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U.S. House Democrats to delay vote on Biden's social-spending bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. House of Representatives will delay a planned Friday vote on President Joe Biden’s sweeping $1.75 trillion social-policy and climate-change bill, amid lingering questions over its cost.

FILE PHOTO: The U.S Capitol seen at night from Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, U.S., October 24, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger/File Photo

The House Democratic leadership suggested it could move forward with a vote on a $1 trillion infrastructure here bill to revamp the nation’s roads, bridges and airports. But the leader of the chamber’s 95-member progressive caucus said her group would not vote for the smaller package until all Democrats were also ready to vote on the larger here one.

The plan announced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her No. 2, Representative Steny Hoyer, amounted to a partial setback for Democrats who have been eager to pass both pieces of legislation, which together account for the bulk of Biden’s domestic agenda.

Pelosi had planned to hold a vote on both bills on Friday, but action ground to a halt after centrist Democrats said they wanted to see a nonpartisan cost estimate for the social-policy and climate-change bill. That estimate, prepared by the Congressional Budget Office, could take weeks to complete.

After several hours of closed-door meetings, Pelosi said the House would hold a final vote on the infrastructure bill and a procedural vote on the social-policy bill, with no timetable for a final vote.

Representative Pramila Jayapal here, leader of the progressive caucus, rejected the idea of voting on the infrastructure bill without also voting on the social spending bill.

“There are dozens of our members who want to vote both bills,” Jayapal said in a statement. Adding that she had been told six House Democrats wanted to wait for a CBO evaluation of the larger bill, she added: “If our six colleagues still want to wait for a CBO score, we would agree to give them that time — after which point we can vote on both bills together.”

The Democratic leadership of Congress wanted to close out a week in which the party suffered embarrassing losses in state elections with a vote on that sweeping legislation here and the other, approved in a bipartisan Senate vote in August, to invest $1 trillion in rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure here.

Weeks of bickering between moderate and progressive Democrats have held up the bills. Biden on Friday for the first time publicly called on the House to vote on the bills today.

“I’m asking every House member – member of the House of Representatives – to vote ‘yes’ on both these bills right now,” the Democratic president said.

The two pieces of legislation include the biggest upgrade of America’s roads, bridges and airports in a generation and the largest expansion of social programs since the 1960s.

An affirmative vote would bolster the credibility of Biden’s pledge to halve U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2030 during the U.N. climate conference www.reuters.com/business/cop taking place in Glasgow, Scotland.

AIM TO MOVE FORWARD

The party is eager to show it can move forward on the president’s agenda and fend off Republicans in the 2022 midterm elections, when control of the House and Senate will be on the line.

The House and Senate are both due to be out next week, which leaves them little time to meet the goal of passing the measures by Thanksgiving on Nov. 25. Congress also faces looming Dec. 3 deadlines to avert a politically embarrassing government shutdown and an economically catastrophic default on the federal government’s debt.

With razor-thin majorities in Congress and a united Republican opposition, Democrats need unity to pass legislation.

The infrastructure bill, which passed the Senate here in August with 19 Republican votes, would fund a massive upgrade of America’s roads, bridges, airports, seaports and rail systems, while also expanding broadband internet service.

The “Build Back Better” package includes provisions on child care and preschool, eldercare, healthcare, prescription drug pricing and immigration.

Republicans uniformly oppose that legislation, casting it as a dramatic expansion of government that would hurt businesses.

“This is potentially a very black day for America,” said Republican Representative Glenn Grothman, who characterized the legislation’s child-care and preschool provisions as a “Marxist” effort to have the federal government raise children.

The nonpartisan U.S. Joint Committee on Taxation estimates the social-spending bill would raise $1.48 trillion in new tax revenue over the next decade, short of its $1.75 trillion cost.

Pelosi and other top Democrats say that fails to account for increased tax enforcement and savings from lower prescription drug prices.

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