Yarmuth acknowledged at the meeting the House may be forced to take the reins on the budget proposal due to Senate inaction. But the lawmaker said that ignores the reality that Senate Democrats still would have to agree on a plan, eventually.
The math in the House is in Democrats’ favor, but only ever so slightly.
Republicans will regain a seat after a special election in Texas next week, bringing the party breakdown in the chamber to 220 to 212. That means a net loss of four Democratic votes, without any GOP defections, would cause a tie and block passage of a measure.
Pelosi has so far given herself wiggle room to negotiate inside her own caucus, including with those party moderates worried about the top-line costs and taxes in the Senate budget framework. Her language has been notably vague, saying she wants to “stay under the top line as perhaps we realign some of those priorities.”
“I salute the action that they took,” Pelosi said of the Senate Democrats on their budget plan.
But she also referred to it as just “some principles.” In a nod to progressives, she said “it isn’t as green as I would like. It isn’t as people-oriented as I would like.”
Whatever happens, it is unlikely that the budget proposal will gain much, if any, support from Republicans in either chamber.
In a memo Monday to fellow House Republicans. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the Senate budget framework would be the latest of Biden’s “massive increases in government spending” contributing to inflation and price increases.
He said that would come “on top of the $1.9 trillion Democrats passed in March and the over $4 trillion the government spends in a normal year.”
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