A House vote, months in the making, could come as early as Thursday evening on a $1.85 trillion social policy and climate bill that would be the largest expansion of the safety net in 50 years.
WASHINGTON — House Democrats, increasingly confident that they have the support to pass their $1.85 trillion social policy and climate change bill, drove toward a vote on the package as early as Thursday evening, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressing optimism that the measure would ultimately reach President Biden’s desk.
“It is my hope that we will complete this legislation today,” Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, said Thursday during debate of the legislation on the House floor, drawing scattered applause from lawmakers eager to leave Washington for a weeklong Thanksgiving recess.
Democrats can afford to lose only a few votes, given their slim margin of control, and leaders were leaving nothing to chance.
Technical changes will have to be made to the bill before the vote to ensure that it can be considered under special rules known as reconciliation that shield it from a filibuster, allowing Democrats to push it through over unified Republican opposition in the Senate. And some moderate Democrats are still waiting on a final cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, which Ms. Pelosi said should arrive by 5 p.m.
“It’s pretty exciting. This is historic; it is transformative,” she said on Thursday morning, telling reporters that the final pieces should fall together later in the day to allow for a vote on legislation known as the Build Back Better Act.
So far, the committee-by-committee judgments from the budget office, Congress’s official scorekeeper, have not raised fiscal concerns. And House Democrats appear eager to pass the measure — the broadest intervention in the nation’s social safety net in 50 years and by far the largest ever effort to combat climate change — before they leave for their holiday.
As staff scrambled to wrap up the technical changes before the evening, lawmakers began debating the legislation. Democrats, who have stuffed the bill with long-desired priorities and policy changes, took turns highlighting the bill’s array of environmental provisions, an expansion of health care and support for education and child care.
“Getting to this point has not been fast or easy — and some might say it’s even been a bit messy — but that’s what democracy looks like,” said Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. “We have examined the issues, have had thoughtful — even spirited — debate, and we have refined our proposals.”
Ms. Pelosi talked up the areas of agreement that Democrats had reached in both the House and Senate: universal prekindergarten, generous assistance with child care costs, prescription drug price controls and home health care for older Americans.
House Republicans railed against the legislation as government overreach that would exacerbate inflation and rising costs. Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, suggested that fears about backlash over the bill had prompted the latest round of Democratic retirements.
“They know this reconciliation bill will be the end of their Democrat majority, and for many, their congressional careers,” Mr. McCarthy said.
If the bill clears the House, it faces a difficult road in the Senate, where Republicans will have a clear shot to offer politically difficult amendments, any one of which could unravel the delicate Democratic coalition behind it. Two Democratic centrists, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, have not committed to supporting it, and a single defection would bring the measure down in the evenly divided chamber.
Some significant provisions remain in play, including a measure to grant work permits and legal protection to many undocumented immigrants; funding for four weeks of paid family and medical leave; and a generous increase in the federal tax deduction for state and local taxes paid, from $10,000 a year to $80,000.
Liberals like Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is the chairman of the Budget Committee, and at least one centrist Democrat, Representative Jared Golden, Democrat of Maine, have raised strong objections to that tax measure, which would amount to a major tax cut for wealthy homeowners who itemize their deductions. Mr. Sanders and other senators are discussing limiting who can benefit from the increased deduction based on income.
Having capped the deduction in their 2017 tax law, Republicans have also singled out the provision in their attacks on the legislation. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, scoffed, “I’m almost impressed our colleagues have found a way to be this out of touch.”
But Democrats from high-tax states like New Jersey and New York have demanded the provision as the price for their vote.
Ms. Pelosi, who pronounced herself a supporter of the tax provision, defended it on Thursday, saying that it was “not about tax cuts for wealthy people,” but ensuring that state and local governments have the tax revenues they need to provide education, fire and rescue services.
Biden’s Social Policy Bill at a Glance
Immigration may prove to be an even more dangerous flash point, given the politics around the issue since the rise of President Donald Trump. Democratic immigration advocates have had to scale back their ambitions from a pathway to citizenship for millions to green cards and protection from deportation for hundreds of thousands.
But Republicans are already decrying even that measure, which they say will confer taxpayer benefits to illegal immigrants and entice still more migrants to cross the border illegally, charges sure to follow the measure to the Senate.
Representative Veronica Escobar, Democrat of Texas, conceded on Thursday that a pathway to citizenship is likely lost for now, and she implored her colleagues to shut out the Republican attacks on what is left.
“We have to get that over the goal line, we have to,” she said, promising, “I will take it and run with it, and not stop until we get everything we need for these precious souls.”
Ms. Pelosi repeatedly said she had no fear that the bill would be brought down in the Senate or altered substantially.
“The Senate will act its will on it, but whatever it is, it will still be transformative and historic,” she said.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader who will have to take up the mantle if and when the measure clears the House, promised Thursday to finish the task.
“Creating jobs, lowering costs, fighting inflation, keeping more money in people’s pockets — these are things Americans want and what Americans need and it’s what Build Back Better does,” he said on the Senate floor. “We are going to keep working on this important legislation until we get it done.”