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House approves budget blueprint kicking off sprint to draft Democrats’ $3.5 trillion social programs bill

Humberto Sanchez
Humberto Sanchez
Jannelle Calderon
Jannelle Calderon
CongressGovernment
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East front of the U.S. Capitol.

House Democrats approved their budget plan Tuesday after negotiating a deal with 10 moderates who threatened to kill the measure by withholding support until the House passed the Senate’s $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package.

The budget vote, 220 to 212, triggers the reconciliation process, allowing committees of jurisdiction to begin drafting a $3.5 trillion package that can pass the Senate with a simple majority, rather than with the 60 votes typically needed to overcome a filibuster.

The reconciliation package will include an extension of the child tax credit, paid family leave, and other pieces of President Joe Biden's agenda that Republicans were unlikely to support, as opposed to the funds for roads, bridges, airports and broadband in the $1.2 trillion package. The Senate passed the measure and the budget resolution on Aug. 9.

Despite the legislative victory, tough negotiations lie ahead for Democrats. They control 50 votes in the Senate and will need all of them to pass their agenda. But Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Kyrsten ​​Sinema (D-AZ) said that $3.5 trillion is too much to spend for the reconciliation package. Their desire for fiscal discipline will clash with other Democrats' desires, in both chambers, to spend the full amount called for in the resolution.

Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV), who, as a member of the Ways and Means Committee and the House Budget Committee, will help write the reconciliation package, declined to say whether he thinks $3.5 trillion is the right amount.

"This is about providing child care to moms; it's about providing paid leave to working families; it's about providing more affordable housing which we desperately need in Nevada and other places in the country," Horsford said Tuesday in a brief interview when asked about the cost. 

Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) said Congress would determine the right amount, which she added should be offset with spending cuts or tax increases on the wealthy, proposed in the resolution. 

“The right amount is what we can get passed, what's going to help the American public and what we can get paid for,” Lee said off the House floor Tuesday.

The House vote came a few hours after Gov. Steve Sisolak participated in a Democratic National Committee event Tuesday at a barbershop in East Las Vegas as part of the “Build Back Better” national bus tour touting the Democratic plan by the same name.

Las Vegas Councilwoman, Erica Mosca founder of Leaders in Training and Paul Madrid, owner of Eastside Cutters Barbershop behind Gov. Steve Sisolak speaking at the Democratic National Committee “Build Back Better” national bus tour event in Las Vegas on Aug. 24, 2021. (Jannelle Calderon/ The Nevada Independent)

Community leaders including Las Vegas Councilwoman Olivia Diaz, Mi Familia Vota State Director Cecia Alvarado and Erica Mosca, founder of Leaders in Training, joined the governor to rally support for Biden’s agenda, including passage of the reconciliation bill.

“President Biden and Vice President Harris have just been absolutely terrific in terms of giving us the tools and the flexibility that we need to move forward and to move on,” Sisolak said at the event. 

Sisolak said that the funding could greatly benefit the state’s education system by adding mental health resources and improving teachers’ pay and the counselor to student ratio.

“Our education system is woefully underfunded. We need to get more money into our schools and actually into the classrooms,” Sisolak said. “Teachers do an absolutely incredible job but they're overworked and underpaid for the work that they do. We need to do more.”

The Democratic-drafted budget resolution, typically used by the majority party to outline its priorities, received no Republican votes. 

Democratic members of Nevada's congressional delegation celebrated House passage of the plan, which they argued would help Nevada, including universal pre-K for three and four-year-olds. 

“I think the biggest bang for an education dollar is early childhood education,” Lee said.

“There're a lot of great things in this package that are going to help all of our middle-class families in Nevada who have been struggling,” Lee continued.

The vote came after hours of intense negotiations between Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and nine other centrist Democrats, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) ended the standoff that threatened to derail the Democrats’ agenda. 

The moderates agreed to support the budget resolution and the speaker agreed to hold a vote on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill by Sept. 27. 

While not among the 10 House Democratic centrists who threatened to vote against the budget, Lee, who had also advocated for immediate House action on the bipartisan Senate bill, said she was pleased with the compromise. 

“I believe that this bipartisan package is something that was negotiated with the Senate, with the president, that we negotiated for months and months,” adding that Pelosi’s assurance of a vote at the end of September date-certain House action on the bipartisan bill. 

Lee is a member of the bipartisan group of moderates known as the Problem Solvers Caucus and the Senate bipartisan bill is similar to a proposal the Problem Solvers released in June.

Horsford said that the dispute was much ado about nothing since any funds from the bipartisan bill could not be spent until Oct. 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year. 

“Nothing can even be spent in the bipartisan bill until after October, so we're really really arguing over semantics at this point,” Horsford said before the deal was finalized. 

Correction posted at 9:08 a.m. on 8/25/2021: This story has been updated to reflect that Sen. Kyrsten ​​Sinema represents Arizona, not Nevada.

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