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House punts on social spending bill

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holds her weekly news conference in the Capitol on Oct. 28. The House is set to vote on the latest version of Democrats' social spending package.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holds her weekly news conference in the Capitol on Oct. 28. The House is set to vote on the latest version of Democrats' social spending package.

The change comes after House moderates said they would not vote on the $1.75 trillion spending package without a score from Congress' budget office.

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on President Biden's Build Back Better agenda on Friday, following months of tense in-party negotiating on Democratic priorities like paid family leave and prescription drug pricing. Still, elements of the latest version of the $1.75 trillion social spending package continue to face opposition.

This latest iteration of the bill is a far slimmer version of the original $3.5 trillion proposal, and lawmakers have continued to negotiate over the details.

Just this week, a compromise was finally reached on lowering prescription drug costs for seniors.

Paid family leave has been slashed to four weeks from an earlier pitch of three months (at one point it appeared to be off the table altogether, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was urged to add it back in in some form on Wednesday).

Whether these concessions will be enough in the House where Democrats can only afford to lose three votes remains to be seen.

While the party's progressive wing had hoped to pass historic spending on the nation's social safety nets, moderates have argued against the proposal's lofty price tag.

Moderate Democrats in the House and Senate have been reluctant to vote for the bill unless the Congressional Budget Office can show it will be fully paid for. It can take weeks to get that figure once a bill is finally written.

Democratic Leaders in the House got some support, though, from the Joint Committee on Taxation. The JCT released a preliminary estimate Thursday morning and found that about $1.47 trillion of the bill would be covered by the funding sources in the package. House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., said the bill would be fully paid if revenue from better IRS enforcement and prescription drug price savings were included in the analysis.

But even if the bill does pass the House, hurdles in the Senate remain. Originally, Pelosi wanted a negotiated spending package that would pass through the Senate unchanged. That seems unlikely to happen.

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has said he opposes including paid leave in this bill. He has argued that kind of policy change should be done in a bipartisan manner.

In addition, the Senate parliamentarian will have to review the bill to ensure all the elements meet the rules for reconciliation, the budget tool Democrats are using to pass the bill by a simple majority in the evenly divided Senate.

The parliamentarian has ruled against previous attempts to include immigration reform provision in the package. Democrats have included an immigration measure they hope clears the parliamentarian this time.

Passage of the spending bill would set up a path for the Senate-passed $1 trillion infrastructure bill to come to the floor for a vote. Progressives have been holding up that bill until the spending bill is passed.

And after a tense Tuesday election night that brought a Republican governor to Virginia and a surprisingly tight gubernatorial race in New Jersey, Democrats face new pressures to coordinate a strategy and pass meaningful legislation.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.
Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.