House appears poised to pull infrastructure vote amid stubborn stalemate
House Democrats appear poised to miss a second vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill this week, highlighting the stubborn stalemate over the larger social benefits package at the core of President Biden’s agenda.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has scheduled the infrastructure vote for Thursday, reflecting a promise she’s made to centrist Democrats eager to notch a bipartisan win on an issue that’s eluded Congress for decades. An initial infrastructure vote, scheduled for Monday, had been postponed, and moderates in the House are threatening to revolt if it happens twice.
“Obviously, our group will have a lot of trouble with that,” said centrist Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas). “And it will be catastrophic.”
Yet liberals are lining up to sink the infrastructure proposal, demanding that Democrats in the House, Senate and White House first reach an agreement on the broader “family” benefits package Biden is pushing as part of his two-pronged domestic agenda. Only then, they say, will they back the Senate-passed public works bill.
“We already put out our vision, and we’re going to stick to that vision,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), head of the influential Congressional Progressive Caucus, which is leading the charge against a standalone vote on the infrastructure bill.
The liberal threat has left Pelosi and Democratic leaders confronting two unpleasant scenarios heading into Thursday’s vote: either stick with the plan to bring the infrastructure bill to the floor, where liberals are likely to kill it, or delay it again, and infuriate the moderates.
“If she brings it up, it won’t pass,” said one liberal Democrat, who is supporting the infrastructure bill.
Only seven House Republicans have publicly indicated they will back the bipartisan bill, according to The Hill’s whip list. That puts the onus on Democrats to overcome their internal divisions or else delay the vote again.
Seeking to placate all sides, Pelosi on Wednesday said that Thursday’s vote is still on — a message quickly hailed by her moderate wing. But she also laid out several parameters that appeared highly unlikely to be met in such a short window of time.
First, she said the infrastructure and family packages must move “simultaneously” — the same criterion the liberals have demanded. And second, she stipulated that the legislative text of the larger package must be finalized before the House will act on either bill.
“We come to a place where we have agreement in legislative language — not just principle, in legislative language — that the president supports,” she said. “It has to be his standard.”
The notion of drafting a bill so quickly appeared to be out of reach on Wednesday afternoon, especially given that there’s still no agreement on even the top-line number. And the idea was quickly panned by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), one of two centrist holdouts in the upper chamber.
“That won’t happen,” Manchin said bluntly in response to Pelosi’s remarks.
Additionally, Pelosi has vowed never to bring a bill to the floor without knowing it will pass — a promise she’s extended to the infrastructure vote. And a number of Democrats predicted she’ll stick to it.
“We won’t bring anything up that fails,” said another Democratic lawmaker, a close Pelosi ally.
For now, Democratic leaders still say they’re planning to muscle ahead with Thursday’s vote.
“I expect an infrastructure vote tomorrow,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
But progressives warn that the votes simply aren’t there right now.
Pelosi set the Thursday date on the bipartisan infrastructure bill since it coincides with the expiration of some surface transportation programs. Congress also must send a spending bill to Biden by Thursday to avert a government shutdown when the current fiscal year ends.
“The only reason we’re in this situation is that there’s this artificial idea that we needed to vote on one bill before another,” said Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who called the impasse “a self-made problem.”
“There’s a deadline when the government will run out of money. That’s real, right?” Levin said. “According to the secretary of the Treasury, there’s a moment when the full faith and credit of the United States will stop being good. There’s not a moment that if we don’t pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill that some horrible thing is gonna happen.”
Key centrist Democrats, meanwhile, warned that any move by progressives to prevent the bipartisan infrastructure bill from passing would ultimately backfire.
“If the vote were to fail tomorrow or be delayed, there would be a significant breach in trust that would slow the momentum in moving forward in delivering the Biden agenda,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), a leader of the Blue Dog Coalition.
The warring progressive and centrist factions of the House Democratic Caucus are running out of time to wait for each other to blink.
Progressives insist they need more clarity from two centrist holdouts in the Senate, Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), about what they’re willing to negotiate.
But those two senators remain cagey about any commitments to the social spending package and are reluctant to show their cards before the bipartisan infrastructure bill passes.
“All we need to do is pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill, sit down and start negotiating in faith,” Manchin told reporters on Wednesday.
–Updated 5:48 p.m.