Moderates vow to block budget to secure infrastructure funding

A group of House moderates is throwing a wrench in the Democrats' two-prong economic agenda, threatening to block a multitrillion-dollar budget bill until party leaders enact the Senate's bipartisan infrastructure package, according to a letter obtained by The Hill.

Behind Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNews media's sausage-making obsession helps no one Klobuchar confident spending bill will be finished before Christmas Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season MORE (D-Calif.), House Democrats had intended to return to Washington the week of Aug. 23, interrupting their long summer recess in order to pass the budget blueprint, which was approved by the Senate on Wednesday.

That budget resolution authorizes Democrats to begin crafting their $3.5 trillion package of economic priorities — including an expansion of social safety net programs, health care coverage, immigrant rights and environmental protections — which is expected to be considered by both chambers in the fall.

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Only afterward, Pelosi has said, will the House vote on the Senate's $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which was also passed by the upper chamber earlier this week.

A group of nine moderate Democrats, however, have another design in mind.

In the letter to be sent to Pelosi on Friday, the centrist lawmakers maintain that their districts simply can't wait for the infrastructure spending to go out the door. They're demanding that the Senate's bipartisan bill be adopted this month, or they won't support the budget resolution — a threat with real teeth given the Democrats' slim House majority and the Republicans' unanimous opposition to the Senate's budget bill.

“The country is clamoring for infrastructure investment and commonsense, bipartisan solutions," reads the letter. "With the livelihoods of hardworking American families at stake, we simply can’t afford months of unnecessary delays and risk squandering this one-in-a-century, bipartisan infrastructure package. It’s time to get shovels in the ground and people to work.”

The New York Times was first to report on the Democrats' letter.

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The letter was spearheaded by Rep. Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerFive takeaways: House passes Biden's sweeping benefits bill Dems brace for score on massive Biden bill Democrats bullish they'll reach finish line this week MORE (D-N.J.), a co-chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, and endorsed by eight other moderate Democrats: Reps. Henry Cuellar (Texas), Jim CostaJames (Jim) Manuel CostaProposed California maps put incumbents in jeopardy Democrats bullish they'll reach finish line this week Moderate Democrats press for score before vote on Biden package MORE (Calif.), Kurt SchraderWalter (Kurt) Kurt SchraderFive takeaways: House passes Biden's sweeping benefits bill House passes giant social policy and climate measure Democrats press toward vote on massive Biden bill MORE (Ore.), Filemon VelaFilemon Bartolome VelaDemocrats brace for flood of retirements after Virginia rout Showdown: Pelosi dares liberals to sink infrastructure bill Vicente Gonzalez to run in different Texas district after Abbott signs new map MORE (Texas), Vicente Gonzalez (Texas), Jared Golden (Maine), Ed CaseEdward (Ed) CaseMORE (Hawaii) and Carolyn Bourdeaux (Ga.).

The threat poses a dilemma for Pelosi, President BidenJoe BidenDearborn office of Rep. Debbie Dingell vandalized Pfizer to apply for COVID-19 booster approval for 16- and 17-year-olds: report Coronavirus variant raises fresh concerns for economy MORE and other party leaders because there's a separate, parallel ultimatum coming from House liberals, who say they won't vote for the infrastructure bill without the Senate first passing the $3.5 trillion social benefits package — a strategy Pelosi has endorsed. 

“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,” Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalFive reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season 91 House Dems call on Senate to expand immigration protections in Biden spending bill Democrats plow ahead as Manchin yo-yos MORE (D-Wash.), who heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters earlier this month.

With liberals vowing to oppose infrastructure without the budget and moderates vowing to oppose the budget without infrastructure, it's unclear how Pelosi intends to proceed.

A senior Democratic aide downplayed the threat Friday morning, noting that the centrist letter signers represent a tiny fraction of a House Democratic Caucus that otherwise supports the two-track voting schedule laid out by the Speaker.

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"There are not sufficient votes to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill this month," the aide said in an email. "This is 9. There are dozens upon dozens who will vote against the [bipartisan infrastructure bill] unless it’s after the Senate passes reconciliation."

The aide also highlighted Pelosi's remarks to her caucus during a conference call earlier this week, when she told her troops that the voting schedule reflected "the consensus" of the House Democrats.

“The president has said he’s all for the bipartisan approach ... bravo! That’s progress, but it ain’t the whole vision," she said. “The votes in the House and Senate depend on us having both bills.”

Updated at 8:57 a.m.