What to Know in Washington: Democrats Ready Biden Plan for Votes

House Democratic leaders are considering whether they have the support of their caucus to move forward with votes today on President Joe Biden’s $1.75 billion tax and spending plan and accompanying bipartisan infrastructure plan, prompted in part by election losses Tuesday that saw Virginia’s state house and governor’s mansion flip to Republican control. At the White House, Biden is coming up against the limits of what his acting regulators can do as the pace of administrative nominations slows.

Here’s what Bloomberg Government is tracking for today.

Congress Agenda:

  • The House meets at noon and could vote on their economic agenda items, along with a bill to protect older job applicants from discrimination.
  • The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. with plans to vote on two nominees to serve in the Biden administration.
  • Click here for a complete list of today’s hearings and markups.

Biden’s Schedule:

  • The president has no public events scheduled.
  • Deputy White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will hold a press briefing at 2 p.m.

Democrats Ready Biden Agenda for Vote

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is pushing the House toward a vote on President Joe Biden’s economic agenda with a few key issues still unresolved and without the full support of Senate Democrats.

Photo by Joshua Roberts/Getty Images
Pelosi walking into a House Democratic caucus meeting yesterday.

Pelosi yesterday told fellow Democrats during a private meeting to anticipate voting on an updated version of the tax and spending bill even though changes will likely be made in the Senate, according to a person in the room, who asked for anonymity because the discussion wasn’t public.

Democrats did make some progress in hammering out some of their differences, including prescription drug pricing. The House schedule from Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) lists both the tax-and-spending measure and the bipartisan Senate-passed infrastructure bill for possible consideration today. Several Democrats expressed skepticism about whether a vote could be accomplished this week.

To get the legislation through the House, Pelosi has decided to include provisions that probably don’t have the votes to pass the Senate. These include four weeks of paid family leave, which is opposed by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), and raising the limit on the deduction for state and local income taxes to $72,500, which was dismissed by Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) just minutes after it was unveiled. Read more from Billy House, Laura Davison and Erik Wasson.

  • Protections for undocumented immigrants and provisions to salvage unused green cards going back decades are included in House Democrats’ latest package. The measure includes provisions to recapture unused visas back to 1992 and allow legal immigrants to speed status adjustment applications and bypass some caps. It also includes a parole plan that would offer work authorization and deportation protections to eligible immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before 2011. Ellen M. Gilmer has more on the immigration plans.
  • Pared-back paid family and medical leave benefits would provide more wage replacement for workers in the lowest income brackets than an earlier proposal. It would also create the new entitlement program within the Social Security Administration, though opposition from key lawmakers leaves its fate to be determined. Read more on the latest leave proposals from Paige Smith and Chris Marr.
  • Democrats floated fresh proposals on how to increase the federal deduction on state and local taxes, but House and Senate lawmakers were at odds over whether the very rich should be allowed to take the tax break. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) agreed in principle that people with incomes going up a certain level, roughly $400,000 to $550,000, should be able to take the tax break. Sanders indicated he wouldn’t favor a proposal from House Democrats to raise the limit on the deduction to $72,500 through 2031 with no income restrictions. Read more from Laura Litvan, Laura Davison and Erik Wasson.
  • Changes to individual retirement accounts containing millions of dollars were revived by House Democrats. The changes to the House bill place limits on the tax-advantaged accounts and gives the Internal Revenue Service more oversight over them. Read more on the provisions from Laura Davison and Ben Steverman.
  • Environmental and climate advocates are praising some surprising gains in Biden’s latest $1.7 trillion Build Back Better package, which is taking some of the sting out of a scrapped carrot-and-stick plan to push coal and gas plants into retirement. The wins—from big pots of climate resilience and environmental justice spending to an historic 10-year extension of clean energy incentives—would mark a profound shift for U.S. climate incentives and funding that were seen as unthinkable a year ago. Read more from Dean Scott.

Election Losses Drive Democrats to Action

Election losses in Virginia and elsewhere prompted key House Democrats yesterday to step up their calls for passage of the two critical components of Biden’s agenda.

The GOP sweep of Virginia’s statewide positions, a close governor’s race in New Jersey, and lower-profile contests elsewhere served as a warning to Democratic lawmakers in competitive districts of the headwinds they may face in next year’s midterm elections when control of both chambers of Congress is at stake.

Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), who’ll likely face one of the most competitive re-elections, said it was clear after the loss in Virginia that Democrats couldn’t go into 2022 without passing both bills. “Voters elected Democrats in 2020 to address the problems this country is facing,” he said. “They’re giving Democrats an incomplete. That why we have to work as hard as we can in the next few days and few weeks to address that incomplete grade.”

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Democrats’ campaign arm, said the caucus is “not where we want to be yet, but we have a plan to get there” in passing the two bills. “The real work is fixing the most important problem facing the American people,” he said. “We are about to deliver a real plan to do that and it’s going to produce results.”

Midterms usually favor the party out of the White House, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) predicted Democrats could see even bigger losses than the 63-seat shellacking they took in 2010. The National Republican Congressional Committee added 13 more lawmakers to their targeted list, bringing the total number of Democrats on it to 70. Read more from Emily Wilkins.

Photographer: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg
McCarthy at the Capitol on Wednesday.

  • Democrats will argue for months about what led to their defeat at the ballot box on Tuesday in Virginia—whether it was their messaging, their candidates or their president. But there was consensus that the first step is to get something done on economic issues. Party activists and strategists say that Democrats have to take action on so-called bread-and-butter issues, like inflation and education if they don’t want a repeat of Tuesday’s results in next year’s midterm elections. Read more from Mark Niquette and Ryan Teague Beckwith.
  • Biden said the defeat in Virginia showed the urgency for Democrats to pass his economic agenda—and that “maybe” the results would have been different if he had already signed the legislation. “People want us to get things done,” Biden said in remarks at the White House. “People are upset and uncertain about a lot of things—from Covid to school to jobs, to a whole range of things. The cost of a gallon of gasoline,” he said. “We should produce for the American people.” Josh Wingrove and Nancy Cook have more.
  • Phil Murphy became the first Democrat in over four decades to win a second term as New Jersey’s governor, surviving by a narrow margin that stunned Democrats already reeling from a loss in Virginia. The former Goldman Sachs Group executive won against Republican Jack Ciattarelli, according to the Associated Press, despite over a day of delays after votes trickled in slowly. By last night, Murphy had won 50% of the vote, with Ciattarelli at 49.2%, according to the AP. Read more on Murphy’s win by Skylar Woodhouse and Sri Taylor.
  • Ohio House and Senate Republicans have introduced separate congressional maps that each would give the GOP an advantage in 13 of the state’s 15 districts. Democrats challenged the legality of the maps, which they claim would violate recent voter-approved state constitutional amendments prohibiting maps from “unduly favoring” a political party. Read more from Alex Ebert.

Biden Pushes Limit of Acting Agency Chiefs

Implementing Biden’s push for the largest expansion of the social safety net in decades and overhauling portions of the tax code, assuming it gets through Congress, will require new rules, guidance and processes to be developed across the administration. But many of the senior officials who would have to carry out or oversee that work are in acting roles and, starting in mid-November, will reach the end of their tenures under federal law.

Biden has yet to nominate permanent officials for dozens of key roles, and the Senate has been slower to confirm his nominees than it has for any of his recent predecessors at the same points in their presidencies, according to the Partnership for Public Service.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has repeatedly declined to say when Biden will nail down choices for top roles that require Senate confirmation, such as budget chief or commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. She’s pointed to the presence of career officials that stay at agencies regardless of who is president.

“The overemphasis on a nominee takes away, in some ways unintentionally, from the fact that there are people who are doing their jobs every day,” Psaki said, referring to FDA career staff.

Leaving the slots open allows the White House to dodge partisan fights and oversight on Capitol Hill, where just two Republicans are already holding up a wide swath of nominees to gain leverage and attract public attention. But that strategy is precarious. Under President Donald Trump, who leaned heavily on acting officials even in Cabinet-level positions, a federal court invalidated two of his immigration directives because the Homeland Security Department’s top official violated the legal time limit on acting officials. Read more from Courtney Rozen.

  • Vice President Kamala Harris cast a tie-breaking vote to advance the nomination of Jennifer Sung to the largest federal appeals court, avoiding a setback for Democrats in their accelerated effort to confirm judicial picks. Harris was called to the Senate floor last night to break a 49-49 tie and gavel the vote to allow debate on Sung’s selection to a close. Sung is Biden’s first and only judicial nominee to receive a tie vote in the evenly-divided committee and the first to need an assist from Harris. Read more from Madison Alder.
  • The Senate yesterday confirmed Jeffrey Prieto as the EPA’s general counsel, putting the longtime government lawyer at the helm of the agency’s in-house law firm. As the EPA’s new chief legal adviser, one of Prieto’s biggest tasks will be to defend a steady flow of new EPA air and water regulations against the inevitable legal challenges. Stephen Lee has more on Prieto’s role at the EPA.
  • The Senate also confirmed Rajesh Nayak to head the Labor Department’s policy office, giving the critical subagency responsible for advancing regulations its first full-fledged leader in nearly a decade. Nayak is an advocate for progressive regulatory policy who served in several senior DOL legal and policy roles during most of the Obama administration, Ben Penn reports.

Headlines from Around the Administration:

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com