WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday that Democrats need to make crucial decisions “in the next few days” about how to cut their $3.5 trillion partisan tax and spending budget reconciliation package if they’re going to meet a self-imposed end-of-month deadline.
That seems like a tall order, however, considering Democrats have not made a single decision about what social spending or climate programs they would cut to drop the price tag closer to the approximately $2 trillion level President Joe Biden thinks moderate and progressive Democrats in the narrowly divided Congress can all support.
“You must be kidding,” Pelosi said at her weekly press conference Tuesday when asked what should be cut first to lower the cost. “That’s a negotiation. That’s not something that I would be announcing here. And I don’t even know what that would be.”
Instead of offering a program that should be cut, Pelosi said she’d first look to trim the duration of programs. The House package that 13 committees put together was written with the $3.5 trillion top line in mind. There is not yet an official Congressional Budget Office score, but some outside budget experts estimate it could total more than $4 trillion, although more than half would be offset.
Keeping more programs with earlier sunsets seemed to conflict with Pelosi’s letter to House Democrats Monday night that said members “overwhelmingly” were suggesting the package “do fewer things well so that we can still have a transformative impact on families in the workplace and responsibly address the climate crisis.”
The House’s biggest moderate caucus, the New Democrat Coalition, has argued that a smaller package should focus on long-term certainty for a handful of priority programs.
Specifically, the New Democrats have suggested prioritizing four things: extending a costly but popular expansion of the child tax credit enacted in the March coronavirus relief law through at least 2025, as in the House bill; permanently extending that law’s expansion of premium tax credits for subsidizing health insurance costs and providing broader access to Medicaid in states that did not expand the program; providing “robust” 10-year economic development grants and technical assistance to persistently distressed communities; and going “big” on climate programs that aim to reduce carbon emissions.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus has been pushing the opposite strategy, urging colleagues to fund as many programs as possible, even if it means a future Congress will have to vote to extend them.
“What the Progressive Caucus would like to have is not some false choice of just doing a couple of things and pitting communities against each other and leaving people behind, but actually reducing the number of years slightly if we need to,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the group’s chairwoman, said on a press call Tuesday.
The Washington Democrat said progressives “were happy to see” that Pelosi said something similar in her press conference earlier that day.