Waiting For The C.B.O.

[ Posted Thursday, November 11th, 2021 – 16:50 UTC ]

[With apologies to Samuel Beckett, of course...] We all now seem to be waiting for the C.B.O. Or perhaps this is just another chapter in our long and drawn out struggle with Senator Manchin of West Virginia... in other words: more waiting for Joe. Whatever you want to call it, so far it definitely belongs in the category of "tragicomedy."

Not-so-amusing literary wordplay aside, however, we seem to be in an interim period here. Let's try a sports metaphor instead: It's halftime in Joe Biden's legislative football game. Right at the end of the first half, the Democrats put a big score on the board by passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill and sending it to Biden's desk for his signature.

Biden is outside Washington giving pep talks about his economic agenda, but perhaps what he really needs to do is give the congressional Democrats a locker-room halftime talk to inspire them to do better in the second half. An article today in Salon makes this point:

After months of deference to Congress, President Joe Biden moved more assertively last week to shepherd half his domestic agenda into law. With the other half still in limbo, Democrats want some of that Biden punch again.

Outside groups fear that congressional Democrats could come up short on [President Joe] Biden's social spending package. They are concerned that moderates in the House may end up buckling if the budget scores on the bill come back worse than anticipated. And there is residual anxiety that one of the two wavering Senate Democrats -- Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona -- could vote "no" over concerns about inflation and long-term debt.

The clearest solution to avoiding this, they argue, is more Biden.

"All eyes are on the president, all expectations are on the president," said Lorella Praeli, co-president of the progressive Community Change Action. "We are playing our role. We are mobilizing. We're reminding people everyday what this is about."

Praeli added that Biden must ensure there aren't future cuts to the package, which dropped from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion to accommodate centrist Democrats in the House and Senate. "This is what he campaigned on. Only the president can deliver it in the end."

The political dynamics within the Democratic Party have changed over the course of the past week or so. Spurred on by Democratic defeats in last Tuesday's elections, and perhaps becoming tired of being blamed for gumming up the works, enough House progressives agreed to pass the infrastructure bill -- after getting Nancy Pelosi and the so-called "moderate" faction to agree to hold a vote on a House version of the Build Back Better bill sometime next week (astute readers will notice that we essentially lost all of this week, in terms of getting anything productive done, because both chambers of Congress took the whole week off for Veterans' Day). This was a significant climb-down from the progressives' original bargaining position, which was that they would not vote on either bill until both were ready to head to the president's desk. And that would mean that the Build Back Better bill had already passed the Senate.

This, obviously, did not happen. Not even close. The progressives backed down on two things, really -- the demand that both bills get a House vote on the same day, and the demand that Senators Manchin and Sinema had already voted for the Build Back Better bill. Neither happened, but the infrastructure bill passed anyway.

Essentially, House progressives (with the exception of six of them who still refused to vote for the infrastructure bill) threw up their hands and said: "OK, we're going to trust Nancy Pelosi and the House moderates and we're going to put all the pressure onto Joe Biden to get his Build Back Better plan through the Senate." As previously mentioned, my suspicion is that the progressives just got tired of (falsely) being painted the villains in this holdup. If they can pass a Build Back Better bill out of the House, then it will become impossible for the media to not focus completely on Manchin and Sinema over in the Senate. They are the two people truly gumming up the works and they have been all along, so it's about time for them to take the full political heat for their pointless (and seemingly-endless) obstructionism.

It remains to be seen whether this will work or not, of course. And we've still got quite a while to wait, most likely. The next step in the process will happen in the House. The House bill's final text has been written and sent to the Congressional Budget Office for "scoring." The C.B.O. has put out partial reports but is still working on the overall financial impact report for the full bill. This is a complicated process, and expectations are that the final C.B.O. report won't be available before the House holds a vote next week. A C.B.O. report is not necessary for a House vote, but it will be for a Senate vote.

This is the next test -- will the moderates remain true to their word and pass the Build Back Better bill next week, before Thanksgiving? Or will they suddenly demand to wait until after the C.B.O. report is out? This remains to be seen.

Assuming (and it's a big assumption) that the bill does pass the House next week, it's not going to change things all that much in the Senate. The political pressure will rise on Sinema and Manchin, but the Senate is simply not going to pass the House version as-is, period. It will be changed. How much it will be changed is anyone's guess right now.

Because the final text will change, even if Joe Biden is successful in getting Manchin and Sinema to agree to something, the scoring process will have to start all over. The C.B.O. will have to score the Senate version of the bill (although some time might be saved if major portions of it remain the same or similar enough to the House version). Then it will face a second hurdle: the Senate parliamentarian. Because Build Back Better is a budget reconciliation bill (which obviates the need to break a Republican filibuster), the parliamentarian will weigh in on whether all the bill's provisions should be allowed or not.

Only then -- after the C.B.O. report and the parliamentarian's opinion -- will the Senate be able to hold a vote on Build Back Better. And after they do (assuming they pass it, of course), it will then return to the House for a final vote.

To put this another way: this is all not going to happen next week, folks. We would all be astoundingly lucky if it happens before the end of December, in fact. We're not in the final two minutes of the game -- the second half hasn't even begun yet.

And it won't, until next week rolls around. Until then, the waiting game continues. And one can only hope it has a happier ending than Beckett's play does.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


8 Comments on “Waiting For The C.B.O.”

  1. [1] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    I'm sure that you're as sick of writing these "hurry up and wait" columns as we are of reading them. I bet that's why comment traffic is down so much.

    Effing Democrats. Bottom line: what passes and gets signed.

  2. [2] 
    SF Bear wrote:

    Where is J. Edger Hoover when we need him? I'm sure Joe Manchin has relieved an inappropriate blow job, or paid someone under the table at least once. It is now time for someone to find some dirt and force him to behave or else. It is not right that he can single handedly hold up so much. As for Kristin Sinema she could not be more clear about what she wants. Can't some Blue Billionaire simply offer her a slot on one of his boards that pays a million dollars a year?

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Manchin makes more money from his coal businesses than from his senator's salary. Will that do?

  4. [4] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    ...extended (but not too much) Frank Zappa guitar solo...And they'll drag in the Bandit,
    For all to see.
    Sayin' don't no whoa whoa body, no, don't have no sympathy!
    Hot...soapy water!
    In the first degree.
    And the Bandit might say...

  5. [5] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    Yeah, but that would require an Ownership Class Dem to step up. And NIMBY Dems are quite reliable when it comes to not putting their money where their mouths are.

  6. [6] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    Sports metaphors. Okay.

    Why do the Deathocrats keep punting on second down?

    Is it because of another butt fumble on first down?

    The Deathocrats are like the Falcons in their game from last year when they all watched an on side kick roll ten yards so the Cowboys could recover it when the Falcons could have jumped on the ball before it got the ten yards.

  7. [7] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    CW seems like a boxing announcer that says after the fighter that is not supposed to win dominates a round against the fighter that is supposed to win and the announcers say that was a really close round and could be scored either way by the judges.

    Just not believable.

  8. [8] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    Mtn Caddy (1)-
    Imagine how much comment traffic there would be if Trump was the one not getting things done.

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