Liberal House Democrats urge Schumer to stick to infrastructure ultimatum

Liberal House Democrats urge Schumer to stick to infrastructure ultimatum
© Greg Nash

Progressive House Democrats, frustrated with the pace of the infrastructure negotiations in the upper chamber, are urging Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden MORE (D-N.Y.) to stand by his deadline for reaching a deal.

As the bipartisan talks were crawling along last week, Schumer delivered an ultimatum by setting up an infrastructure vote for this Wednesday, deal or none. The timeline reflected growing Democratic concerns that Republicans are simply trying to block huge new investments in infrastructure — and deny President BidenJoe BidenHouse Democrat threatens to vote against party's spending bill if HBCUs don't get more federal aid Overnight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Haitians stuck in Texas extend Biden's immigration woes MORE a major victory — by delaying the process indefinitely.

As the deadline approaches, the liberals' patience is all but exhausted. And they're calling on Schumer to dismiss the temptation to extend the negotiations window and instead prepare to go it alone. 

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"They've been killing time for months," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOn The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Pelosi plows full speed ahead on jam-packed agenda Photos of the Week: Renewable energy, gymnast testimonies and a Met Gala dress Ocasio-Cortez, Bush push to add expanded unemployment in .5T spending plan MORE (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday. "It's starting to get to a point where this bipartisan effort is seeming to serve less on investing in our infrastructure, and more the end of just delaying action on infrastructure. It has been enough."

Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalDemocrats urge Biden to commute sentences of 4K people on home confinement Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Schumer: Dem unity will happen eventually; Newsom prevails MORE (D-Wash.), head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, is piling on.

"Hopefully this vote is going to be it," she said. "I hope Sen. Schumer sticks to that and says, 'This is the deadline; if we don't reach cloture, we're moving on.' Because it's been too long, and we've wasted several months."

The frustration arrives as Democrats are racing to adopt Biden's ambitious infrastructure agenda — a massive, legacy-defining wish-list of public works spending — before year's end. The proposal is currently split into two pieces: the first, being negotiated with moderate Republicans, features $1.2 trillion in funding for physical infrastructure projects like roads, bridges and water systems; the second, which is expected to win no GOP support, is an enormous $3.5 trillion package of social benefit programs, immigration reforms and environmental projects.

Biden had won the White House on promises to reach across the aisle, and he — along with moderate Democrats in both chambers — is fighting to secure a big bipartisan win with the first package. Yet the talks have dragged on without a breakthrough, as the sides have haggled over how to cover the substantial costs.

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On Tuesday, centrist Senate Republicans called on Schumer to delay Wednesday's vote to give the negotiators more time to iron out the remaining differences.

"We’re making significant progress,” said Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsWelcome to ground zero of climate chaos A tale of two chambers: Trump's power holds in House, wanes in Senate Bipartisan blip: Infrastructure deal is last of its kind without systemic change MORE (R-Maine). Those pleas are falling on deaf ears among House liberals, however, who are suspicious of the protracted debate — and the Republicans' motivations in extending it.

Jayapal has warned for weeks that Democrats will never find 10 Senate Republicans to break ranks with GOP leaders and defeat an infrastructure filibuster. As Senate Democrats struggle to secure those 10 votes, she's approaching a "told-you-so" moment.

"They're losing credulity at this point. I mean, it's been months, and all of us have stood back waiting for them to deliver. But nothing's being delivered. ... I feel like we're still waiting for Godot," she said. "Anybody who believes that Republicans are going to come along, at this point — it's pretty hard to make that argument."

The progressives are emphasizing that the failure of the infrastructure bill in the Senate on Wednesday would not seal its fate. That's because Democrats could simply take their favored provisions from the $1.2 trillion bill and add them to the second package, which is expected to move by a budget process allowing Democrats to pass it with a simple majority. Indeed, that appears to be their plan.

"I think we have no choice but to do that," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), chairman of the powerful Rules Committee.