Pelosi Summons Democrats as Rifts Imperil Biden Agenda
(Bloomberg) -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi called a meeting of House Democrats Monday as she sought to prevent an intra-party dispute from derailing her strategy for shepherding President Joe Biden’s $4.1 trillion economic agenda through Congress.
The two-track approach to enacting Biden’s expansive domestic plans made early progress in the Senate but faces a crucial test this week in the House, where it hinges on the fractious Democratic majority moving largely in lockstep.
At issue is the timing of the House’s consideration of the $3.5 trillion budget resolution and a separate $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill. Progressives are demanding the House take up the resolution, essentially a blueprint that encompasses many of their priorities, and hold off passing the infrastructure legislation. Moderates want the infrastructure package passed now. Neither side appeared willing to budge by early Monday.
Pelosi emphasized the stakes in open letters to fellow House Democrats over the weekend and again on Monday.
“We must not squander our Congressional Democratic Majorities and jeopardize the once-in-a-generation opportunity to create historic change to meet the needs of working families,” she wrote on Monday.
The Democrats’ meeting is scheduled just before the House is set to take a procedural vote Monday night on rules for debate on three measures: the budget resolution that sets up work on a Democrats-only package of social spending and tax increases; the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate; and a separate voting-rights measure.
Pelosi’s plan then would have the House adopt the budget resolution and pass the voting-rights legislation on Tuesday, but leave the infrastructure bill until the Senate completes the $3.5 trillion spending package outlined by the resolution later in the year.
The White House on Monday reiterated its support for Pelosi and her plan to delay a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill until after the broader budget package is completed.
“The president supports the speaker’s proposed path forward,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
Psaki also signaled that Biden would get involved in House negotiations -- as he was with senators earlier this month -- if it would be constructive.
“He also is certainly familiar with the, the leadership of Speaker Pelosi and her ability to get things done,” Psaki added.
Delaying House passage of the infrastructure legislation keeps Pelosi’s commitment to progressives, who want to use the bill as leverage to ensure the Senate addresses their priorities on social programs and climate policy in the spending package.
But it’s sparked a rebellion by a group of nine moderates, led by New Jersey Representative Josh Gottheimer, who threatened in an Aug. 12 letter to Pelosi to withhold support for the budget resolution until the House passed the infrastructure bill and sent it to Biden for his signature.
On Monday, Gottheimer indicated that House Democrats could reach a deal paving the way for House passage of the infrastructure bill this week.
“I think we’ll figure it out because everyone recognizes we’ve got to get infrastructure done,” Gottheimer said on CNBC.
Oklahoma Representative Tom Cole, the top Republican on the Rules Committee, questioned Pelosi’s decision to “browbeat and blackmail” Democrats.
“Why hold up a bipartisan bill that will pass?” Cole asked.
While there is some GOP support for the infrastructure legislation, which easily passed the Senate on Aug. 10, House Republicans are expected to vote en masse against the budget resolution. With a 220 to 212 majority, Pelosi can afford no more than three Democratic defections if all members are present and voting.
“Any delay to passing the budget resolution threatens the timetable for delivering the historic progress and the transformative vision that Democrats share,” Pelosi wrote in her letter. She set a deadline to pass the spending measure and the infrastructure bill by Oct. 1.
Pelosi and the White House have kept up a pressure campaign to keep the strategy on track. Brian Deese, Biden’s director of the National Economic Council, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm were among the administration officials who leaned on the moderates and others.
Biden held a virtual meeting with House Democratic leaders and key committee chairs last week to emphasize they were united on the strategy for moving forward with his agenda. On Saturday, the White House released a statement reiterating Biden’s support for Pelosi’s plan to move on the budget resolution.
Pelosi also reached into her legislative bag of tricks by wrapping the voting rights legislation -- which most Democrats back -- into Monday’s procedural vote to advance the budget resolution and the infrastructure. That means they all have to either advance, or fail, together, raising the political risks for the moderate group.
Various Democratic groups and outside organizations also are weighing in. The AFL-CIO urged the House to adopt the budget resolution now and pass the infrastructure bill later in order to assure that Congress can complete work on the much larger spending package.
On the other side Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a pivotal vote in the Senate, backed the moderate group, saying in a statement that the House should pass the infrastructure legislation.
“It would send a terrible message to the American people if this bipartisan bill is held hostage,” he said.
House and Senate committees are already at work trying to craft portions of the spending package that will fill in the details of the budget resolution on climate change, tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy, tuition-free community college, a Medicare expansion and more.
Biden and the Democrats still face challenges ahead in the Senate.
They are using a process called reconciliation that will allow them to pass the expansive economic agenda on their own. But it’s not clear that every Democrat is on board with the $3.5 trillion size of the plan, even though they all voted for the fiscal framework in early August.
Some, like Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, are balking at the price tag or the size of the tax hikes Biden has proposed to help pay for it. Manchin has also said he disagrees with Democrats who want to target fossil fuels, setting up tension for a key piece of the legislation.
Other intra-party fissures could emerge as the details become clear, and if the Senate parliamentarian effectively jettisons any portions that can’t meet strict rules to avoid a GOP filibuster.
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