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November 8, 2021

What to expect in Washington (November 8)

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684) has been passed by the House and is awaiting President Biden’s signature. The late-night vote on Friday capped a tumultuous day that began with expectations of House passage of the long-intertwined infrastructure and the Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376), but moderate Democrats withheld their support on the reconciliation bill until the release of Congressional Budget Office (CBO) spending estimates (including revenue from increased IRS funding), which could take some time. Progressive and moderate Democrats eventually reached an agreement for the House to vote on the budget reconciliation bill no later than the week of November 15. The House and Senate are out of session this week for the Veteran’s Day work period and a congressional delegation to the climate summit in Glasgow includes Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) but work on the reconciliation bill is expected to continue, at least in the Senate.

The moderates’ statement on the agreement said: “We commit to voting for the Build Back Better Act, in its current form other than technical changes, as expeditiously as we receive fiscal information from the Congressional Budget Office – but in no event later than the week of November 15th – consistent with the toplines for revenues and investments in the ‘White House Preliminary Budgetary Estimate of the Build Back Better Act’ document.”

A call from President Biden to progressives Friday was said to propel progressives toward supporting a vote on the infrastructure bill that had been lingering in the House since Senate passage in August, as the group sought for the two bills to be voted on in tandem to assure moderates would back the social spending reconciliation bill. On Saturday, the President highlighted the contents of the infrastructure bill and crossing the finish line on “something that’s long overdue, that long has been talked about in Washington but never actually been done.” The President said, “Vice President Harris and I look forward to having a formal signing ceremony for this bipartisan infrastructure soon... I’m not doing it this weekend because I want people who worked so hard to get this done — Democrats and Republicans — to be here when we sign it.” He heads to Baltimore on Wednesday to further tout the bill’s benefits.

He also said, “I’m also proud that the House took a big step toward — forward to pass my Build Back Better Act, which for the week of November 15th, they’re going to be taking up." After it was clear the full reconciliation vote wouldn’t be possible November 5, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said, “I’m absolutely convinced, beyond a doubt, that before Thanksgiving, the week of the 15th, we will pass the Build Back Better legislation.” Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), whose concerns over the bill’s impact on the debt helped shape the revised White House framework and House bill, previously said senators would negotiate into next week and potentially be in position for Senate consideration the week of November 15, as Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has targeted, and completion of the bill by Thanksgiving.

In addition to the focus on completing a bill prior to Thanksgiving, the expiration of government funding looms soon after on December 3, then the holidays soon after that. As the Washington Post observed, passage of the infrastructure bill “tees up for Congress an eleventh-hour sprint in the waning moments of the year through treacherous political terrain. ... And the debate is set to arrive just as Congress is preparing to take on a host of additional challenges, including a renewed need to fund the government in December, that could distract Democrats in the end.”

The House bill has already been shaped by the parameters set by Senators Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), reducing the size and scope of the bill and refocusing tax increases to pay for it away from rate increases and toward non-rate proposals like a corporate minimum tax based on book income, tax on stock buybacks, and heftier high-income surcharge than originally included in the House bill. The latest version of the House bill added back a smaller program on paid family leave, an issue that Senator Manchin has expressed reluctance to support in reconciliation.

There are other potential flashpoints between the two chambers. The House manager’s amendment filed late November 4 included surgical changes, not wholly revised text, to the new text released as a manager’s amendment November 3. Among the changes is an increase in the state & local deduction cap to $80,000 through 2030. Bloomberg reported it would raise $14.8 billion in revenue over 10 years. The November 3 amendment had introduced SALT cap relief (at $72,500 through 2031) to the package after months of speculation and deliberation, and the issue is among the most unsettled with the Senate, where members have their own ideas. 

There had also been reluctance among House members to vote on House provisions that could well change in the Senate or be dropped, and House leaders over the course of last week demonstrated less of an inclination toward coordination with the Senate, where changes to any House-passed bill still appear likely, as a bicameral agreement at this stage appeared unrealistic. The Senate is near certain to change the bill due to reconciliation rules allowing for simple-majority passage and the vote-a-rama that caps debate, where the SALT relief could be a target for amendments. Senator Manchin suggested major changes are possible, saying on Fox News Special Report Wednesday, “They’re working off the House bill. That’s not going to be the bill I work off of.”


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