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Can the Biden Administration and Congressional Democrats Enact the $3.5 Trillion Reconciliation Bill?

September 27, 2021

By Christopher Condeluci | CC Law & Policy

At the end of August, I asked this very question. And it continues to be a relevant question to ask. Why?  Because over the past 2 weeks, we have heard from moderate Democrats in the Senate – and also in the House – publicly exclaiming that either (1) they cannot support a bill that will spend $3.5 trillion or (2) they cannot support specific proposals that a majority of Congressional Democrats want to include in the package. 

As a result, we are seeing some cracks in the overall plans that the Biden Administration and Congressional Democratic Leadership laid out on how they wanted this reconciliation exercise to be orchestrated. With a 50-50 Senate, and in the House – where Speaker Pelosi cannot lose 4 or more Democrats – even the smallest crack in Democratic support spells trouble for President Biden and Congressional Democratic Leaders.

What are these moderate Democrats saying? 

Importantly, 3 moderate House Democrats have indicated that they cannot support the Democrats’ drug pricing reforms, namely, allowing HHS to negotiate the prices Medicare will pay for prescription drugs.  This is a big deal because the drug pricing reforms are not only a big policy priority for Congressional Democrats – along with President Biden – but the drug pricing reforms raise close to $500 billion.  Plus, Congressional Democratic Leadership needs all of the money they can get to “offset” the proposed $3.5 trillion in spending. 

More specifically, any changes to the drug pricing reforms (to get these 3 Democrats back on board), would produce a domino effect.  What I mean is:  Senate Democrats – namely Sens. Manchin (D-WV) and Sinema (D-AZ) – have made numerous public statements that (1) they cannot support a bill that spends $3.5 trillion and (2) if they did support a $3.5 trillion bill, this bill would have to be fully paid for with increased revenue or spending reductions.

If Congressional Democrats cannot raise the close to $500 billion from drug pricing reforms, the bill will either NOT be paid for (which would lose Sens. Manchin’s and Sinema’s vote) – OR – Democratic Leaders would have to look to other reductions in spending or tax increases (which could result in losing support from other un-named Democratic House members or Senators).

So you see, it’s like a game of Jenga (I credit Axios for the analogy).  If you mess with one aspect of this $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill to get certain House members and/or Senators to yes, you might lose other un-named House members and/or Senators and topple the entire reconciliation exercise.

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