House Democrats might have to swallow whatever the Senate feeds them on two of the party’s biggest bills in order to pass either one. That doesn’t mean they’re all ready to accept the tough reality.
Party leaders are racing to reach an accord on two huge, multi-billion-dollar items this summer: a sprawling manufacturing bill as well as a party-line package that they’ve labored over for more than a year. With a potentially crippling election ahead, Democrats believe passing both will be critical to their long-shot bid to keep the House and their battle to hold the Senate.
But to reach a quick deal on either bill, House Democrats may have to, once again, rubber-stamp a Senate-passed deal — a longstanding frustration in the lower chamber exacerbated by the realities of their 50-50 majority across the Capitol. The narrow parameters of that possible deal acquired crystal clarity Thursday night when Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said he wouldn’t accept climate or tax provisions.
And while House Democrats may be working through the stages of grief over the likely loss of their own long-held legislative goals, most haven’t reached acceptance. If anything, after Manchin’s latest bombshell, some seem stuck in the anger phase.
“Senator Manchin has said a lot of things. Every time what he makes clear, over and over again, is that he can’t close a deal and that you can’t trust what he says,” Congressional Progressive Caucus chief Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said Friday.
President Joe Biden in a statement Friday afternoon urged the Senate to pass the pared-down spending bill before the chamber’s weeks-long August recess, and vowed to take executive action on climate and energy production. Jayapal, however, declined to say if she thought Democrats should accept a smaller deal focused just on prescription drugs negotiations and Obamacare subsidies, putting the onus on Manchin to lay down a concrete proposal that he would support first.
Jayapal knows well what it means to say “no,” having helped delay House passage of the $550 billion infrastructure law last year. But she said she doesn’t see a similar tactic working this time around, citing Democratic leaders’ failed attempt at a two-track approach where Manchin and progressives could mutually support each others’ priorities. Even if liberals did block bipartisan bills this summer, like an upcoming manufacturing bill, Jayapal’s not certain the leverage would help.
“There’s no way to negotiate with a dishonest negotiator. That’s what we did,” Jayapal said, referring to their moves on the infrastructure legislation.
That manufacturing bill, though, is a huge priority for multiple vulnerable Democrats like Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) — though it’s been thrown into chaos after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell threatened to tank that legislation unless the majority party drops its health bill.
“Everything has been slow about this. And lo and behold, here we are now we’re getting close to the election and Mitch McConnell and everybody else are playing politics,” Slotkin said of the China competitiveness bill, which is key for her Midwest swing seat. “So I’m for getting the CHIPS Act done, one way or another, by August 1.”
It’s not just rank-and-file Democrats pushing leadership to embrace a scaled-back version of their competitiveness bill. The White House is now floating a proposal to break off a key piece of that package — the $52 billion in semiconductor funding — to pass on its own, blocking McConnell’s ability to use the fate of the bill as a political pawn.
In a rare visit to the Hill on Thursday, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo strongly urged House lawmakers from both parties to deliver that computer chip funding as soon as possible. That evening, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her leadership team she may put a bill on the floor next week that would include semiconductor funding, as well as other yet-to-be-determined pieces rather than a standalone bill.
Still, House leadership insists they’re not willing to fold and just take up the Senate bill wholesale amid the broader standoff with McConnell.
“Of course, we can pass the Senate bill and then might as well eliminate the House, which the Senate would like to do, perhaps,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) quipped.
Pressed if he meant there was no situation in which the House would just pass the Senate’s bill, Hoyer clarified: “I didn’t say that.”
To pass either package — assuming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can reach a deal with Manchin — House Democrats need to master their perennial problem: math. Pelosi can afford to lose only four votes from her caucus to pass a deal without Republicans. That means she’d need nearly all of her members to accept the Senate’s versions of both the competitiveness bill and a party-line package that may now just include drug pricing and Obamacare subsidies. She declined to weigh in on Manchin’s red lines Friday, noting she needed to speak with Schumer.
The whip effort could be an even bigger headache for House Democratic leaders on the latter package, a slimmed-down version of last year’s “Build Back Better” bill, if their Senate counterparts ever deliver on a plan.
Schumer and Manchin have kept their talks on a scaled-back domestic policy bill closely held, eyeing something dramatically smaller than the $1 trillion-plus bill passed by the House last year. The centrist’s spurning of modest tax increases on the wealthy and corporations, as well as climate policy, would leave Democrats with a health-only bill as their final option — even as he appeared to leave the door open to a climate bill later in the year.
Even before Manchin balked, a group of about a half-dozen House moderates watching the talks from afar were increasingly distrustful of how the Senate would handle tax provisions. Several have privately discussed counteroffers they could make to any Senate deal.
That House centrist group includes members like Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), who drew a hard line during last year’s negotiations on repealing the cap on state and local tax deductions, known as SALT. Gottheimer, Sherrill, Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) and others all say they are sticking with their “no SALT, no deal” line.
And at least one House Democrat who outlined another demand for that package — over immigration — says he’s not caving, either.
Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) said if there’s not immigration reform in the package, “then no, I’m not interested in supporting it … maybe they don’t need my vote.”
Progressives, meanwhile, say they aren’t simply willing to greenlight a Manchin-Schumer deal either, which could leave out other key priorities.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) warned that assuming House Democrats will simply accept whatever passes the Senate misses the legislative and political reality.
“There are certain things that for certain members are a red line. And we came very close with the gun safety bill, and the only reason that I think the gun safety bill had the votes that it had is because we were able to intervene early enough to shape what came out of the Senate,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a brief interview.
If the Senate simply announces a deal with no input from the rest of the party, she warned: “There could very easily be deal-breaking provisions not just for me, but for any number of members because the Senate has a huge number of blind spots, particularly when it comes to class and race.”
For some of those Democrats, nixing climate provisions would make it incredibly tough for them to support. Asked if he would reject a Senate deal without energy provisions, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) said: “I don’t know man, I got to see the details. But we gotta do something on climate change.”
Some long-serving House Democrats, however, are prepared to get more pragmatic.
“I guess I’m a practical person. What we can get is what the Senate will do or won’t do. I think it’s important to get as much as we can. I think we would take it, I do,” said Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.). “But again, the Senate has to figure out what they’re going to do.”
Gavin Bade and Anthony Adragna contributed.