House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she still planned to hold a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure deal Thursday, even as dozens of Democrats say they will vote against it, appearing to doom the bill.
Democrats in Washington are coalescing around the idea that the bill’s defeat would be a temporary setback and not a fatal blow, giving them more time to continue negotiating on a larger spending bill that is of the highest priority to progressives in the party, to the White House and to Pelosi herself.
Pelosi said that the larger spending proposal, currently a $3.5 trillion budget bill, is “the culmination of my service in Congress” because of the many ways it would benefit low-income people, the middle class and children.
In her comments Thursday morning, she indicated that she planned to hold a vote on infrastructure later in the day.
“We are proceeding in a positive way to bring up the [infrastructure] bill … in a way that can win,” she said. “It’s impossible, though, to persuade people to vote for the [infrastructure bill] without assurances that the [budget] bill will occur.”
“We cannot really guarantee what I had hoped,” she said, even as she insisted that ultimately Democrats would find a way to pass both bills.
While Pelosi was speaking, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters he was not confident that the infrastructure deal would pass if there were a vote. “Nope,” he said when asked if he was sure that the bill would succeed Thursday.
For months, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have pushed a two-track plan supported by the White House, stating that they would synchronize passage of a bipartisan infrastructure deal (to appease moderates seeking an across-the-aisle win) and the larger budget deal (to fulfill much of President Biden’s proposed Build Back Better agenda). Over the past few weeks, moderate Democrats have insisted on a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, after which Congress would move on to a larger spending bill that would please progressives.
But progressives have seen this as a bait and switch, expecting moderates in the Senate, namely Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., to slow-walk and possibly kill the budget bill once the infrastructure bill had passed.
Amid the negotiations for Biden’s domestic agenda, Congress must also move quickly Thursday to vote to fund the government for two months to avoid a shutdown.
Congress’s immediate attention will then shift to the country’s debt limit. The U.S. government will begin defaulting on its debts around Oct. 18, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said this week. Even though a default would likely spark an economic crisis, Democrats are uncertain about how to raise the limit, which is needed to continue paying for obligations incurred in the past.
Republicans refuse to help Democrats raise the limit, insisting that Senate Democrats use the reconciliation process — a procedural maneuver that would sidestep a GOP filibuster — to do so. But Democrats say this would take three to four weeks, which would put them past the Oct. 18 deadline.
As a potential shutdown looms, negotiations over Biden’s legislative push are ongoing. The infrastructure vote was originally scheduled for Monday after Pelosi hashed out an agreement with House moderates in August, exchanging their support for moving forward with the budget process. That vote was eventually delayed to Thursday as leadership tried to find the votes for its passage within the Democratic caucus.
Over the past few weeks, the Congressional Progressive Caucus has repeatedly said that a majority of the 96-member group would vote against the bill unless the larger budget deal had also been passed. Senate moderates negotiated the bipartisan infrastructure deal that passed that chamber in August, but many Democrats said they would support it only if it came with a larger budget deal that would address climate change in addition to expanding the country’s social safety net.
Eleven Democratic senators who voted in favor of the bipartisan bill expressed their support for their House colleagues to hold strong last week, saying, “That is what we agreed to, it’s what the American people want, and it’s the only path forward for this Congress.” And earlier this week, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., encouraged House progressives to vote down the infrastructure deal until the budget reconciliation bill is passed.
That ran headlong into the reality that there is no budget deal that could get the requisite 50 Democratic votes to clear the Senate at the moment. Manchin and Sinema have yet to lay out their full demands for what is and isn’t included in the proposal, although both have insisted for months that its current $3.5 trillion price tag is way too high.
In a statement Wednesday, Manchin said he was for rolling back the 2017 Trump tax cuts, which focused on wealthier Americans, but was against too much spending and wanted the benefits “means-tested” so they would go only to the neediest. Sinema has been less forthcoming about what she actually wants, frustrating colleagues, the White House and Democrats in Arizona who are already considering a primary challenge against her in 2024.
Also on Thursday, Politico reported that in August, Manchin told Schumer he could support a $1.5 trillion budget bill that would cut the current proposal by more than half.
“We’re in the middle of it here. We’re not done with this,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday. “The president has been clear about his commitment to get both pieces of legislation passed.”
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