Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday lamented that centrist Democrats have forced party leaders to reduce the cost of President Biden‘s $3.5 trillion social benefits package, saying it will force lawmakers to make some tough choices about what provisions to eliminate in the coming weeks.
“I’m very disappointed that we’re not going with the original $3.5 trillion, which was very transformative,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol, forecasting “some difficult decisions because we have fewer resources.”
“But whatever we do, we’ll make decisions that will continue to be transformative,” she added.
Biden had initially proposed $3.5 trillion in new social spending — a massive package featuring provisions to expand health care access, child care benefits, free education programs and efforts to tackle climate change, among a host of others. But the sheer size of the proposal was rejected by Senate centrists, who raised concerns about deficit spending and government overreach.
Addressing House Democrats earlier in the month, Biden suggested lawmakers should shoot for spending in the $2 trillion range instead.
In a letter to Democrats Monday night, Pelosi had suggested the cost-cutting efforts would come in the form of eliminating some of the proposed benefit provisions altogether. She promoted the idea of putting the focus more squarely on child benefits and efforts to tackle climate change.
“Overwhelmingly, the guidance I am receiving from Members is to do fewer things well,” she wrote.
On Tuesday, however, the Speaker said she’s receiving some pushback from Democrats who would prefer to press forward with the broad array of benefits included in the larger bill, but scale back the duration of those programs to reduce the price tag. That, the Speaker said, would be their first option.
“The fact is that if there are fewer dollars to spend, there are choices to be made,” Pelosi said. “And some members have written back to me and said, ‘I want to do everything.’ So we’ll have that discussion.”
She added: “The timing would be reduced in many cases to make the cost lower.”
Pelosi ticked off a number of proposed benefit programs that will be prioritized as Democrats make those tough choices, including a child tax benefit, expanded child care and pre-kindergarten programs, and new spending for home health care.
“I mean, we’re still talking about a couple trillion dollars. But it’s much less” than the $3.5 trillion we wanted, she said. “So mostly we would be cutting back on years and something like that.”
Pelosi said one of the controversial revenue-raising provisions — empowering the Internal Revenue Service to access certain bank records in order to catch tax cheats — will be included in the final bill. But she also suggested the parameters surrounding that provision — which currently targets those who make more than $600 in deposits or withdrawals per year — might change.
“That’s a negotiation that will go on, as to what the amount is,” she said.
Pelosi had previously set an ambitious, Oct. 31 deadline for achieving Biden’s agenda, which also includes a bipartisan infrastructure bill that’s already passed through the Senate. In Monday’s letter, the Speaker said that, in order to keep on that schedule, “it is essential that difficult decisions must be made very soon.”
On Tuesday, she said she’s “optimistic” that Democrats are on track to meet that month-end deadline, which coincides with the expiration of the federal authority for highway funding.
The Speaker also asserted that she won’t bring any bills to the House floor that can’t pass the Senate — a stipulation of some Democratic centrists wary of voting on liberal wish-lists that have no chance of becoming law.
“We have to have something that will pass the House and pass the Senate,” Pelosi said. “I’m not asking members to vote for something that has no chance to pass in the Senate.”
Via The Hill