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House delays infrastructure vote hours after Biden reveals spending plan

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Washington — The House will not vote Thursday night on the infrastructure bill, hours after progressives said they would not vote on President Biden's revamped social policy and climate change plan. In unveiling the bill earlier Thursday, Mr. Biden urged Democrats to unite.

The White House released details of the plan, known as the Build Back Better Act, as the president prepared to leave Thursday for Europe to attend two major global summits. Hours later, the House released legislative text of the plan, running at 1,684 pages, which could assuage progressive lawmakers' push to see the bill's language.

The president is leaving the work of passing the new $1.75 trillion proposal, plus the bipartisan infrastructure plan awaiting final passage in the House, up to top congressional leaders who've struggled to wrangle the disparate wings of the Democratic Party over the course of the protracted negotiations. The plan does not include paid leave, a pivotal piece of the president's original proposal and campaign promises, nor does it include free community college.

But many Democrats, including progressives in the House, had insisted on seeing the legislative text of the measure before agreeing to pass the more targeted $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, which revamps the nation's roads, bridges, railways and water lines.

Although Speaker Nancy Pelosi had said the House could vote on the infrastructure bill as early as Thursday, the only vote that happened Thursday evening was to extend highway funding, which passed 358-59.

Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters there are "too many no votes" for the infrastructure bill, known as BIF, to pass Thursday. And Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, the Congressional Progressive Caucus whip, told reporters progressives need to have a vote on the social spending agenda before they'll support the infrastructure bill.

"The Progressive Caucus is still doesn't have enough members that they can put up to support a BIF vote alone. We still remain in this same position we were before," Omar said.

Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Thursday night there would be a vote on infrastructure "when we have the votes." In her Dear Colleague letter Thursday, Pelosi insisted that "most Members who were not prepared for a yes vote today have expressed their commitment to support the BIF."

The president insisted earlier that "no one got everything they wanted."

"But that's what compromise is," Mr. Biden said. "That's consensus. And that's what I ran on. I've long said compromise and consensus are the only way to get big things done in a democracy. Important things done for the country. I know it's hard. I know how deeply people feel about the things that they fight for. But this framework includes historic investments in our nation and in our people."

President Biden delivers remarks about his Build Back Better agenda and the bipartisan infrastructure deal as Vice President Kamala Harris stands by in the East Room of the White House on October 28, 2021. / Credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS
President Biden delivers remarks about his Build Back Better agenda and the bipartisan infrastructure deal as Vice President Kamala Harris stands by in the East Room of the White House on October 28, 2021. / Credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS

The president emphasized what the reconciliation framework would accomplish, rather than what it wouldn't. He particularly emphasized how the framework will invest in education and childcare, and said the proposal makes the most significant investment ever in addressing climate change.

"For much too long, working people of this nation and the middle class of this country have been dealt out of the American deal. It's time to deal them back in," the president said as he concluded his remarks. "[If] we make these investments, there will be no stopping the American people or America. We will own the future."

If enacted as introduced, aides say Mr. Biden's plan would expand early childhood education for at least six years by providing universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds; dramatically drive down the country's greenhouse gas emissions in the next nine years; provide first-of-its-kind tax breaks to encourage the widespread use of electric vehicles and the installation of solar panels on American homes; expand government-backed health care coverage for at least four years; and pay for the plan by enacting new taxes on the nation's wealthiest.

The president met with House Democrats on Capitol Hill for about an hour on Thursday morning before departing for Rome, where he is scheduled to arrive later tonight ahead of a Friday meeting with Pope Francis in Vatican City. Mr. Biden said he'll have more to say to the American people when he returns from Europe.

Still, divisions remained among progressives in the House and two crucial Senate Democrats. A congressional aide familiar with the ongoing negotiations said Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, two key moderate Democrats whose support for the plan is crucial, "loosely" agreed to a general, broad framework. But they would not yet commit to supporting the bill.

"After months of productive, good-faith negotiations with President Biden and the White House, we have made significant progress on the proposed budget reconciliation package," Sinema said in a statement Thursday. "I look forward to getting this done, expanding economic opportunities and helping everyday families get ahead."

On Thursday, the president emphasized the need for passing his infrastructure bill as well.

"Some of the bridges you don't even take a chance of going across, they've shut down," Mr. Biden said. "They can't be built back to the same standard because the weather's not going to get a lot better, we've just got to keep it from getting a heck of a lot worse. We have to build back better and stronger. No one should have to hold their breath as they cross a rundown bridge or a dangerous intersection in their hometown."

Democratic Representative Rashida Tlaib said she "cannot in good conscience" vote for the framework until the House gets the legislative text, agreement from all Democratic senators, and votes on both bills on the same day.

The price tag for the Build Back Better plan could rise to $1.85 trillion with the inclusion of a $100 billion provision that aims to reform the nation's immigration system. But previous immigration proposals have been knocked down by the Senate parliamentarian, as they did not comply with the rules governing the process Democrats are using to fast-track the package through the Senate, called reconciliation. The White House said immigration reforms will be consistent with reconciliation rules.

Left out of the framework were plans to offer 12 weeks of paid family leave and free community college, as well as allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices.

Aides working with the president on the legislation described it as "transformative" and "historic" — even though it is expected to cost far less than the original $3.5 trillion proposal Mr. Biden unveiled earlier this year.

The plan as written contains $555 billion in climate and clean energy investments and would cut more than a gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 — a roughly 50% reduction compared to 2005 levels, aides said. The legislation would provide tax credits to Americans buying new electric vehicles that could, according to administration officials, provide up to $12,500 in incentives to some families to drop gas-guzzling vehicles. New tax incentives designed to encourage the installation of solar panels on American homes will also be offered.

What's in Democrats' new $1.75 trillion social spending and climate bill?

Elements of the legislation regarding health care would expand coverage to 7 million more uninsured Americans, aides said, and lower premiums by an average of $600 per person for more than 9 million Americans who purchase insurance through the Affordable Care Act's marketplace.

Mr. Biden's revised framework would also expand Medicare coverage to include hearing services, though some Democrats pushed for the plan to expand the health care program for seniors to cover dental and vision.

It also extends through 2022 the expanded child tax credit, which the White House says will provide more than 35 million households up to $3,600 in tax cuts per child. The expanded child tax credit was included in Democrats' $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan enacted this year.

A mix of new taxes and government fees would be used to pay for the sweeping plan, including a 15% minimum tax on the earnings of the nation's largest corporations and a surtax on earnings of multimillionaires and billionaires. A proposed tax on the nation's roughly 700 billionaires was rejected Wednesday by moderates concerned about its targeted approach and by some Democrats with tax-writing experience concerned it might not pass legal muster.

The $1.75 trillion framework unveiled by the White House is the culmination of months of negotiations between Democrats over the size and scope of Mr. Biden's domestic policy package.

Because the party holds 50 seats in the Senate, passage of the plan hinges on support from all Democrats in the upper chamber and made Manchin and Sinema central figures in the talks. Democrats are using a legislative tool called reconciliation to fast-track the legislation through the Senate and allow it to pass without Republican support.

The two moderate senators had expressed concern over the initial $3.5 trillion price tag for the initial measure put forth by the president, which led Democratic leaders to trim the package.

House Democratic leadership is now formally whipping votes for the infrastructure bill, multiple sources familiar with the situation say.

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