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After bitter showdown, House Democrats advance $3.5 trillion spending plan with Biden child allowance and tuition-free community college

Nancy PelosiKevin Dietsch/Getty Images

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House Democrats advanced a $3.5 trillion spending plan in a party-line vote, making headway on a key part of President Joe Biden's economic agenda after a major intraparty brawl. 

Democrats approved the budget blueprint in a 220-212 vote with every Republican in opposition. They relied on a procedural maneuver that packaged multiple bills together, including a rule setting debate boundaries, a voting rights bill, and an infrastructure bill.

"Passing this rule paves the way for the Building Back Better plan, which will forge legislative progress unseen in 50 years — that will stand for generations alongside the New Deal and the Great Society," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a floor speech ahead of the vote. "This legislation will be the biggest, and perhaps the most controversial initiative that any of us have undertaken in our official lives."

It capped a remarkable showdown between Pelosi and a bloc of 10 Democratic moderates that tested the California Democrat's ability to steer her caucus through its slim three-seat majority and nearly stalled Biden's economic agenda. It may also foreshadow the intraparty fights to come given the vote was only to advance a spending blueprint, and not a full piece of legislation.

Filling in the details is expected to take many weeks, and could spark more fights between progressives and moderates with competing priorities on taxes, healthcare and the safety net. To quell the centrist revolt, Pelosi committed to passing an infrastructure bill by Sept. 27.

The moderate faction led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey rebelled earlier in August and demanded the House first pass a $1 trillion infrastructure bill focused on roads and bridges before they would consider backing the partisan spending plan.

Read more: From free community college to higher taxes on the rich: How the $3.5 trillion plan House Democrats just passed would affect you

For nearly two months, Pelosi dug in on her insistence that the House would only vote on the bipartisan bill after the Senate passed a separate Democrat-only spending package sometime this fall. Progressive Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota told reporters the clash between Pelosi and the moderates was a "sh*tshow."

"I don't understand what they were expecting to achieve," Omar said, adding she believes the moderates had weakened their bargaining power because they didn't get a full infrastructure vote they sought.

Pelosi's maneuver was intended to force House progressives to support an infrastructure bill they had assailed as insufficient, and prod moderates into endorsing the larger social spending package. But it triggered opposition from some centrist Democrats who argued it was unnecessary to delay a bill that would provide funding to repair roads, bridges, highways, and strengthen broadband connections.

"I'm bewildered by my party's misguided strategy to make passage of the popular, already-written, bipartisan infrastructure bill contingent upon passage of the contentious, yet-to-be-written, partisan reconciliation bill," Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida said in an Orlando Sentinel op-ed published Monday evening. She called it "bad policy."

Reconciliation is a tactic used to pass certain bills with only a simple majority vote. But in a 50-50 Senate, the procedure requires all 50 Senate Democrats to stay united so it garners a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris.

The party-line spending plan would expand Medicare so it provides dental, vision, and hearing coverage. It would also set up a national program for paid family and medical leave, tuition-free community college, a child allowance, and initiatives to address the climate crisis. Democrats also intend to include a pathway to citizenship for some unauthorized immigrants living in the US.

This story will be updated.

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