Progressives Defy Pelosi, Vow to Vote No on Infrastructure
(Bloomberg) -- House progressives are lining up to defy Speaker Nancy Pelosi and oppose a bipartisan infrastructure bill Thursday, dealing a blow to the $550 billion measure’s chances and potentially endangering President Joe Biden’s economic agenda.
The infrastructure bill has already passed the Senate, but liberals in the House have insisted that Democrats reach agreement and pass a larger tax and social spending package that encompasses much of their priorities before voting on the roads-and-bridges measure.
“Progressives will vote for both bills, but a majority of our members will only vote for the infrastructure bill after the President’s visionary Build Back Better Act passes,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, said in a statement.
Jayapal’s comment comes as Biden is attempting to broker an agreement with moderate Democrats in the Senate on the overall size of the larger plan to speed progress on legislation.
Pelosi has said she plans to move forward with a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill Thursday. She was banking on progressive Democrats settling for an agreement -- rather than a vote -- this week on the topline figure for the separate package of social programs and climate measures that encompasses the bulk of Biden’s agenda.
Leaving an event Tuesday, she declined to comment on Jayapal’s statement.
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Amid the wrangling over Biden’s agenda, Congress is facing two urgent deadlines with significant consequences for the U.S. economy: passing a stopgap spending measure to keep the government funded after the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year and raising the federal debt ceiling before the U.S. runs out of borrowing authority around Oct. 18. Republicans on Tuesday again blocked a Democratic bid to address the debt ceiling.
The path ahead was unclear for both the infrastructure bill and the rest of Biden’s agenda. There is some Republican support for the public works legislation, but there’s been no indication whether there would be enough GOP votes to overcome the loss of progressives.
“Everybody’s waiting for Pelosi to pick another rabbit out of the hat. So we’ll see,” Democratic Representative Jimmy Gomez of California said.
Biden was set to meet separately Tuesday with Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Both have objected to the size of the plan, among other issues, and their votes are crucial to getting it through the evenly divided Senate in the face of unified Republican opposition.
Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the chamber, said he hopes Biden “can work a miracle” and get a deal on a topline number this week.
“We have to bring both of them to a point where we have a consensus number,” Durbin said of Manchin and Sinema. “And I think the president’s naturally going to address that.”
The progressive caucus, which claims 95 members of the House, is using the infrastructure bill as leverage to ensure their priorities remain in the the social spending measure, which Democrats plan to push through under the reconciliation process to avert a Republican filibuster in the Senate.
“This agenda is not some fringe wish list: it is the president’s agenda, the Democratic agenda, and what we all promised voters when they delivered us the House, Senate, and White House.” Jayapal said in the statement.
Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said in a statement, “If the bipartisan infrastructure bill is passed on its own on Thursday, this will be in violation of an agreement that was reached within the Democratic Caucus in Congress. More importantly, it will end all leverage that we have to pass a major reconciliation bill.”
Representative David Cicilline said after a meeting of House Democrats the Congressional Progressive Caucus is “united” on linking the infrastructure bill with the larger package.
But he said they don’t necessarily need to be voted on at the same time -- as long as there is a “commitment to get it done with everything, everyone’s assurances in place.”
Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a member of House Democratic leadership, wouldn’t speculate on whether the infrastructure legislation could pass on Thursday if there is no deal on the topline spending figure for the rest of Biden’s agenda.
Pelosi told her members in a closed-door meeting on Monday that leaders prefer to reach an agreement with the Senate and White House before the House votes on the larger package, according to a lawmaker who attended the session.
The speaker, the lawmaker said, doesn’t want the legislation to go through a series of changes as it ping-pongs between the House and Senate.
Because of that, Pelosi said a vote on infrastructure can no longer wait until reconciliation is ready to be voted on by the Senate. Instead, the House will vote on that measure on Thursday. This was a shift from the tighter linkage of the two votes she had insisted on until then.
“This is what’s called hard,” said Vermont Representative Peter Welch, summing up what he sees at a pivotal time for the Biden presidency. “Ultimately the success of the Biden administration depends on getting the infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better Agenda passed.”
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