When asked Friday about timing for final passage of the defense policy bill, Senate Armed Services Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.) laughed and replied: “We got to wait until we get to the vote.”
The defense policy bill, first on the to-do list, could take up much of the first week of December. The chamber also needs to fund the government past Dec. 3. Under that timeline, Democrats aren’t expecting the Senate to take up the social spending bill until the second week of December, at the earliest.
And that’s assuming Manchin (D-W.Va.) agrees to move forward by then. Earlier this week, the key centrist did not indicate whether he would be a “yes” vote for starting debate. With an evenly divided Senate, Democrats can’t pass the legislation without Manchin’s support.
“It’ll be done by the time we leave in December,” predicted Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) Friday. “We’re going to come back, we’ll try and wrap up the [defense policy bill] ..and then we’ll move on to [the social spending bill]… This is going to be a wild December month.”
Timing for Biden’s signature legislation will also depend on when the Senate parliamentarian will finish the so-called “Byrd Bath” process, under which she determines whether key components of the bill have direct budgetary effect and can therefore pass the Senate with a simple majority. Democrats will begin presenting their arguments to the parliamentarian next week, according to a Democratic aide.
Several provisions in the House bill are expected to change or get stripped entirely in the Senate. House Democrats included a paid family leave provision, despite Manchin’s opposition to including the policy in the package. And the bill’s immigration reform sections still need to pass muster with the parliamentarian, who has axed Democrats other attempts at including immigration measures.
Senate Democrats are also divided over the House’s inclusion of a provision that raises the cap on local and state tax deductions, known as SALT, which primarily affects high-cost states, such as New York, New Jersey and California. That amounts to a significant tax break from high-income earners, drawing ire from progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
“I hope Bernie changes the SALT tax,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who added that aside from immigration reform and SALT “90 percent of the bill is locked in.”
The House’s passage of the social spending bill came after months of negotiations between the White House, House progressives, Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). House Democrats acknowledged Friday that changes to the legislation were inevitable at this point, which means the House would have to vote on the bill again.
“We’ve done what we think we can do,” said House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.). “The Senate will do what it’ll think it can do. And we’ll come together on behalf of the American people and try to have a coordinated approach as we go off into the future.”
Sarah Ferris and Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.