ORLANDO, Fla. — The bill that President Biden sees as the cornerstone of his agenda is facing pushback from an unexpected corner: a group of centrist Democrats that includes U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park.
Biden’s $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill is getting strong support from progressive groups such as Our Revolution, which protested outside Murphy’s office in Orlando last week. Its leaders accuse Murphy of undermining the president.
“There’s a handful of people standing in the way, and she’s positioning herself as the leader of the opposition within the Democratic Party,” said Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of Our Revolution, which formed out of the 2016 Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.
Murphy, however, defended her position as being both fiscally responsible and
“The reconciliation bill contains provisions that touch every element of my constituents’ lives, from the moment they’re born until the moment they die, and then what happens for their future generations,” Murphy said Friday in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel. “And so I think it’s reasonable to take time to fully understand the proposals and to understand how we are going to pay for [them].”
A reconciliation bill is a budget-focused package that can win Senate approval with all 50 Democratic votes and no GOP votes, thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote in that chamber. Otherwise, bills are subject to a GOP filibuster if they don’t get 60 votes.
The reconciliation bill as written includes measures on education, health care, energy, climate change, paid leave and child care and immigration. It would cost $3.5 trillion over 10 years.
Any reconciliation bill would need the support of every Democrat in the Senate, including U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Manchin has said he would not vote for a bill that large, citing opposition to the increased taxes on the wealthy and corporate tax rate hikes that would be needed to pay for it.
Any House bill that can’t pass the Senate and become law isn’t viable, Murphy said.
“Only bills that get signed into law can actually make a difference in people’s lives,” she said.
She was adamant, however, that this was not just about Manchin. She said there are other representatives and senators who have issues with the bill.
“The House and the Senate need to be closely negotiating to figure out what both chambers are able to pass so that it lands on the President’s desk,” she said.
A separate $1 trillion infrastructure bill has already passed the Senate 69-30 with 19 GOP votes.
But with Democrats holding the House by just eight seats, Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer crafted a strategy to move both the bipartisan bill and the more sweeping reconciliation bill through the House at the same time to avoid having members vote for one and not the other.
Murphy was one of 10 centrist Democrats who held up allowing the reconciliation bill to go forward in return for a pledge to hold a vote on the bipartisan bill by the end of the month. This week, she was also the only Democrat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee to vote against moving parts of the reconciliation bill forward.
The Ways and Means Committee, which oversees taxes and revenue, unveiled its parts of the bill on a rolling basis instead of all at once, requiring members to vote on provisions of the bill without specifying how they would be paid for. Murphy said afterward she wanted more transparency in the process.
Three other centrist Democrats in another committee voted against the Medicare drug pricing provisions of the bill, which would allow that agency to negotiate the cost of drugs. Yet, the plan was still able to
Murphy is one of the co-sponsors of an alternative Medicare drug pricing bill, which would limit the number of drug prices that could be negotiated.
“Murphy is the sponsor of weaker drug pricing legislation,” Geevarghese said. “... If we don’t have the U.S. government negotiating for purchase prescription drugs, it ultimately means that drug pricing will go up for all Americans and for seniors in particular, I don’t think that’s explainable to her constituents.”
Murphy said Our Revolution and other progressive groups were “not being honest” about her position, which she said was being realistic about what has a chance of passing both chambers.
“I have put forward an alternative proposal that would balance patients’ access to innovative medicines with lowering the cost of prescription drugs,” she said.
The response to Murphy from conservative groups has been mixed.
Club For Growth is running an ad in the Orlando market urging Murphy to hold tight and ultimately oppose the bill. The National Republican Congressional Committee, however, is attacking Murphy by claiming “history will repeat itself” and Murphy will eventually vote yes on the bill.
Murphy said she was optimistic that the reconciliation bill would pass in some form. She said she believes the bipartisan infrastructure bill will be passed by the House later this month, even without a vote first on the reconciliation package.
“The speaker has committed to putting the infrastructure bill up for a vote on Sept. 27,” Murphy said. “My hope is that bill passes in a bipartisan way out of the House.”