Moderate Democrats Derail Pelosi Attempts To Jam Social Spending Bill, Demands CBO Score First Before Vote

Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) and a bloc of moderate Democrats are demanding the social welfare spending bill receive an official cost estimate before it goes up for a vote —derailing House leadership push to quickly pass President Biden’s domestic bills by week’s end.

In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Murphy and four members of the Blue Dog Coalition — Reps. Ed Case of Hawaii, Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, and Jared Golden of Maine laid out several key demands if Democratic leadership wants them to vote for the $1.75 trillion social spending plan. The Mod Dems laid out those conditions that specifically ask Pelosi to give lawmakers 72 hours to read and review the final bill text before any vote, a demand of an official Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scoring of the final revised package to reveal the “true cost of the legislation,” a process that can take weeks to provide the needed information, and an assurance that social spending plan will pass muster with the Senate’s byzantine budget rules, through a process known as “pre-conferencing.”

“We cannot lend our support to advancing the [Build Back Better] Act until we have had a chance to review these scores which provide the true cost of the legislation,” the five House moderates wrote in the letter to Pelosi. 

“It is better to get this done right than to needlessly rush its consideration only for our constituents to discover the negative impacts of our unintended consequences,” the moderates added. “We continue to urge you to only bring a bill to the floor for which we have a strong level of confidence that the provisions in the bill will be ruled in order by the Senate Parliamentarian and earn passage in the U.S. Senate.”

While the CBO score is not needed in the House before it is voted on for the package. However, the score is definitely in the Senate under the budget reconciliation rules and is also crucial to secure moderate senators’ votes. Both Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona have long stated they wanted details on how the spending plan would have an economic impact. According to the CBO, its scores take two weeks on average to be released, giving the House, if Pelosi agrees to the demands of the moderate, a new timeline to vote on the jointed bills without any objection by the Thanksgiving week.

Murphy, who heads the moderate Blue Dog Coalition and voted against the House Ways and Means Committee version of the package in September over process concerns, has also long emphasized hers and others within her caucus need for a CBO score that would predicate their vote for the massive social welfare package.

“I have the radical notion that before I vote on a bill, I should know how much it cost and how much we’re paying for it,” Murphy said.

Meanwhile, another demand the moderates want is to make sure the changes to the House pre-conferenced bill can muster clearance within the Senate parliamentarian to ensure its provisions conform with the Senate’s Byrd Rule. However, the parliamentarian won’t start scrubbing the bill for compliance with its reconciliation rules until it gets a CBO score, a process that can take a week.

An updated now-sprawling 2,135-page package was released Wednesday night amid a flurry of last-minute add-ons in reviving past key priorities the rush to finish up the draft and vote by the end of the week after dismal election results.

Provisions included adding back in four weeks of paid family and medical leave at the cost of $200 billion and a compromise plan to lower prescription drug costs after House Democrats in the Rules Committee made adjustment changes to the number of years a drug would be needed to be on market sale before it can be subjected to Medicare negotiations. 

More tax hikes are added to the new bill, including a tax on nicotine and new limits on retirement accounts of the wealthiest taxpayers while changing a tax break within the SALT deduction cap to help bring revenue to pay off their massive spending bill. Democrats from Northeastern states were able to get the changes to the SALT dedication cap, drawing anger among Progressives from the party who sees the hike on the cap limit write-off would benefit wealthy taxpayers. Overnight, Democrats added an amendment adopted by the Rules Committee of changing the cap deduction to an $80,000 limit for nine years, after first settling to limit the write-off at $72,500 for a decade.

Democrats also are taking their chances by adding Plan C of their long-shot hopes to include immigration reform in the reconciliation spending package that Senate parliamentarians have already rejected. The third attempt includes a 5-year work permit to apply to millions of illegals plus temporary protections from deportation and access to certain state benefits like eligibility for a state driver’s license id and the ability to travel. The new plan must get the needed approval from the Senate parliamentarian to include in the reconciliation process since immigration reform is not considered a budget matter.

The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) and the CBO score traditionally evaluate the impacts of a major budgetary package on the federal budget, and its assessments carries considerable weight with a majority of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.

The committee released its 10-page initial analysis report Thursday. It stated the larger spending package would raise $1.48 trillion over the next decade, some $270 billion short of the top-line spending figure, and said it would be unlikely to add to the deficit term. The analysis gave Democrats the much-needed boost to defend the package. 

However, the JCT didn’t look at spending provisions in the bill unrelated to taxes. It didn’t include an assessment of the revenue potential when expanding the IRS enforcement, or the projected income from the savings of drug pricing changes that would allow Medicare to directly negotiate prices of different types of drugs starting in 2023. It also didn’t include an analysis of the cost of extending pandemic-era Obamacare subsidies or expanding Medicare to cover hearing aids. Democrats are estimatating that those provisions will cost $165 billion altogether. A complete estimate of the cost of the bill will come later from the CBO.r.

Even missing the new Democratic provisions, the JCT assessed that the bill would not add to the budget deficit in either the medium-term or the long-term. Many of the bill pieces, whereas not included for the JCT analysis the estimating, providing a “fuzzy math” that another analysis predicts the long-term effects of the package “would increase federal debt by two percentage points and decrease GDP by 0.1 percentage points in 2050.”

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