Pelosi breaks bad news to moderates: No vote on infrastructure this month
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made clear to rank-and-file Democrats on Wednesday that the House will not take up the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure package this month, rejecting calls from moderates in her caucus who are demanding a quick vote.
The announcement, in her first call with House Democrats since the successful Senate vote on Tuesday, was largely expected. Pelosi, since the infrastructure talks launched in earnest months ago, has adopted the position that the House will not turn to the $1 trillion infrastructure package until the Senate passes a much larger $3.5 trillion package chock full of Democratic social benefits programs and climate initiatives.
That strategy has been championed by progressive lawmakers in the House who don’t quite trust some of the centrist Democrats in the Senate and want to use the bipartisan infrastructure bill as leverage — critics say as hostage — to ensure the larger $3.5 trillion package clears the upper chamber.
Pelosi, during Wednesday’s call, leaned on the sentiments of those liberals in making her case to push the infrastructure vote until later in the year.
“I am not freelancing. This is the consensus,” she said, according to a source familiar with her message.
Pelosi praised both the Senate and President Biden for reaching a bipartisan agreement on infrastructure — a massive spending proposal that the Senate passed in a 69-30 vote, garnering support from 19 Republicans and all 50 members of the Democratic caucus.
But the Speaker has also been clear that the infrastructure package alone is insufficient to tackle the challenges facing the country when it comes to economic inequality, health care disparities, workers rights and the warming planet. It’s those issues that Democrats will address in the second legislative package, which is expected to move under special budget rules, known as reconciliation, which preclude the Republicans’ filibuster powers and allow Senate Democrats to pass the measure with a simple majority.
The Senate passed the budget blueprint early Wednesday morning, setting the stage for the $3.5 trillion package, and the House will come back to Washington the week of Aug. 23 to adopt that Senate-passed budget. The $3.5 trillion package would include funding for expanded child tax credits, community college, universal pre-kindergarten and an expansion of Medicare to include dental and vision coverage.
“The president has said he’s all for the bipartisan approach … bravo! That’s progress, but it ain’t the whole vision,” Pelosi said on the call. “The votes in the House and Senate depend on us having both bills.”
The message is sure to disappoint moderate Democrats, including members of the Blue Dogs and Problem Solvers Caucus, who have urged party leaders for weeks to stage a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill as soon as it arrives from the Senate. Many of those centrists are facing tough reelection campaigns and want the opportunity to claim a big bipartisan victory during the long summer recess.
“If we’ve got $1 trillion in infrastructure spending sitting there, I think we should vote on it,” Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) said just before the August break.
On the Wednesday call, Pelosi also defended Senate Democrats’ decision to leave a debt ceiling hike out of their $3.5 trillion budget plan.
She noted that raising the debt ceiling does not allocate new federal spending but merely empowers the federal government to make good on the spending obligations Congress has already approved in years past.
Pelosi also pointed out that Democrats had voted to raise the debt ceiling when former President Trump was in office. Republicans, she argued, should do the same for Biden.
“Understand this, my colleagues, this is Trump’s money. … This is paying for his tax scam, this is paying for COVID. [It’s] a responsibility we all share,” Pelosi told her colleagues. “This is about money already spent.
“For Republicans to say they will never do it is typically irresponsible.”