Democrats play game of chicken over Biden agenda
Democratic leaders are doubling down on their strategy to advance President Biden’s domestic agenda next week, daring a bloc of centrists in their party to object and risk derailing trillions in federal spending on infrastructure projects and social programs.
During a private conference call Tuesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) strongly urged rank-and-file Democrats to vote on a rule Monday night that would allow Democrats to move forward on their $3.5 trillion budget resolution, the $1.2 trillion Senate-passed infrastructure package and a voting rights bill named for the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).
However, the vote on the combined rule is only a procedural vote to greenlight the House floor process for considering those bills. While the House is expected to subsequently vote on adoption of the budget and passage of the voting rights bill, it could be months before the House votes on passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Democratic leaders made the case to their members during the Tuesday call that both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and budget resolution that kicks off the process for the $3.5 trillion spending package to expand social safety net programs need to move in tandem to accomplish the party’s agenda — not one at a time, as a handful of centrists are demanding.
“My premise is, we’re going to do ‘all of the above.’ It’s clear from the Senate, the House and the White House that reconciliation would be part of that ‘all of the above’ to realize the ‘Build Back Better’ agenda. I hope all will vote for the rule on Monday night,” Hoyer said, according to a source on the call.
“Remember the psychology of consensus. We are in this together, we have the leader of our party and we are pursuing the attainment of that agenda on behalf of the people, for the people,” he said.
By next Tuesday evening, Hoyer said, the House could pass both the voting rights legislation and the budget plan that would pave the way for Democrats this fall to pass Biden’s $3.5 trillion reconciliation package without the need for any Republican votes.
Yet it’s unclear how exactly Hoyer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) plan to win over a band of nine moderate House Democrats, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), who are vowing to defeat the budget resolution unless leadership immediately calls a vote on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package that the Senate passed on a vote of 69-30 last week.
Because of the narrow margin of her majority, Pelosi can only afford to lose three Democrats on the budget vote. But in this game of chicken, the Speaker is refusing to back down and betting that the moderates — or at least a handful of them — blink first and allow the budget to advance.
In a brief exchange Tuesday, Gottheimer told The Hill his group is standing firm with its demand that Pelosi bring the infrastructure bill to the floor first, which would secure a quick, bipartisan victory for Biden.
“We should immediately vote on infrastructure and then we should move to consideration of the budget resolution, just like in the Senate. Bernie Sanders, 50 Democrats in the Senate supported that approach. So we should take the same approach and get those shovels in the ground and get jobs,” Gottheimer said in a phone interview Tuesday.
“The folks in my district, they’re pretty clear that we can’t afford to wait months for this and to risk this bipartisan, once-in-a-generation infrastructure legislation,” he said.
The White House backed Democratic leadership’s strategy on Tuesday in a move that adds more pressure on centrists to fall in line.
“The president strongly supports the rule, which provides the mechanism to bring the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the Build Back Better plan, and voting rights legislation to the floor. All three are critical elements of the president’s agenda, and we hope that every Democratic member supports this effort to advance these important legislative actions,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said.
Up to 40 House Republicans are prepared to vote for the infrastructure package, GOP sources said. And Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), who serves as co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus alongside Gottheimer, said he believes those Republican votes would be enough to offset the number of progressives who have vowed to oppose the infrastructure package until Congress sends the $3.5 trillion package to Biden’s desk.
If the bipartisan infrastructure package “is stand-alone, there is significant Republican support,” Fitzpatrick told Fox News. If the infrastructure package “is linked to any other bill or held up for months, that support would fall apart.”
Hoyer announced last week that the House would interrupt its annual August recess and return to session on Monday to take up the budget resolution.
And while lawmakers are in the Capitol next week, Democrats will also take up legislation named after Lewis that would restore a provision of the Voting Rights Act, which required localities with a history of voter discrimination to obtain clearance from the Justice Department before making changes to voting laws. That provision was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 in the Shelby County v. Holder decision.
Democratic leaders indicated Tuesday that they hope to finish their business expeditiously — as soon as within 24 hours — so that members can promptly return to their districts for previously scheduled events with constituents.
— Updated 5:07 p.m.
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