The House will look to hold a vote on the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act this week after months of roadblocks and uncertainty over whether it will receive required support in the Senate. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
Nov. 15 (UPI) -- Congress returns to Capitol Hill on Monday and both chambers plan to prioritize two different tracks as their first orders of business -- President Joe Biden's $1 trillion-plus social spending plan in the House, and the hefty annual defense policy bill in the Senate.
House leaders have said they intend to vote on Biden's plan, called the Build Back Better Act, sometime this week now that the bipartisan infrastructure bill is in the bag -- although it still needs Biden's signature, which is expected on Monday.
The $1.75 trillion social spending bill has been the cause of lengthy infighting among congressional Democrats, who are planning to pass it in the Senate without Republican approval through the budget reconciliation process. Moderate Democrats, notably West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, had opposed its original $3.5 trillion price tag -- and progressive Democrats wanted it to be passed as a companion to the infrastructure bill.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
speaks during her weekly press conference at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., on November 4. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
In the House: Biden's social spending plan
With the infrastructure bill expected to be signed into law on Monday, House lawmakers are now shifting focus to green-lighting the Build Back Better Act, which includes billions for numerous items -- such as universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds, affordable child care and healthcare for older Americans and an extension for the Child Tax Credit by one year for families making less than $150,000 annually.
The package also includes funding for climate change actions and raises taxes on corporations and the wealthy.
"We will have a vote this week," Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said on MSNBC Sunday.
Jayapal added that Biden and Senate Democrats must "get this across the finish line in the framework that it was presented."
Last week, progressives struck a deal with moderate Democratic Reps. Ed Case of Hawaii, Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Stephanie Murray of Florida, Kathleen Rice of New York and Kurt Schrader of Oregon to vote on the infrastructure bill in exchange for their commitment to resolving discrepancies on the Build Back Better Act, provided that the Congressional Budget Office finds that the bill's cost doesn't exceed the amount in the White House framework.
Earlier this month, Manchin said he would still not support the bill "without thoroughly understanding the impact that it will have on our national debt, our economy and most importantly all of our American people."
The CBO, however, is releasing its analysis of the plan piecemeal rather than all at once due to the complicated nature of the bill's "many provisions." It said a full cost estimate will be available "as soon as practicable," which could lead to a delay in the House vote.
So far, the CBO has released two estimates for the plan. They say that none of the proposed legislation so far would "increase on-budget deficits after 2031." The costliest of the sections detailed so far was that presented by the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, carrying outlays totaling $36 billion from 2022 to 2031.
On Monday, the CBO said it plans to release its full cost estimate for the bill by Friday.
An analysis by the House Joint Committee on Taxation says the spending bill will raise $1.47 trillion in revenue, a figure that together with other savings will more than pay for the package.
Earlier this month, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said members of the party had reached a deal to ensure that the final version of the bill will include a provision to lower prescription drug costs, especially for seniors.
Four-week family paid leave was also announced to be included in the bill, but Manchin also expressed skepticism over that provision, presenting a potential roadblock that prompted Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to say the administration is committed to providing such paid leave for families.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on November 2. Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI
In the Senate: Defense spending
Even if the social spending bill successfully passes through the House, it must receive the support of all 50 Senate Democrats to pass the upper chamber, under budget reconciliation rules. Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have been the primary holdouts, driving the initial push to bring the price tag down from its original $3.5 billion.
The top priority in the upper chamber this week will be the annual National Defense Authorization Act. The House passed its version in September, but the Senate's version has stalled.
The NDAA is passed by Congress every year and would set military budgets and expenditures for fiscal 2022.
"Due to the House pushing back consideration of the [Build Back Better Act ] to the week of Nov. 15th, it is likely that the Senate considers the NDAA this upcoming week as we await House passage of the BBBA," Schumer told Democrats in a letter Sunday.
Because of work on the NDAA and the social spending bill, it's expected that the Senate will likely be working well into December. Congress will again leave for Thanksgiving break next week.
Schumer also said that he will work with the Senate parliamentarian this week on a normal procedural step to pass Biden's spending bill, called a "privilege scrub," to make sure it's safe from a Republican filibuster.
Senators will also work with the parliamentarian to show that parts of the bill have a direct budgetary effect, and thus qualify the plan for the reconciliation process.
"On a bill of this magnitude, this process takes time and patience," Schumer said in his letter.
Biden to sign infrastructure bill
Biden didn't sign the infrastructure bill last week because he said he wanted to wait for Congress to return.
The bill has been one of Biden's chief legislative priorities since he took office in January, as a spending package to repair the nation's roads, bridges and other interstate components has long eluded Congress.
Former President Donald Trump repeatedly made efforts to pass a large-scale infrastructure bill. Even with a Republican-held House and Senate over his first two years, however, he was unsuccessful.
Biden is scheduled to sign the infrastructure bill into law at 3 p.m. EST during a signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House.