Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives advanced President Joe Biden’s legislative priorities on Tuesday, approving a $3.5 trillion social safety net budget plan.
Lawmakers also agreed to hold a vote by late next month on $1 trillion in infrastructure spending to fix the country’s crumbling roads and bridges and expand broadband service.
The 220-212 vote on the sizable spending measures was not the final say on the legislation, but it signaled that Democrats, who hold narrow majorities over Republicans in both the House and Senate, might be able in the coming weeks to forge approval of spending programs that Biden promised during his successful 2020 presidential campaign.
The House voted after key Democratic leaders, who support Biden’s plans to greatly expand the role of the national government in the lives of millions of Americans, reached accord with a group of 10 moderate Democrats who had balked at voting on the larger social safety net spending without first approving the infrastructure plan that the Senate adopted earlier this month on a bipartisan 69-30 vote.
But the moderate lawmakers, at odds with the much larger contingent of progressive Democrats in their House political party caucus, agreed to an offer by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders to move ahead with the social safety net spending plan on condition that an infrastructure vote would occur by September 27.
Pelosi had hoped to quickly approve a $3.5 trillion budget outline, which Senate Democrats recently pushed through on a 50-49 vote over the unified opposition of Republicans who said it was too costly and advanced what they described as socialist priorities.
Progressive House lawmakers view the legislation as a priority to provide universal free pre-kindergarten schooling for 3- and 4-year-old children and two years of free community college classes for high school graduates, while adding health care benefits for older people with first-time funding for dental, vision and hearing aid care.
The safety net measure would also invest new sums to fight climate change, change federal immigration laws and attempt to lower prescription drug prices. Democrats hope to pay for the plan with higher taxes on corporations and individuals earning more than $400,000 a year, which Republicans also oppose. The changes would undo some of the tax cuts they enacted in 2017.
While 19 Senate Republicans voted for the infrastructure package, and some House Republicans might also support it, none is expected to vote for the much larger social safety net legislation.
Specifics come next
With the House approving the broad outlines of the social welfare spending, Democratic lawmakers are now expected over the coming weeks to craft specifics of the programs they hope to adopt.
But whether they can agree on a long list of specifics before the infrastructure vote in a month is uncertain.
The Democrats’ social safety net plan is being uniformly pilloried by Republican lawmakers as too costly and a vast overreach toward a socialist wish list of government largesse. Biden and Democratic lawmakers say the spending is needed to give millions of Americans a chance at entering the middle class and a better life for their families.
Some Democratic lawmakers have also voiced reservations about the cost of the proposal, with two moderate Senate Democrats, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, saying the $3.5 trillion price tag is too big.
The uniform Republican opposition to the spending and scattered Democratic objections are likely to trigger extensive negotiations over the shape of the legislation and the total spending amount before any final votes are held in late September or beyond.