Progressives Aim to Hold Biden, Pelosi to Promise on Bigger Bill

Progressive Democrats threatened to withhold support for a bipartisan infrastructure bill to hold President Joe Biden and party leaders to their promise to move a more expansive spending bill through Congress at the same time.

“None of this matters unless we get the 50 votes we need for our reconciliation bill,” Representative Pramila Jayapal, the leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Thursday after Biden announced his support for a $579 billion plan for infrastructure spending drafted by a bipartisan group of 10 Senators.

The infrastructure package needs Republican support to get through the Senate, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are maneuvering to get the rest of Biden’s $4 trillion agenda -- and progressive priorities -- through Congress on a fast-track process known as reconciliation. That can clear the Senate with only the votes of the 50 senators who caucus with Democrats.

Jayapal, a Washington State Democrat, and other progressives have been critical of Biden’s offers to compromise in order get Republican support on infrastructure. And they have been wary of resistance by Democratic moderates, particularly Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, to progressive priorities on issues such as climate change, health care and social services.

“My focus is on what is a package we are all going to agree on,” she said. “And then I want to hear that we’ve got 50 Democratic senators. I want to hear them say, Manchin, Sinema, say that they are on board.”

Pelosi can afford to lose no more than four Democratic votes to pass legislation. She said Thursday the infrastructure plan won’t be taken up in the House until the broader reconciliation package clears the Senate. Biden affirmed his support for that approach.

“We’ve been pushing for weeks now over and over again with her, making it clear with her where the progressive caucus stands,” Jayapal said of Pelosi.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, said that she is “encouraged” by Pelosi’s commitment to the two-track process and views it as a “strong approach.” She expressed some reservations over details in the bipartisan bill but said “there’s potential to negotiate and work around them.”

Ocasio-Cortez indicated she’s more focused on getting the maximum in any reconciliation bill. She said the proposal from Senate Budget Chair Bernie Sanders for a $6 trillion reconciliation bill should be seriously considered because of the concessions Democrats had to make on infrastructure.

Manchin, who with Sinema was part of the bipartisan group that shaped the infrastructure plan, is among the Democrats who’ve expressed qualms about the size of Sanders’s proposal. Ocasio-Cortez dismissed that.

“If he wants to get on this bipartisan bill he’s going to have to give a little on the reconciliation bill,” Ocasio-Cortez said, referring to Manchin. “And I think that the give here is for us to do the most possible for the most people. And so I think that, that $6 trillion figure that Senator Sanders spoke of is a fine one.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.