House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s attempt to force through President Biden’s multitrillion-dollar social welfare bill without a proper estimate of its cost hit a roadblock Friday when five moderate Democrats refused to go along.
The five House Democrats, led by Reps. Ed Case of Hawaii and Jared Golden of Maine, are refusing to yield. They argue that passing a more than 2,000-page spending bill without proper time to review and understand its economic impact would be a dereliction of public service.
Earlier this week, the five lawmakers staked out their position in a letter to Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat. While not officially opposed to the bill, they say their support hinges on an in-depth analysis by the Congressional Budget Office.
“Everyone is waiting for the CBO to do their job,” said Mr. Golden.
The CBO, a nonpartisan federal agency responsible for analyzing the fiscal impact of legislation, is expected to take at least two weeks to properly vet the bill before releasing its findings. That time frame is not something Mrs. Pelosi is willing to accept.
After weeks of negotiations, the speaker is adamant about pushing forward with dual votes on the spending bill and Mr. Biden’s $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package. Allies say Mrs. Pelosi feels compelled to push for a vote now because there is finally broad agreement on the size and scope of the spending plan.
“99% of our caucus wants to get this done,” said Rep. James McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat. “The American people want us to get it done … So whatever we need to do to get it over the finish line, let’s do it.”
House Democrats worked overtime this week to revise the multitrillion-dollar spending framework to fit the needs of their members. Most of that has entailed re-inserting programs, like paid family leave, that Mr. Biden opted to drop from the package because of opposition in the Senate.
The revisions have likely pushed the overall cost of the bill above the $1.75 trillion ceiling that the White House has endorsed. House Democrats say that development matters little because the package is likely to face strong alterations by the Senate anyway.
“I imagine, as everyone does, there’s gonna be some changes made on the Senate side,” said Rep. Ron Kind, Wisconsin Democrat. “So we’ll have time to get this done.”
The five moderate House Democrats disagree. Their resistance has upended Mrs. Pelosi’s plan for a swift vote on both the social welfare and infrastructure packages.
Mr. McGoven, who chairs the House Rules Committee, described the impasse as nothing more than “little hiccups” that Democrats will eventually resolve.
“It may take a little while to work through the little hiccups here but I respect all of my colleagues,” he said. “I love them all and I will love them, even more, when this is done.”
But moderate Democrats are showing no signs of relenting.
Concerns about the cost of the bill have increased in recent days as House Democrats have worked to greatly expand the social welfare bill. Now included in the measure are lucrative tax cuts for blue states, a prescription-drug pricing scheme and a federal guarantee for four weeks of paid leave.
Those new additions are likely to be dead on arrival in the 50-50 Senate. In the upper chamber, two moderate Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin III and Kyrsten Sinema, hold the balance of power.
“I have no clue what the House is doing,” said Mr. Manchin recently when asked about the spending bill House Democrats were crafting.
Both Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema have expressed reservations about the spending bill. It was only after Mr. Manchin’s opposition that the White House was forced to jettison its original paid family leave proposal.
The influence that Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema wield over the final product exists because Democrats are using budget reconciliation to pass the bill. Reconciliation allows some spending and tax measures to avert the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster threshold and pass via a simple majority of 51 votes.