Democrats face full legislative plate and rising tensions

Democrats face full legislative plate and rising tensions
© Greg Nash

House Democratic leaders racing to advance President BidenJoe BidenGrant Woods, longtime friend of McCain and former Arizona AG, dies at 67 Sanders on Medicare expansion in spending package: 'Its not coming out' Glasgow summit raises stakes for Biden deal MORE’s sweeping domestic agenda are confronting a caucus that’s feuding caustically over the size, scope and strategic timing of the two-track legislation.

Liberals are insisting that the two key components of Biden’s agenda — a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that has Republican support and a Democratic-only $3.5 trillion social spending package — be passed in tandem to ensure the success of both. Moderates are demanding that the two measures be divorced so the lawmakers can stake better claims to their own bipartisan credentials.

Caught in the middle is Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSunday shows preview: CDC signs off on 'mix and match' vaccine boosters Buttigieg aims to use Tucker Carlson flap to spotlight paternity leave Judge to hear Trump's case against Jan. 6 committee in November MORE (D-Calif.), who has promised Democratic moderates that she'll bring a vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill on Sept. 27 — a plan being panned by caucus liberals, who are demanding simultaneous action on the larger package, and growing increasingly angry with their centrist colleagues.

ADVERTISEMENT

“You have a very small, destructive group of members who want to hold the entire country's agenda hostage for an arbitrary date,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezHouse progressives call on Biden to end all new fossil fuel permitting Schumer endorses democratic socialist India Walton in Buffalo mayor's race Toomey takes aim at Schumer's spending windfall for NYC public housing MORE (D-N.Y.) said Monday. “And it's not representative of the agenda of the caucus; it's not representative of the agenda of the president. And we need to stay focused on the original process that allowed us to move forward in the first place.”

Ocasio-Cortez drew a firm line in the sand, saying she “will not vote for the infrastructure bill unless we have reconciliation ready to go.” And by “ready to go,” she means that the reconciliation package must have been passed by both the House and Senate — a condition that seems increasingly implausible by Sept. 27.

The threat has teeth because roughly 50 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are also hinging their support for infrastructure on the passage of reconciliation, their leaders have said. That number would easily exceed the number of Republicans expected to cross the aisle and vote for the Senate-passed measure.

“I may be off by a few, but I believe the whip count in the Progressive Caucus is that at least half of the membership is willing to hold the line on that,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I'm more than happy to vote for the infrastructure bill, if we're able to figure out a way to bring it up in a concurrent fashion with reconciliation.”

The competing demands have posed a dilemma for Pelosi, who will be forced to reconcile the differences — both strategic and substantive — between the caucus’s warring factions if Democrats are to enact Biden’s priorities into law. No one thinks it will be easy.

“It's in the sausage-making stage,” said Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellWhich proposals will survive in the Democrats' spending plan? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Biden makes his pitch as tax questions mount Democrats see light at end of tunnel on Biden agenda MORE (D-Mich.), a member of Pelosi’s leadership team.

“It’s going to be a challenging couple of weeks,” moderate Rep. Jason CrowJason CrowThe United States must lead the way on artificial intelligence standards Colorado remap plan creates new competitive district Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Afghan evacuation still frustrates MORE (D-Colo.) told The Hill as he arrived at the Capitol on Monday.

“I do think we should get the infrastructure bill done, and I don’t think it excludes us from doing big and bold things on the reconciliation bill,” Crow added. “The Senate did its job to pass a bipartisan bill that had broad support and we need to get it done; we need to get shovels in the ground.”

The barriers facing Democratic leaders are hardly limited to the House.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSanders on Medicare expansion in spending package: 'Its not coming out' Glasgow summit raises stakes for Biden deal Sunday shows preview: CDC signs off on 'mix and match' vaccine boosters MORE (D-W.Va.) said Monday he doesn’t want to punt the reconciliation package until next year, but he is trying to pump the brakes amid concerns about government spending, inflation and rising taxes and gas prices.

“If there’s not enough clarity, then you need to get clarity,” Manchin told CNN. “Let’s wait and see, whatever we need. … Right now, inflation is still high and now we understand the natural gas prices are higher than they've ever been in West Virginia too, and people who end up paying the highest [are] the ones who can’t afford it.”

The Senate parliamentarian, meanwhile, threw Democrats a curveball on Sunday night when she ruled that Biden's plans for immigration reform — including a citizenship pathway for Dreamers — flout the Senate's budget guidelines, making those reforms ineligible to ride in the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package.

The ruling has sparked an outcry from liberals, some of whom are urging Democratic leaders to simply ignore it, while fueling progressive calls to eliminate the Senate filibuster.

“There are millions of people in this country that have elected Democrats to not only ensure that we're investing in our bridges and roads, but that people cast a vote so that millions of people could have the path to citizenship that they have earned and deserve. They are Americans,” said Ocasio-Cortez.

“We will have to charge forward and figure out a way to include a path to citizenship in the reconciliation package,” she added.

Those thorny obstacles have emerged while Democratic leaders are scrambling to fund the government to prevent a government shutdown Oct. 1 and raise the debt ceiling to stave off a government default sometime next month. On Monday, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocratic frustration with Sinema rises Schumer endorses democratic socialist India Walton in Buffalo mayor's race Guns Down America's leader says Biden 'has simply not done enough' on gun control MORE (D-N.Y.) said Democrats will link the funding bill and debt issue together, pass it in the House this week, and dare Senate Republicans to vote against it, risking a financial crisis and federal shutdown amid a pandemic.

Top-ranking House liberals are now publicly acknowledging what many Democrats are whispering privately: The price tag of the $3.5 trillion package will almost certainly need to be pared down to secure support from moderates who are balking at the size of the package.

Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said on CNN that the reconciliation package “may be $3.5 [trillion], it may be close to that or it may be closer to something else.” Budget Chairman John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthDemocrats at odds with Manchin over child tax credit provision The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Biden, Democrats dig into legislative specifics Two House Democrats to retire ahead of challenging midterms MORE (D-Ky.) predicted on Fox News the bill "will be somewhat less than $3.5 trillion."

ADVERTISEMENT

Both Clyburn and Yarmuth said they also anticipated the Sept. 27 vote on infrastructure that Pelosi had promised moderates last month could be delayed.

"I would say we're probably going to slip past the Sept. 27 date, sometime into early October would be my best guess," Yarmuth said on Fox.

But such a move would infuriate a band of nine moderates led by Rep. Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerModerates split over climate plans in Democrats' spending package Bleak midterm outlook shadows bitter Democratic battle Democrats downplay deadlines on Biden's broad spending plan MORE (D-N.J.) who struck a deal with Pelosi on the Sept. 27 deadline. The Gottheimer gang got Pelosi to commit in writing that she would not only bring the Senate-passed infrastructure package to the floor by that date but also “rally House Democratic support for its passage.”

The group reminded Pelosi of her August promise in a lengthy statement over the weekend, saying: “we want to thank the leadership team for their continued, strong commitment … to holding a vote on the historic bipartisan infrastructure bill by that date.”

“We cannot afford to delay a single day longer when our nation’s infrastructure is crumbling, climate change-induced calamities have just devastated communities across our country, and two million jobs a year are on the line,” the nine moderates wrote.

“A vote for the infrastructure bill is a vote for moms and dads who commute every day, for the hard-working men and women of labor, for small businesses, and for those who care about tackling climate change,” they added.