At a weekly press conference Thursday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), joined by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, announced that the White House, the House, and the Senate had negotiated a “framework” to pay for the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act.
Opening the conference, Schumer said: “The White House, the House, and the Senate have reached agreement on a framework that will pay for any final negotiated agreement. So the revenue side of this, we have an agreement.” He clarified that they have “an agreement of a framework.”
The announcement represents a huge step forward for the bill, which has been bogged down in intra-party disputes since its introduction. Many of these disputes have centered around the economic impact of the bill.
In the upper chamber, moderate Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) had each expressed opposition to the bill’s cost rather than its contents.
In a Wall Street Journal opinion article, Manchin emphasized that he was not totally unwilling to support the legislation. Rather, he said that Democrats should take a “strategic pause” to consider the long-term effects of the bill.
Among these concerns was a strong hesitance to pass new legislation that would increase already rising inflation.
“I, for one, won’t support a $3.5 trillion bill, or anywhere near that level of additional spending, without greater clarity about why Congress chooses to ignore the serious effects inflation and debt have on existing government programs,” Manchin wrote.
A spokesman for Sinema said simply that the senator “will not support a $3.5 trillion bill.”
Under the reconciliation process being used to jam the bill through the Senate, the budget can be passed without any Republican support—but Democratic support must be unanimous. Appealing to these Senate moderates has long been a concern for House committees drafting the legislation.
Pelosi Takes Moderate Tone, Emphasizes ‘Pay-Fors’ Of Budget
When speaking about the legislation today, Pelosi sounded a cautiously optimistic tone, making a case for moderates that the agreement allows for much of the budget to be paid for.
Pelosi emphasized this in an opening statement: “A big part of [crafting the bill] is the pay-fors. We want to build back better in a way that is fiscally sound.” She continued by noting that the specific aspects of the bill had been discussed with Treasury Secretary Yellen, and had gotten her approval.
With the framework agreement, the House speaker said, “We’ve made progress and are proceeding.”
“We’re writing legislation and when you’re writing legislation you have to be specific,” she said. She noted optimistically that the agreement reached between the legislative chambers “took us a long way towards a framework” for the final draft of the bill.
In the past, Pelosi had been far less willing to discuss drawdowns to lower the price of the final legislation, asking, “What would you cut? Everything is so important.”
On Thursday, however, Pelosi took a more moderate tone than she had previously, emphasizing that cuts were being discussed in negotiations.
She said that House committees were figuring out “what works better and what our actual needs will be.” Whatever these “actual needs” may be, Pelosi emphasized, “We know we can cover the proposals that the president has put forth to build back better.”
When asked if the agreement struck between the House, Senate, and White House lowered the final cap of the bill from $3.5 trillion, Pelosi shied away from answering the question definitively.
“I didn’t say anything about the price tag we’re talking about or the values contained therein,” she said. However, she also indicated, as other House Democratic leaders have, that the party was working to get as close to the $3.5 trillion cap as possible.
“We will bring the legislation forward when ready,” she said, adding that she and other Democrats “are for the 3.5 number because that’s the number that the president and the Senate sent us.”
Pelosi was also asked whether she was confident that she had enough support to hold a vote on a formerly agreed-upon Sept. 27 deadline.
“We take it one day at a time,” said Pelosi, “But I’m confident that we will pass both bills.”
While details of the framework agreement are still unclear, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have remained optimistic about the bill’s future.