It’s now Pelosi’s move on bipartisan roads bill
The Senate’s approval of a massive infrastructure bill on Tuesday sends the proposal to the House — and confronts Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) with some tricky questions over how to proceed.
Already, Pelosi is facing competing pressure from moderate Democrats, who want a quick vote to notch a big bipartisan win, and liberals, who want to sit on the bill until the Senate passes an even larger social benefits package, a tactic that Pelosi has enthusiastically endorsed.
House leaders took the unexpected step Tuesday of cutting their seven-week recess short, with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announcing in a letter to lawmakers that the chamber will return to session on Aug. 23 to consider the larger Democratic package, assuming Senate adoption this week.
That increases the odds of House passage of the infrastructure bill sooner rather than later, but it doesn’t shut the door on another group of powerful voices urging the Speaker to reject the Senate infrastructure bill as it stands, and force conference talks between the two chambers.
That’s a risky strategy, given the long, delicate nature of the Senate negotiations and the necessity of Republican support for the final product.
But it’s also an approach that had powerful advocates, including Hoyer and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. DeFazio has been highly critical of Democrats in the Senate and White House for excluding climate provisions contained in his House-passed bill — an argument likely to gain steam in the wake of a new United Nations report warning of the existential threat posed by global warming.
“Unfortunately, this package falls short when it comes to addressing climate change like the existential threat it is, and the world’s scientists only reinforced the need for additional action in the IPCC’s latest alarming report,” DeFazio said Tuesday in a statement. He did not mention a conference but vowed to continue pressing for “transformational funding and policies” to reduce transportation pollution in phase two of the Democrats’ infrastructure plan.
Tuesday’s Senate vote approving the bipartisan agreement lends enormous momentum to the roughly $1 trillion infrastructure package, which stands among President Biden’s most pressing domestic priorities. And within minutes of the successful Senate vote, two groups of House moderates called on Pelosi and other Democratic leaders to bring the legislation to the floor immediately.
Eight moderates, led by Problem Solvers Caucus co-Chairman Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), wrote in a letter to Pelosi that “we must bring this bipartisan infrastructure bill to the House floor for a standalone vote” without any strings attached to the larger $3.5 trillion package.
“After years of waiting, we cannot afford unnecessary delays to finally deliver on a physical infrastructure package,” wrote the moderate Democrats, including Reps. Susie Lee (Nev.), Filemon Vela (Texas), Henry Cuellar (Texas) and Jared Golden (Maine).
And the leaders of the Blue Dog Democrats issued a statement echoing calls for a quick vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure package.
“The Co-Chairs of the Blue Dog Coalition remain opposed to any effort to unnecessarily delay consideration of these critical infrastructure investments, which will create good-paying jobs, keep American businesses competitive, and grow our nation’s economy,” wrote Democratic Reps. Tom O’Halleran (Ariz.), Ed Case (Hawaii), Stephanie Murphy (Fla.), Abigail Spanberger (Va.) and Kurt Schrader (Ore.).
Pelosi, however, has telegraphed other plans, making clear in recent weeks that she won’t stage a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill before the Senate adopts a second package amalgamating a long list of Democratic priorities, including an expansion of safety net programs, environmental protections, health care coverage and immigrant benefits.
The House would then vote afterward on both bills.
Speaking Tuesday at an event in San Francisco, Pelosi praised the Senate for passing the bill. But she quickly emphasized that it falls far short of what Biden and congressional Democrats intended when they launched their infrastructure push, and she dismissed calls to vote on infrastructure before the details of a reconciliation package emerge.
“Reconciliation will be a fuller reflection of our values,” she said.
Her message has heartened liberals in the caucus, who remain distrustful of Senate moderates and want to use the infrastructure vote as leverage to compel those senators to back the nascent second package. Because the social benefits legislation is slated to move under special budget rules, known as reconciliation, no Republican support will be needed to pass it through the upper chamber provided all 50 members of the Democratic caucus stick together.
“We have been clear for three months that we are not going to vote for the bipartisan package unless there is a reconciliation package that has passed, that includes sufficient funding for our five priorities,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “That has been our position for three months. It also became the position of the Speaker, and the Senate majority leader, and so we’re grateful for that.
“We need to deliver the entirety of these two packages together.”
Yet DeFazio has warned that crucial elements of his $715 billion water and transportation package, which the House passed last month, will be lost if they’re not incorporated into the bipartisan infrastructure bill since the budget rules don’t allow for policy changes to move through reconciliation. He’s sounding alarms that without those “transformational” changes — including an aggressive shift toward rail and mass transit — the Senate bill would simply ossify “highway-centric” policies that have contributed heavily to atmospheric carbon dioxide, thereby exacerbating the climate crisis.
“You can’t make significant policy — you can’t do the things I’m going to do to make states look at alternatives to just paving everything over — in the dead-guy rule. Robert Byrd would say no,” a frustrated DeFazio told reporters just before the recess. He was referring to budget rules named after the late West Virginia senator — rules the Transportation chairman abhors.
Hoyer, an institutionalist, has also endorsed the conference strategy. And in the wake of Tuesday’s Senate vote, some rank-and-file Democrats are piling on, wary that the House is being trampled by the upper chamber.
“The Senate #infrastructure bill is a step forward but leaves out many House priorities, including member-designated projects,” Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Pa.) tweeted. “I support @TransportDems Chairman @RepPeterDeFazio’s push for a House-Senate conference – the House is a co-equal chamber.”
Despite the grumbling from some liberals angry over the climate exclusions and a host of conservative Republicans objecting to the levels of new spending, the infrastructure package is expected to pass through the House with bipartisan support.
It’s unclear how many House Republicans would back the proposal. But Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), a prominent member of the Problem Solvers group, suggested it would be a significant tally.
“It’s a work in progress,” he said, “but we’ll be there.”