The Clock Starts Ticking

[ Posted Tuesday, August 24th, 2021 – 14:40 UTC ]

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just pulled off a very big win. The House just voted (220-212) to advance the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill, which will allow both houses of Congress to begin hashing out the actual details and draft the language into a final bill. This was accomplished by cutting a deal with the Mod Squad -- the nine conservative House Democrats who balked at voting for the reconciliation bill before the final vote on the bipartisan infrastructure deal. In the end, Pelosi convinced them to do what they had sworn they wouldn't -- vote to move the reconciliation bill forward. To get them on board, Pelosi gave them an iron-clad promise to put the infrastructure bill up for a vote on September 27. Pelosi has always said she was going to schedule a vote on it "before October 1" (when transportation funding runs out, making it a hard deadline), so this wasn't all that big a concession for her to make.

Of course, there's still no guarantee Pelosi's "two-track" strategy will work, in the end. But she just moved a big step towards making it work. There are really only three important votes left in the process: the House infrastructure bill vote, and both houses passing the same version of a budget reconciliation bill. And since the infrastructure bill's clock is now ticking (with a hard deadline), it means the Senate and the House only have a little over a month to make the other two votes happen.

This is going to be a monstrous achievement to pull off, but given that they've got an entire month, it is eminently possible. But there are a few key things that need to happen, to lessen the last-minute horsetrading period. With that hard deadline on the calendar, Democrats just can't afford to be ensnarled in bickering at the last minute.

There are really two things that need to happen, for this to have a chance at success. The first is that the House and Senate must work together in drafting the reconciliation bill. Already, the Mod Squad conservatives are expressing worry that they'll be forced to vote on a House bill that will never get a Senate vote (as the Senate votes instead on their own version):

Moderates, however, sought to send their own new message -- suggesting there are limits to what they're willing to accept as Democrats begin their work to assemble the new reconciliation proposal. Some centrists appeared to be trying to ward off the possibility that they may have to take tough votes on controversial policies that the Senate is unlikely to adopt anyway.

"We want to see it done in a common sense way that reflects the reality of what the Senate is willing to agree to, and what the House is willing to agree to, and we know that that's different than some of the aspirational levers that some of our colleagues have," said Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), one of the nine who initially threatened to oppose the budget. "We’re not going to vote on a measure that doesn't have 51 votes in the Senate."

Solving this is fairly obvious, although not easy to accomplish in real life. The relevant committees in both houses need to work together before the fact. They essentially need to create their own joint conference committees and work out the details before either chamber holds a vote. This is not normally the way Congress works, which is why even though it is obvious it will still be difficult to accomplish. But this is no time for "messaging" or passing symbolic measures that have no chance of passing the other chamber. Democrats only have one real shot at this, and a month is actually a pretty short timetable for something this complex. Normally, the Senate would pass a version, the House would pass their own version and then they'd form conference committees to haggle over the details. After a period of such haggling, one bill would emerge that both houses would pass. We don't have time for that, though, this time around. We've got to cut through all the posturing and aim directly for that final conference committee legislation from the start. This could be the real key to success.

The second thing that has to happen is that the two factions of the Democratic Party -- the progressives and the Mod Squad conservatives -- need to work their differences out before the last minute. We can't afford whatever grandstanding Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have planned to gum up the works at the last minute (which turns into the last day... the last week... the last month...). Not this time around. There simply isn't time for such nonsense.

Both sides have the ability to kill the entire process -- which makes them equal. The Mod Squad and the conservatives in the Senate (including but probably not limited to Sinema and Manchin) are already on the record saying they won't accept the full $3.5 trillion price tag. The progressives are pushing back, noting quite correctly that they've already given up a considerable amount, since they really would have much preferred a price tag of $6 trillion. So they're not going to be willing to come down too much further. Their rule of thumb is really that they won't vote for any bill that isn't transformative -- that doesn't accomplish the lion's share of the agenda items the progressives have prioritized. A good sign so far is that the conservatives haven't explicitly objected to any one proposal or idea -- they're just generically objecting to the overall cost. This (hopefully) will mean major proposals (such as expanding Medicare to include dental, vision, and hearing) will make it into the final package, in some form or another (perhaps only fully funded for 5 years instead of 10, or whatever).

The biggest argument against all this squabbling over the price tag is that the bill will be entirely paid for. In other words, the political issue of worrying about deficit spending or fiscal responsibility has already been defanged. If the bill doesn't add to the deficit, then the price tag isn't really that big an issue, to put it another way. If it's paid for, then by definition (no matter how much is spent), the bill is fiscally responsible. That's going to be an important argument for the progressives to make, in the horsetrading.

The conservatives -- and the reason I call them conservatives and not "moderates" or "centrists" -- really have an ulterior motive in their complaints about the price tag. They're not concerned so much with how the money will be spent, instead they are concerned with how the money will be raised. They want to keep taxes on corporations and rich people low, plain and simple. In other words, they're not saying: "$3.5 trillion is too much to spend," they are really saying: "that is far too big a tax hike for my donors to accept." This should be kept in mind, throughout the horsetrading period.

At the end of the day, the conservatives will get their pound of flesh. The final price tag will undoubtedly be something lower than $3.5 trillion. But my guess is it won't be lower by all that much. Progressives are just not going to support (say) a $1.5 trillion bill. My guess is the final deal will fall somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 trillion (perhaps just below... $2.9 trillion, anyone?). But my guess is also that very few of the proposals being made will wind up on the cutting room floor. Almost all of them will be included, just with shorter timespans.

Again, there is simply no guarantee of success. Democrats are (sadly) past masters at snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory. That could indeed happen this time, too. It always has to be seen as a possibility. But if these two things happen -- if the House and Senate Democrats work in tandem to produce a single bill (instead of the usual two), and if the progressives and conservatives in the party can hammer out a deal before we're anywhere near the last minute, then they might just succeed in a historic realignment of the federal government's priorities. This is, in fact, the best chance of doing so in at least the past decade (since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, passed). With the House vote today, the finish line is in sight. The deadline has been drawn. The clock is now ticking.

Democrats have a very busy month ahead of them. There will be pitfalls and hurdles along the way. But perhaps -- just perhaps, mind you -- this time they'll be able to actually get something major accomplished.

Color me optimistic, at least for now.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


6 Comments on “The Clock Starts Ticking”

  1. [1] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:


    If you are so obsessed with BMI, couldn't just join a gym?

    There is no guarantee that this will be successful...

    Aw, come on Don, we have been over this. OD is guaranteed to be not successful. You know: voluntary, no checks on abuse, no candidates that meet your litmus test, evidently pretending to be a non-profit, you running it...

  2. [2] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Recommended viewing: PBS, Frontline: China’s Covid Secrets

    This is the finest reporting on the subject I have seen to date. It will likely be rerun on your local PBS station tonight. Also available on their Passport site.

  3. [3] 
    goode trickle wrote:


    Tick tock... tick tock....Where is that pesky EIN?...

    Glad to see that expert reading comprehension from whenever you ended your high school education was on full display as well as your critical thinking skills in action.

    I wasn't trolling or dodging most people that have a modicum of advanced critical thinking skills would understand I was giving you a polite way to "man up".

    I have checked with the IRS, the NJ SOS, and used the Pro Publica aggregated database that goes back to 2014, I used 1demand, one demand, voucher vendeta, and also performed an officer search; of the 168 Don Harris occurrences for various officers, you know what is interesting? Not a single one of them is located in New Jersey.

    Now that we have that out of the way, and unless you have an EIN (that every other non profit has and freely provides) that you will share, it is safe to say that you are NOT a non profit.

    So I guess the real question is "Why would any body in their right mind waste a pixel on a flawed concept "lead" by a person who can't even be honest about being a registered NP, let alone the myriad of other problems that he refuses to address in a straight forward fashion?"

  4. [4] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Arms will be twisted, logs will be rolled. Pelosi is good at her job, I think her chances are better than even. Americans love cars, and need roads and bridges to drive on/over.

  5. [5] 
    goode trickle wrote:


    Always pushing the pie, and looking down the nose at cake...

    I prefer the best of both worlds.

    It can even be adjusted to ones appropriate dessert leaning...

  6. [6] 
    Kick wrote:

    Don Harris

    I should have said as far as I know One Demand is registered as a non-profit.

    How do you not know your entity registration? You should be registered with New Jersey and the IRS. You have mandatory financial disclosures to file regardless of whether or not you took in a single penny; otherwise, you're running your failed bullshit illegally.

    I was not being dishonest, I just made a mistake in one statement in a comment section comment as part of a larger comment.

    Yes, One Demand is registered as a non-profit and i only ask for REQUIRED INFORMATION THAT EVERYBODY ELSE ASKS FOR.

    ~ Don Harris

    That's not a mistake; it is an outright lie. You're either registered or you're not. Speaking of "required information," you're running your bullshit illegally unless you've filed with New Jersey and the IRS. You have mandatory financial reports/disclosures with the IRS whether or not you make a single penny.

    The fact that commenters here keep bringing up the write in votes only counting to elect candidates argument (usually claiming I have never answered it) and never acknowledge that it has been answered and debunked is the definition of trolling.

    There are no write-in votes allowed in the vast majority of the country. Write-in votes that don't exist on ballots are definitely not counted and therefore absolutely cannot and never could "elect candidates."

    You seriously have zero clue what you're doing.

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