Democrats warn leadership against excluding House from infrastructure talks

Democrats warn leadership against excluding House from infrastructure talks
© Greg Nash

A group of more than 30 Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, including Chairman Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioHouse Democrats grow frustrated as they feel ignored by Senate On The Money: Bipartisan infrastructure group says it's still on track after Senate setback | House Democrats want input on bipartisan plan | McConnell warns GOP won't vote to raise debt ceiling OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Western wildfires prompt evacuations in California, Oregon| House passes bill requiring EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water | Granholm announces new building energy codes MORE (Ore.), warned party leaders on Wednesday against trying to force House members to rubber-stamp any bipartisan infrastructure package negotiated by the Senate without any changes.

In a letter addressed to Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse rejects GOP effort to seat McCarthy's picks for Jan. 6 panel GOP brawls over Trump on eve of first Jan. 6 hearing Five things to watch as Jan. 6 panel begins its work MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck Schumer84 mayors call for immigration to be included in reconciliation Senate infrastructure talks on shaky grounds Could Andrew Cuomo — despite scandals — be re-elected because of Trump? MORE (D-N.Y.), the group of Democrats called for greater inclusion of policies in a $760 billion transportation funding bill that the House passed earlier this month and argued the emerging Senate proposal doesn't go far enough.

"Many of these critical reforms are not included or have not been fully addressed through the Senate bipartisan infrastructure process. We should reject any effort to categorically exclude the thorough, transparent, and transformational process undertaken by the House," they wrote.

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The 31 Democrats ticked off a series of key provisions in the House-passed bill, titled the INVEST in America Act, including its investments in promoting electric vehicle charging infrastructure, expanding passenger rail and overhauling federal safety measures for roadways. The package also includes funding for nearly 1,500 specific infrastructure projects, known colloquially as earmarks, in lawmakers' districts.

They called for reconciling any Senate-passed bill with the House infrastructure proposal as part of a formal conference committee, rather than having the House simply clear whatever comes out of the upper chamber.

"We must seize this opportunity to reform and rebuild our transportation system to meet the challenges of today and reject efforts to sacrifice this urgently needed work simply to expedite the passage of a status quo bill," they wrote.

House Democratic leaders can only afford up to four defections among their thin majority and still pass legislation without any support from Republicans.

The public missive to leadership from members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee underscores the growing frustration among Democrats as they wait on the Senate to produce a deal.

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House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerMcCarthy mocks Cheney and Kinzinger as 'Pelosi Republicans' Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act Democrats brace for slog on Biden's spending plan MORE (D-Md.) said on Tuesday that the focus is on the Senate during the infrastructure talks because of the GOP filibuster threat that makes it hard for Democrats to advance many of their own priorities. The majority party in the House, meanwhile, can move unilaterally.

"I don't think the White House is ignoring the House," Hoyer told reporters. "I think that House members suffer from the perception in the White House and in the country that, well, the House can pass something. And I think that's accurate. But there's great doubt as to whether the Senate is still a body that can act in a democratic way."

Hoyer said that also means it could be difficult for the House to amend any painstakingly negotiated Senate agreement.

"Neither the Senate nor the House likes a situation where the House passes a bill and says, 'Take it or leave it, you can't change it.' And the House doesn't like the Senate saying the same thing," Hoyer said. "But we'll have to deal with reality and so we will have to make a judgment at some point in time whether or not we can get what we want, what we think the best is for the American people, which will include dealing with climate in a very significant, effective way, or moving ahead on infrastructure, which is absolutely essential, without that in there."

A group of bipartisan senators is still negotiating a final agreement after proposing a $1.2 trillion framework last month in coordination with the White House.

Republicans on Wednesday blocked the Senate from formally beginning debate on the bipartisan infrastructure plan while negotiators continue discussions, although they say they're close to finalizing a deal.