House Passes $3.5 Trillion Budget Plan for Vast Expansion of Safety Net

WASHINGTON — A divided House on Tuesday approved a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint that would pave the way for a vast expansion of social safety net and climate programs, as Democrats overcame sharp internal rifts to advance a critical piece of President Biden’s ambitious domestic agenda.

Approving the budget was a major step in Democrats’ drive to enact their top priorities — including huge investments in education, child care, health care, paid leave, and tax increases on wealthy people and corporations — over united Republican opposition. With a single vote on Tuesday, they laid the groundwork to move quickly on legislation that would accomplish those goals, setting a late September deadline for action on a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package.

But it came only after leaders stamped out a revolt among conservative-leaning Democrats, who withheld their votes until they extracted a promise to vote on the infrastructure bill by Sept. 27. The breakthrough came after a pressure campaign by the White House, outside progressive groups and Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, who haggled and cajoled her way to unanimous Democratic support for a measure that had been stalled mere hours before.

The vote was 220 to 212 on party lines to approve the budget plan and allow future votes on both the infrastructure bill and a voting rights measure that the House passed soon after.

While the budget plan, which passed the Senate this month, does not have the force of law, it allows Democrats to move forward with a fast-track process known as reconciliation. That would enshrine the details of the blueprint in legislation that is shielded from a filibuster, allowing it to pass over the objections of Republicans.

It is expected to include universal preschool, paid family leave, federal support for child care and elder care, an expansion of Medicare and a broad effort to tackle climate change — all paid for through tax increases on high earners and companies.

“Today is a great day of pride for our country and for Democrats,” Ms. Pelosi declared on the House floor, after days of intensive talks with rank-and-file lawmakers. “Not only are we building the physical infrastructure of America, we are building the human infrastructure of America to enable many more people to participate in the success of our economy and the growth of our society.”

Speaking at the White House shortly after, Mr. Biden called Ms. Pelosi “masterful,” and lavished praise on the party’s leadership team and every congressional Democrat who ultimately supported the legislation.

“There were differences, strong points of view — they’re always welcome,” the president said. “What is important is that we came together to advance our agenda.”

But the herculean effort it took to do so only served to illustrate the difficult road ahead for Mr. Biden’s agenda on Capitol Hill, where Democrats’ small majorities and ideological divisions — as well as Republican opposition — have left the party with little room to maneuver.

Understand the Infrastructure Bill

    • One trillion dollar package passed. The Senate passed a sweeping bipartisan infrastructure package on Aug. 10, capping weeks of intense negotiations and debate over the largest federal investment in the nation’s aging public works system in more than a decade.
    • The final vote. The final tally in the Senate was 69 in favor to 30 against. The legislation, which still must pass the House, would touch nearly every facet of the American economy and fortify the nation’s response to the warming of the planet.
    • Main areas of spending. Overall, the bipartisan plan focuses spending on transportation, utilities and pollution cleanup.
    • Transportation. About $110 billion would go to roads, bridges and other transportation projects; $25 billion for airports; and $66 billion for railways, giving Amtrak the most funding it has received since it was founded in 1971.
    • Utilities. Senators have also included $65 billion meant to connect hard-to-reach rural communities to high-speed internet and help sign up low-income city dwellers who cannot afford it, and $8 billion for Western water infrastructure.
    • Pollution cleanup: Roughly $21 billion would go to cleaning up abandoned wells and mines, and Superfund sites.

    The same differences between moderates and progressives that nearly derailed the plan this week promise to resurface in the weeks to come, as progressives push to make the reconciliation bill as far-reaching as possible and conservative-leaning Democrats work to limit its scope.

    In a joint statement, Representative Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and eight other moderates who had conditioned their votes for the budget on a deadline for action on infrastructure boasted that their group had succeeded in making sure that the bipartisan bill would “receive stand-alone consideration, fully de-linked, and on its own merits.”

    But moments after the budget plan passed, a large group of liberal Democrats signaled that they still regarded the two measures as linked, raising the prospect of another standoff next month.

    “As our members have made clear for three months, the two are integrally tied together, and we will only vote for the infrastructure bill after passing the reconciliation bill,” Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement.

    Politics Updates

    In the evenly divided Senate, leaders need the votes of every Democrat and independent — plus Vice President Kamala Harris, who can break ties — to win passage of the reconciliation bill. In the House, the margin is only slightly more forgiving, allowing as few as three Democrats to defect if all Republicans are opposed, as expected.

    The commitment to a Sept. 27 vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package added to a chaotic series of deadlines next month, when lawmakers will have only a few days in Washington to consider the infrastructure bill, prevent a lapse in government funding on Oct. 1, and steer the government away from the brink of a catastrophic debt default by raising the statutory limit on the nation’s borrowing. Party leaders have instructed committees to finish writing pieces of the reconciliation package by Sept. 15, though it is unclear whether they will be able to do so.

    For now, the deal that Ms. Pelosi struck amounted to a precarious détente for Democrats that did nothing to resolve tensions between the moderate and liberal flanks or end the jockeying for political leverage.

    The divisions began to flare this month, when nine centrist Democrats publicly announced that they would not advance the budget blueprint until the House passed the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure agreement, which omits many of the party’s highest priorities. Liberals called the compromise insufficient.

    Ms. Pelosi had already said she would not move the infrastructure bill, which includes $550 billion in new funding for roads, bridges, water and climate resiliency projects, until the reconciliation bill passed.

    That led to a stalemate this week, as Ms. Pelosi called the House back for a rare summer session.

    In a series of phone calls and private meetings that stretched past midnight on Monday, Democratic leaders sought to persuade their colleagues to drop their insistence on passing the infrastructure bill first. They did so after securing a hard commitment, enshrined in legislation, that a vote would come on or before Sept. 27.

    Ultimately, Ms. Pelosi also pledged that the House would vote only on a reconciliation package that could clear the Senate, sparing moderate lawmakers tough votes on provisions that could never become law.

    Biden’s 2022 Budget

    The 2022 fiscal year for the federal government begins on October 1, and President Biden has revealed what he’d like to spend, starting then. But any spending requires approval from both chambers of Congress. Here’s what the plan includes: