House Democrats grow frustrated as they feel ignored by Senate
House Democrats’ frustration is mounting as they wait for the Senate to act on infrastructure legislation and on the ever-growing pile of bills they’ve passed that are stalled in the face of the filibuster.
This week marked 200 days since the start of the current session of Congress, in which House Democrats have passed dozens of bills ranging from pandemic relief, expanded background checks for gun sales, voting rights, labor union protections, immigration reform, addressing the gender pay gap and infrastructure investments.
Yet all but a handful of those bills are gathering dust in the Senate, where Republicans can use the filibuster to block them despite Democrats’ control of Congress.
And when it comes to infrastructure, many House Democrats are irritated by the prospect of potentially being asked to rubber-stamp whatever legislation comes out of the delicate bipartisan Senate negotiations.
A group of 31 Democrats, led by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (Ore.), publicly warned Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). this week that they’re “concerned about suggestions that the House may take up any Senate product without input or modification.”
DeFazio and other Democrats on the Transportation and Infrastructure panel called for greater inclusion of policies in the $760 billion bill the House passed earlier this month to invest in transportation and physical infrastructure projects, arguing that “we should reject any effort to categorically exclude the thorough, transparent, and transformational process undertaken by the House.”
The sense of feeling ignored by the Senate is making House Democrats, particularly progressives, grow ever more exasperated with the bipartisan talks that continue to drag on after a group of senators agreed on an initial framework with the White House a month ago.
And more broadly, it’s making Democrats feel like their flurry of legislative activity in the last six months has been futile.
“It is frustrating for members of the House of Representatives to work very hard in committee and on the floor to pass legislation they believe is in the best interests of our country and the best interests of our people and to see a Senate who somehow is hoist on the petard of the sentiment that you have to have a supermajority to pass legislation that the House sends them or supermajority of legislation they propose themselves,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
Hoyer added that it’s not just the lawmakers passing bills who are weary of the Senate becoming what he described as “the graveyard for all ideas and legislation that a minority believes is not supportable.”
“I think it undermines people’s faith in democracy, undermines the people’s belief that their will can be manifested by their representatives in the House and in the Senate,” Hoyer said. “The American people are getting frustrated, and I don’t blame them.”
Even so, centrist Democrats in the Senate remain resistant to eliminating the filibuster while arguing it incentivizes compromise and prevents whiplash legislating if the chamber changes partisan control. President Biden, a former senator himself, also said this week that getting rid of the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster would likely backfire.
“There’s no reason to protect it other than you’re going to throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done,” Biden said during a CNN town hall.
Senators are hoping to unveil a bipartisan deal on physical infrastructure investments as soon as Monday after insisting in recent days that they are close to finalizing the outstanding issues.
Senate Democrats also have yet to pass a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation measure they’ll use to evade a GOP filibuster to implement other parts of their agenda, such as paid family leave, lowering prescription drug prices, free community college and addressing climate change.
Democrats used the same budget reconciliation process earlier this year to pass their $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package — their most significant legislative accomplishment to date during Biden’s presidency — and circumvent Senate Republicans in one of the few exemptions to the filibuster.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the Congressional Progressive Caucus leader, said it’s past time for the Senate to get moving, arguing that it’s futile for Democrats to attempt a deal with Republicans who continually obstruct their agenda.
“I think it’s unacceptable that we’ve waited this long,” Jayapal said. “I respect [that] Leader Schumer has got to be able to pull together 50 votes. But at the end of the day, time’s a wastin’.”
“It’s not the patience of progressives I’m worried about,” she added. “It’s the urgency of people’s need that I’m worried about. It’s the urgency of the fires that are burning up the West, it’s the urgency of people who don’t have health care, and it’s the urgency of people who can’t — women who can’t — get back in the workforce because they don’t have child care. That’s what we should be focusing on, and that’s why we feel it’s so essential to get this done quickly.”
In a nod to her members’ concerns, Pelosi reiterated on Thursday that the House won’t take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill until the Senate also passes the larger party-line reconciliation package.
“While we are eager for it to pass, we will not be taking it up until the Senate passes the reconciliation bill. And the timing of that, of course, is up to the Senate,” Pelosi said.
Hoyer predicted that Democrats will face pressure from the Senate not to make any changes once the infrastructure measures reach the House, likely leading to consternation in their ranks.
“I don’t think the House is gonna be very happy with a take it or leave it bill,” Hoyer said.
But he acknowledged that “ultimately we will deal with the art of the possible, not the art of the preferable.”
Mike Lillis contributed.