House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Tuesday offered few details on how Democrats plan to bring their reconciliation bill's price tag down from $3.5 trillion to about $2 trillion, casting doubt on when and if they'll be able to pass the massive spending spree or the infrastructure bill.
The comments by Pelosi, D-Calif., came as the House briefly returned to Washington, D.C., Tuesday to pass a Senate deal to raise the debt ceiling until early December. Meanwhile, negotiations appear to be stalled on the reconciliation bill as the Senate is on recess and moderates encourage Democrats to take their time hammering out a deal.
"I'm very disappointed that we're not going with the original $3.5 trillion, which was very transformative. But in whatever we do, we'll make decisions that will continue to be transformative," Pelosi said regarding the fact moderates ruled out voting for such an expensive bill.
"I'm pretty excited about the prospect that we have to make some difficult decisions because we have fewer resources, but nonetheless no diminishing of our commitment to a transforming agenda for the children," she added.
In a Monday letter to her members, Pelosi appeared to say that the most likely route for Democrats to pare down the price tag of the reconciliation bill will be do cut out entire programs, while leaving others fully intact in the legislation. She says members were asking her to "do fewer things well" rather than more things with less focus.
But pressed Tuesday about what exactly is going to be on the chopping block, Pelosi refused to get specific, or even commit to a certain approach to cutting the price.
"Let me say that at $3.5 trillion, we were doing everything well," Pelosi said in response to a question about what may be removed from the bill, whether universal pre-K, child tax credit expansion, Medicaid expansion or something else. "The fact is if there are fewer dollars to spend, there's choices to be made… But we will not diminish the transformative nature of what it is,. And some members have written back to me and said, ‘I want to do everything.’ So we'll have that discussion."
"We hope not," Pelosi added when asked if there's a full program that would be dropped from the bill. "We just have to make sure we have a bill… that will pass the House and pass the Senate."
Asked later what program will be the "first to go," Pelosi replied: "You must be kidding."
"I don't even know what that would be," she added. "The timing would be reduced in many cases to make the costs lower. But it only would be in such a way that it does not undermine the transformative nature of it, because some of it needs to have enough money in order to be – to have sustainability."
Reducing the years on a program is a common budgetary trick in Congress to make bills appear cheaper than they actually are, and is an idea House progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., have pushed. But that would not necessarily be consistent with Pelosi's Monday comment about doing "fewer things well."
This cloudy picture from the speaker about how exactly Democrats will approach cutting the price of their bill comes as she was also vague about when they'll be able to come to an agreement on a final framework or legislative text.
Asked if she still believes Democrats can pass reconciliation before the end of October, Pelosi said merely that she is "optimistic" it is possible but did not make any promises.
Meanwhile, yet another debt crisis looms later this year that could overshadow and potentially stunt Democrats' agenda if they do not get it done quickly enough. The House will pass a $480 billion debt limit increase Tuesday that will prevent default until Dec. 3 or potentially a little later than that.
Congress will likely have to start addressing the debt ceiling just before or after Thanksgiving if it hopes to raise the limit before another default – and that holiday is just six weeks away. That's not to mention a government funding bill that needs to happen before Dec. 3 to avoid a government shutdown, the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act" and more.
If Democrats are unable to finish their work on the reconciliation and infrastructure bills by mid-November, then their top legislative priorities may get put aside until after the New Year as they're overshadowed by efforts to prevent potential economic crises.