WASHINGTON – Regaining momentum, Democratic leaders are pressing ahead on President Joe Biden’s big domestic policy bill, with the House expected to vote later this week and the Senate vowing to follow by Christmas in hopes of boosting the party's standing and delivering on a main campaign promise.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on Tuesday outlined a potential voting schedule on Biden's $1.85 trillion social services and climate change package, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said his chamber would vote next.
The president himself, speaking on the road in New Hampshire, predicted quick action after what has been sputtering weeks of delays and sagging poll numbers.
"I’m confident the House is gonna pass this bill. And when it passes, it’ll go to the Senate. I think we’ll get it passed within a week,” Biden said at an event in Woodstock touting the related infrastructure bill he just signed into law.
Shaking off party differences, the Democrats appear to be ready to spring into action, buoyed by the seeming popularity of the smaller $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package but also the flashing warning signs of a potentially dismal election year ahead.
House Democrats huddled privately at the campaign headquarters Tuesday and emerged determined to hold as many as 1,000 public events by the end of the year, joining the White House in taking their agenda on the road to show voters what they hope to accomplish by passing Biden's bigger package of health care, child care and climate change programs.
The Democratic leaders downplayed what has been weeks of party squabbling between progressive and centrist lawmakers that spilled over into start-and-stop progress over the shape of the bill. The 2,135-page package is now coming into focus, with final assessments from the Congressional Budget Office expected later this week, paving the way for House votes.
“The process can be messy,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., the caucus chairman. “But the outcome in passing the ‘Build Back Better Act' is going to be so transformational to the American people.”
Finishing up work on Biden's big package would be a tall order in Congress. Differences still run strong in the Senate, where one key conservative Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, remains his party's main obstacle — almost single-handedly preventing the president from delivering on his main campaign promise.
Even if the House is able to vote later this week, the schedule is getting crowded. The House and Senate are staring down a year-end pileup of must-pass legislation, including measures needed to fund the government and allow continued borrowing to pay its bills.
But Schumer was insistent Tuesday that once the House clears the Biden bill, which is expected before lawmakers leave for the Thanksgiving holiday, the Senate would get it done in December.
“'Build Back Better' is very important to America, we believe it’s very popular with Americans, we aim to pass it before Christmas,” Schumer said.
Lawmakers appear eager to reshape the debate, hitting the road to impress on voters what the Biden package means to Americans in communities across the nation — from savings on child care and health care to new jobs that could come from the climate change and other infrastructure investments.
Election losses in Virginia earlier this month, alongside a close call for the party in New Jersey, affirmed what is shaping up to be a poor outlook ahead of next year's midterm elections, when the Democrats' narrow hold on the House and Senate is at risk.
Republicans are refusing to support Biden's larger bill, leaving Democrats to pass it on their own with just a few votes to spare in the House and none in the evenly-split 50-50 Senate.
On Tuesday, Republican leaders warned that unleashing more federal government spending would worsen inflation, which has been hitting American households with higher prices for some goods as consumers are spending freely and demand soars.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Biden's bill “will only exacerbate, only make worse, inflation.”
But for Democrats, doing nothing appears to be a worse political option. They believe the increased government support for child care, health care and home health services will help American families adjust to an economy that has shifted during the COVID-19 crisis.
Prospects for passing Biden's bill in the House have been close before, only to be dashed amid party infighting as progressives pushed for action but more conservative Democrats hit the brakes. The debate had tied the bill to the slimmer infrastructure measure, but now that Biden has signed that bill into law, the focus is back on his bigger bill.
Key House centrists have been waiting on fiscal analysis from Congressional Budget Office, which has been doling out a section-by-section nonpartisan assessment of the legislation's expected costs and potential impact on deficits. The CBO said it expects to deliver its final reports by the end of the week.
Hoyer said the House could vote as soon as Thursday, though it could shift to Friday or Saturday.
"I think if we get the information as expected, I don’t see why we couldn’t proceed this week,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., a leader of a centrist caucus of lawmakers.
Associated Press writers Farnoush Amiri, Alan Fram and Alexandra Jaffe contributed to this report.
This story was first published on November 16, 2021. It was updated on November 17, 2021 to correct an erroneous reference to Sen. Mitch McConnell. He is the minority leader, not the majority leader.