Congress shows signs of movement on stalled Biden agenda

After weeks of impasse, there were signs on Monday night that the dam was beginning to break on 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 multitrillion-dollar domestic agenda. 

Democrats don’t have much time to spare after 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.) set a Thursday vote on a bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, which some liberals are vowing to oppose without more movement on Biden’s $3.5 trillion social spending and climate package. 

But on Monday, three days ahead of that key roll call, the legislative gears were beginning to turn.

ADVERTISEMENT

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalWhich proposals will survive in the Democrats' spending plan? Proposals to reform supports for parents face chopping block Democrats see light at end of tunnel on Biden agenda MORE (D-Wash.) spoke by phone and texted several key moderates, including Sen. Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaSunday shows preview: CDC signs off on 'mix and match' vaccine boosters Buttigieg aims to use Tucker Carlson flap to spotlight paternity leave Biden injects new momentum into filibuster fight MORE (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas). Biden held a conference call with the two top Democrats on Capitol Hill, 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.) 

And some liberals, who have been the driving force demanding a robust package expanding safety net programs and tackling climate change, began floating numbers much lower than the $3.5 trillion initially sought by Pelosi and House Democrats. 

“I've heard [$2.5 trillion] could conceivably do it. But we've got to know what's behind these numbers. That's just far more important than just throwing numbers around like they have inherent meaning,” said Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William Huffman Ban on new offshore drilling must stay in the Build Back Better Act Biden leaves meeting saying 'it doesn't matter' when bill is passed Democratic lawmaker calls 'live-leaker' a schmuck and a coward MORE (D-Calif.), who has been among the liberal lawmakers demanding a robust social spending bill. 

“Some of my colleagues have just thrown that out, that they think that we might be able to get the core of what we need at [$2.5 trillion],” Huffman said.

There was also notable movement Monday on the initial liberal demand by lawmakers that the larger social spending bill must pass through the Senate before House progressives will support the bipartisan infrastructure bill on Thursday. Democratic leaders have been scrambling to secure a commitment from centrist Sens. 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.) and Sinema that they’ll support some version of the social spending bill. Some progressives such as Huffman said such a gesture would be enough to win their vote on infrastructure. 

“You could either have a Senate-approved bill, or you could have a public, very specific commitment from Manchin and Sinema,” Huffman said. “Either of those two things I think would be enough. But I'm very skeptical that we could get either of them by Thursday.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Yet other progressives such as Jayapal are sticking to their original demand, threatening to vote down the infrastructure bill later this week unless the Senate first passes the social benefits package, which party leaders intend to move through a special budget process, known as reconciliation, that sidesteps a GOP filibuster. 

“What we have said is we need the entire reconciliation bill,” Jayapal said. “Some framework that can still take another several months to get done, that the Senate hasn't agreed to, that hasn't been voted on, is not going to do it for us.”

On Monday night, the House kicked off debate on the Senate-passed bill to fund roads, bridges, waterways and internet access. Floor debate is expected to resume on Tuesday, with the vote on passage not until at least Thursday, when some surface transportation programs are set to expire.

In a special meeting of House Democrats earlier Monday, Pelosi rallied her rank-and-file members behind the infrastructure and Democrats-only reconciliation packages. 

“Unity!” replied Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben Raskin'You're a joke': Greene clashes with Cheney, Raskin on House floor Cheney becomes GOP's Trump foil Jan. 6 panel votes to hold Bannon in contempt MORE (D-Md.), when asked about Pelosi’s message to the caucus. “Unity and purpose.”

However, the details of her message were more nuanced.

Pelosi conceded that the final reconciliation package would not be ready by Thursday’s vote on the bipartisan infrastructure framework (BIF), despite previous promises to progressives that the two bills would move in tandem. Pelosi said that the Senate’s demand that the $3.5 trillion figure “had to come down” scrambled the timing. 

“It all changed, so our approach had to change,” Pelosi told her members, according to a source in the room. 

“We had to accommodate the changes that were being necessitated,” she added. “And we cannot be ready to say, ‘Until the Senate passed the [reconciliation] bill, we can’t do BIF.’” 

Meanwhile, some of the centrist Democrats who have been pushing for a vote as soon as possible on the bipartisan infrastructure bill showed willingness to work with their progressive counterparts. 

Those centrists, who originally secured a commitment from Pelosi last month to vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill by Monday, appeared sanguine about the three-day delay to Thursday as the talks over the social spending package continue.

"It's a real challenge to have all of those details, but we're all committed to trying to work as hard as we can to get there,” Rep. Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyDemocratic retirements could make a tough midterm year even worse On The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Climate divides conservative Democrats in reconciliation push MORE (D-Fla.), a leader of the Blue Dog Coalition, said of making progress on the social spending package. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“But it's critically important that we pass the infrastructure bill because I think it will provide us the momentum that we need to get the reconciliation bill across the finish line,” she added.

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.), the Problem Solvers Caucus co-chairman and leader of a group of centrists who secured the original agreement on the bipartisan bill with Pelosi last month, expressed confidence the vote wouldn’t be punted past Thursday.

“I have no concerns about a delay,” Gottheimer said.

Despite the signs of movement, progressives’ impatience with centrists was on full display as much of the social spending package remains in question.

“It is saddening to see them use Republican talking points. We obviously didn't envision having Republicans as part of our party,” Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarDozens of Democrats call for spending bill to pass 'climate test' House progressives call on Biden to end all new fossil fuel permitting Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the American Petroleum Institute — Democrats address reports that clean energy program will be axed MORE (D-Minn.), the Congressional Progressive Caucus whip, said of Manchin and Sinema. “And I hope that they will understand that Democrats need to be united behind the president's agenda, and we need to have urgent conversations on how to get this agenda done.”

It wasn’t the only internal sniping to surface on Monday. Rep. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenDemocratic retirements could make a tough midterm year even worse Pandora Papers prompt lawmakers to push for crackdown on financial 'enablers' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats still at odds over Biden agenda MORE (D-Tenn.), a staunch liberal, urged his fellow progressives to support the bipartisan infrastructure bill on Thursday.

ADVERTISEMENT

“That would be the wise thing for the progressives to do,” he said. 

Making progress on Biden’s infrastructure and social spending agenda by Thursday isn’t the only cliff lawmakers are approaching this week. Lawmakers must also pass a spending bill by Thursday night to avoid a government shutdown as well as act to prevent a debt default in the next few weeks.

But there was some acknowledgement that the self-imposed Thursday deadline may be helping lawmakers kickstart negotiations that otherwise might have dragged on even longer.

“I think without particular deadlines, it's hard for us to urgently move the conversation along. If things are indefinite, then people don't work with urgency,” Omar said.

Updated 10:28 p.m.