Dem hopes for infrastructure vote hit brick wall

Democratic leaders scrambling for an infrastructure vote this week to boost two Democratic gubernatorial candidates hit a brick wall Tuesday, when the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus said liberals will oppose the popular public works bill until a larger benefits package is finalized. 

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) emerged from an hourlong meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) amplifying her long-held position: Progressives won’t support the bipartisan infrastructure bill, known as the BIF, before there’s agreement on every detail of the social spending package at the heart of President Biden’s domestic policy agenda. 

“Let’s vote both of them out at the same time, and I would even be willing to vote the BIF and then three hours later the reconciliation bill as long as we have full agreement from everybody — everyone on the House side, everyone on the Senate side,” Jayapal told reporters.

Jayapal’s entrenched position is a stark repudiation of those Democrats seeking a quick infrastructure vote whenever negotiators reach agreement on a “framework” governing the larger social spending bill. And it’s sure to aggravate those lawmakers arguing that a victory on infrastructure will lend a jolt of momentum before next week’s elections.

Recent polls show both the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races tightening, with Democrat Terry McAuliffe now essentially tied with Republican Glenn Youngkin in Virginia. 

National Democratic leaders are increasingly worried that a Republican upset in either state would deflate the base, energize the right and cripple the agenda of Biden, whose approval numbers are already underwater.

Infrastructure spending is a popular issue with broad appeal across party lines, and a growing number of Democrats view the enactment of an enormous, $1.2 trillion bipartisan public works bill as an effective strategy for helping both campaigns at the eleventh hour. 

“A Congress that can get something done is going to make you feel better about where the country’s going. A Democratic president who’s successful makes you win,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D), Virginia’s former lieutenant governor. “I think Terry could live without it. But of course it would help.” 

Passage of the infrastructure bill will “send a strong message to Virginia voters that voting for Democrats is gonna yield results,” added centrist Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), who has campaigned with McAuliffe.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, another Virginia Democrat, offered a similar assessment. Connolly was among a group of Democrats from both Virginia and New Jersey who huddled with Pelosi on Tuesday morning to make the case for bringing the infrastructure bill to the floor before Nov. 2. Their argument was simple: It would put some wind into the sails of their states’ candidates. 

“It is a validating credential that if you give me power I’ll use it to the public good,” Connolly said.

“It’s not dispositive, it’s not going to turn the election, it’s not like it’s on everybody’s mind,” he added. “But it is a factor. And we should be cognizant of it.”

But Jayapal has dug in to oppose a quick vote on infrastructure without a deal on the spending bill. And she said she has the backing of enough liberals to hold the line. 

“At this point, there are dozens of our members who are in that place,” she said. 

When told that Jayapal believes a social spending “framework” is not enough to stage the infrastructure vote, Pelosi was terse.  

“Well, I think it is,” she said.

“It’s not enough for me. And there are more of us,” first-term Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) replied to Pelosi in a tweet.

The back and forth highlights the latest hurdle facing Democratic leaders as they race to unite their feuding factions behind the social spending package in order to get Biden’s agenda to his desk. 

Outstanding disagreements between liberals and moderates over a Medicare expansion, paid family leave benefits and climate initiatives have all prolonged the debate and threatened to alienate one faction or another, jeopardizing Biden’s top domestic priority. Jayapal, for one, said it could take a week to iron out those differences. And other liberals also indicated that a deal is not imminent, placing the blame on the intransigence of the centrist Senate holdouts.

“We’re getting closer, but the Senate needs to start saying yes or no on issues and stop f—ing talking,” said Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.). “They assume that we’re going to pass the BIF without getting an agreement [on the bigger benefits bill]. They’re sorely mistaken.”

The Senate has already passed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package with overwhelming bipartisan support: The bill sailed through the Senate in August by a vote of 69-30. But House liberals have blocked the measure in the lower chamber since then. 

During a closed-door meeting of House Democrats on Tuesday morning, Pelosi implored her rank-and-file members to compromise and “embrace” an emerging deal on Biden’s roughly $2 trillion social spending and climate change package — even though its size and scope was far less than the $3.5 trillion progressives had hoped to achieve.

“We are on the verge of something major. Transformative, historic and bigger than anything else,” Pelosi told Democrats during the meeting, according to a source in the room. 

“Embrace it for what it is,” she added. “No bill is everything. We cannot miss this opportunity.”

Progressive lawmakers said they were encouraged by Pelosi’s message, though they aren’t quite ready to back the infrastructure bill without much greater assurances that the “family” benefits bill contains their priorities and is a slam dunk in both chambers. 

“I’m somewhat encouraged by something the Speaker just told us, which is that we wouldn’t be asked to vote on the BIF unless and until we have rock-solid assurance that the same reconciliation bill is going to pass the House and the Senate. And that it’s all locked down,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.).  

“Now what that looks like, how it proceeds, I don’t think anyone knows yet,” he added. “But that’s reassuring that leadership understands that the votes and the politics and everything that prevented that [infrastructure] vote from going a few weeks ago, are still the same.” 

The delay is frustrating those Democrats urging a quick vote on infrastructure — particularly those closest to next week’s gubernatorial races, who say the delay represents a lost opportunity to boost the party’s chances. 

“It’s a mistake to allow this to languish,” said Connolly. 

“Will it cost us the governor’s race? No,” he added. “But it [could] erode the argument that when we get the levers of power we use them for the public good.”

Tags Build Back Better Climate change Cori Bush Elaine Luria Gerry Connolly House Progressive Caucus Infrastructure Jared Huffman Jimmy Gomez Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi Pramila Jayapal

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