Last week the House Ways and Means Committee and other committees began to work on their parts of the reconciliation package. The Ways and Means Committee began work on their version of family and medical leave, trade, retirement, and Medicare expansion, but they have left other actions for this week. The House Education and Labor started their work on child care, pre-kindergarten, K through 12 education, higher education, and job training to name some of their priorities.
A big job this week will involve another part of the Ways and Means Committee jurisdiction when they take up a range of tax issues, including expansions of the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the EITC, as well as tax increases on some businesses and higher-income individuals. While these actions are taking place, negotiations are going on between the House and Senate so that many of these current bills (or parts of the reconciliation) will not be the last word in how the final package looks.
Between Committee action and negotiations between the two houses, leadership in the two houses, and the Administration, the final products are sure to evolve. Part of the challenge will be to fit all the Biden Administration priorities under the spending caps while also navigating the restrictions of reconciliation.
The month of August laid the groundwork for two major pieces of legislation that, if enacted, could have long-term impacts on families. The Senate acted first by passing a bipartisan infrastructure bill (HR 3684) and then moved a budget resolution that allows this month’s reconciliation bill. That action set up some drama in the House during the week of August 23, 2021.
The infrastructure bill passed the Senate 69 to 30 and, if passed by the House, will add $550 billion in new spending and areas of need while renewing the $650 billion in current transportation funding for a total of $1.2 trillion. Provisions that could directly impact families include $55 billion for clean water improvements, including removing lead in drinking water systems, and a second provision that would expand access to the internet through the $65 billion for broadband expansion to remote and underserved areas. After that vote, the Senate acted relatively quickly to approve a budget resolution by a vote of 50 to 49.
The House took up both measures the week of August 23 and acted but not before some intense negotiations over how and when the two legislative vehicles would be dealt with. A small group of moderate Democrats held out wanting to vote on the infrastructure bill before they even approved the enabling budget resolution. Ultimately a comprise allowed the House to approve a rule (by a vote of 220-212), setting up a potential vote for September 27 on the infrastructure legislation. That could come at the same time as the reconciliation.
After the final action by the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced that House members would be working closely with their Senate counterparts to write a reconciliation bill. Committees have been instructed to write their parts of the bill by September 15, although they will not return for full-floor sessions until September 20.
The resolution allows for $3.5 trillion, not counting taxes that could offset some spending increases. Some Senate Democrats have raised some concerns on the total, but once the bill begins to fill out with increased child care, family leave, education, and other priorities, those concerns could be balanced. The bill will have to pass just on the votes of Democrats and a few independents and have to address a range of competing demands.