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An Impasse In The House Threatens To Derail A Part Of Biden's Domestic Agenda

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

House Democrats try again to pass a budget framework today. It's $3.5 trillion. It contains within its provisions a large part of President Biden's agenda. And it is a special bill because under the rules, it is one of the few bills the Democrats can get through the Senate without any Republican support. Trouble is, the Democrats face a divide among themselves in the House. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell has been covering this story. Kelsey, good morning.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: You know, I had assumed the problem would be in the Senate, that it would easily pass the House where the majority party is usually pretty unified. What happened instead?

SNELL: Well, the Democrats in the House really just have a very slim majority. And some moderates have taken advantage of that moment to try to get some concessions from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Basically, she is trying to satisfy demands from two very different wings of her party. Progressives want to get moving on that $3 1/2 trillion budget framework because it could help them pass a lot of their major priorities, like you mentioned, things like addressing climate change or paid family leave or child care programs.

But the moderate wing was pushing for an immediate vote on the Senate-passed $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. They say that those priorities just need to move forward now. They can't wait for further negotiations on this bigger budget framework. So Pelosi's strategy since June has been to tie the fate of both of these things together. She's essentially saying that, you know, the infrastructure bill and the budget bill have to move together or nothing moves at all. As you mentioned, they've reached an impasse. And after a lot of haggling and arguing, they kind of came around to this idea that they would use a procedural workaround to pass the budget resolution without ever having to actually vote on it, just on the...

INSKEEP: OK.

SNELL: ...Idea of moving it forward. You know, that might sound crazy. But it isn't unprecedented. And it's within the rules. And it would allow the House and Senate to actually get to work writing the spending plan because right now, they haven't even done that part yet. This is just conceptual.

INSKEEP: OK. So if that is the plan, how do they move forward now?

SNELL: You know, they have to work out these last details with moderates. And if they can get onto the bills, I would expect a lot more public fighting about the details. Democrats won their majority by pitching themselves as a big party, a big tent party, which meant that they accepted moderates and centrists. So they wind up in situations like this. They have to find a concession - consensus not just on, you know, the concept of $3 1/2 trillion but on what the actual policies are, how they actually do it. Plus, along the way, they need to increase the debt limit and pass basic government funding to keep the government operating past the end of September. So this is not an easy road. And it's really not confined just to this budget fight.

INSKEEP: Kelsey, as you know very well, the other job Congress has is oversight of whatever any administration is doing. They're extremely interested right now in the evacuation of Americans and others from Afghanistan. How are they responding?

SNELL: Well, last night, there was a briefing. And House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said that it's possible but unlikely that the evacuations in Afghanistan will be complete at the end of this month as planned. You know, there has been bipartisan criticism. Republicans have been certainly more vocal about the criticism. But Democrats are also worried about the manner of the withdrawal and the way it was handled. They say it was chaotic and much of this should have predicted. But ultimately, many of them support the goal of leaving Afghanistan.

You know, some of the criticism has been a little bit quieter in recent days since evacuation stepped up. But there will be briefings this week. And that may raise more questions from lawmakers. You know, ultimately, we don't know how long this will be an issue for voters. And therefore, we don't know how closely Congress will be talking about this. So that's something that we're going to be watching in the coming days to see, you know, just how much they focus on Afghanistan versus the domestic policies that they're also trying to advance.

INSKEEP: Kelsey, always appreciate your insights. Thanks so much.

SNELL: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.