After bitter showdown, House Democrats advance $3.5 trillion spending plan with Biden child allowance and tuition-free community college

Nancy Pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
  • House Democrats advanced a $US3.5 ($AU5) trillion spending plan after Nancy Pelosi and moderates clashed.
  • The vote was 220-212, with every GOP lawmaker opposed.
  • It may foreshadow heated battles to come as Democrats draft the social-spending plan this fall.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

House Democrats advanced a $US3.5 ($AU5) trillion spending plan in a party-line vote Tuesday, making headway on key parts of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda after a major intraparty brawl that exposed Democratic divisions.

Democrats approved the budget blueprint in a 220-212 vote over unanimous GOP opposition. They relied on a procedural maneuver to help package together the large social-spending bill with votes on a voting-rights bill, which the House passed later Tuesday, and on a bipartisan infrastructure bill.

“Passing this rule paves the way for the Building Back Better plan, which will forge legislative progress unseen in 50 years – that will stand for generations alongside the New Deal and the Great Society,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a floor speech echoing Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a key architect of the plan.

“This legislation will be the biggest, and perhaps the most controversial, initiative that any of us have undertaken in our official lives,” she said.

Republicans blasted the bill as a colossal package laden with wasteful progressive priorities. “It really should be called the ‘Mountains of Debt For the Children Act’ because that’s what it does,” Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana said.

Biden later praised the progress Democrats made on Capitol Hill. “What is important is that we came together to advance our agenda,” he said.

The party-line spending plan would expand Medicare, set up a national program for paid family and medical leave, and include tuition-free community college, a child allowance, and initiatives to address the climate crisis, among other provisions. These formed the pillars of Biden’s initial jobs and families plans rolled out in the spring.

Democrats also intend to include a pathway to citizenship for some immigrants living in the US without authorization. They hope to finance the package with a bevy of tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans and large corporations.

Tuesday capped a remarkable showdown between Pelosi and a bloc of 10 Democratic moderates that tested the California Democrat’s prowess in steering her ideologically diverse caucus through its slim three-seat majority. Swaths of Biden’s domestic agenda appeared at risk of stalling out amid Democratic infighting over the past day.

Efforts to salvage the spending plan may also foreshadow the fierce intraparty brawls to come, given the vote was only to unlock another step in the reconciliation process and not to approve a completed piece of legislation.

Reconciliation is a tactic used to pass certain bills with only a simple-majority vote. But in a 50-50 Senate, the procedure requires all 50 Senate Democrats to stay united for it to garner a tiebreaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris.

Drafting legislative details is expected to take many weeks to complete and could spark more fights between progressives and moderates with competing priorities on tax hikes, healthcare, and the social safety net. To quell the centrist revolt, Pelosi committed to passing an infrastructure bill by September 27.

The moderate faction led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey rebelled earlier this month and demanded that the House first pass a $US1 ($AU1) trillion infrastructure bill focused on roads and bridges before they would consider backing the partisan spending plan.

Read more: 
From free community college to higher taxes on the rich: How the $US3.5 ($AU5) trillion plan House Democrats just passed would affect you

For nearly two months, Pelosi dug in on her insistence that the House would vote on the bipartisan bill only after the Senate passed a separate Democratic-only spending package sometime this fall, a concession intended to assuage progressive fears about moderates backing out from the latter plan.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, a progressive Minnesota Democrat, called the clash between Pelosi and the moderates a “shit show.”

“I don’t understand what they were expecting to achieve,” Omar told reporters Tuesday, adding she believed the moderates had weakened their bargaining power because they didn’t get the immediate infrastructure vote they sought.

Progressives doubled down in their approach. “As our members have made clear for three months, the two are integrally tied together, and we will only vote for the infrastructure bill after passing the reconciliation bill,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement.

Pelosi’s maneuver was intended to force House progressives to support an infrastructure bill they had assailed as insufficient and prod moderates into endorsing the larger social-spending package. But it triggered opposition from some centrist Democrats who said it was unnecessary to delay a bill that would provide funding to repair roads, bridges, highways, and strengthen broadband connections.

“I’m bewildered by my party’s misguided strategy to make passage of the popular, already-written, bipartisan infrastructure bill contingent upon passage of the contentious, yet-to-be-written, partisan reconciliation bill,” Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida said in an Orlando Sentinel op-ed article published Monday evening. The moderate faction member called it “bad policy.”

One priority among Democrats is extending a temporary child allowance to at least 2025 as initially laid out in Biden’s spending plans. The vast majority of American families qualify to get monthly checks from the federal government for children under 17.

“We’re talking, I keep pushing for permanence, but we’ll see where it goes,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, told Insider about the expanded child tax credit.