This week: Democrats face fractures in spending fight

This week: Democrats face fractures in spending fight
© Greg Nash

Democrats are grappling with divisions in their own ranks over the path forward on President BidenJoe BidenThe Supreme Court and blind partisanship ended the illusion of independent agencies Missed debt ceiling deadline kicks off high-stakes fight Senate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session MORE’s biggest legislative priority: A sweeping infrastructure package. 

Democrats want to pass Biden’s $2.3 trillion jobs plan, combined with a $1.8 trillion families plan, in July, giving them a matter of weeks to get united behind both a strategy and a bill that can make it through the House and the Senate, where they hold razor-thin majorities. 

Senate Democrats, in their second week of a three-week session, have debated publicly and in closed-door caucus meetings the best path forward, amid growing frustration that the party is repeating the Obama-era playbook: Holding out, and eating up precious time, waiting for a deal that can win over enough Republicans. 

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House Democrats, meanwhile, will return on Monday from a three-week break facing frustration from their own progressive flank, who believe they are moving too slowly to carry out a long legislative wish list. 

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Justice Department says Trump's tax returns should be released | Democrats fall short of votes for extending eviction ban House adjourns for recess without passing bill to extend federal eviction ban Photos of the Week: Olympic sabre semi-finals, COVID-19 vigil and a loris MORE (D-Calif.) during a CNN interview on Sunday didn’t rule out finding a deal with Republicans, but vowed that Democrats wouldn’t scuttle Biden’s larger plan. 

“I have heard him [Biden] say with Republicans in the room, let's figure out what we can agree on, on infrastructure. Let's see if we can come to a reasonable amount of money to get that work done, but I have no intention of abandoning the rest of my vision about the better — building back better,” Pelosi said. 

A group of 10 consensus-minded senators, evenly split between the two parties, unveiled their own plan late last week that they are now trying to shop to their colleagues and win the support of the White House. 

The framework, spearheaded by Sens. Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaSenate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session Senate holds sleepy Saturday session as negotiators finalize infrastructure deal On The Money: Justice Department says Trump's tax returns should be released | Democrats fall short of votes for extending eviction ban MORE (D-Ariz.) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet On The Money: Justice Department says Trump's tax returns should be released | Democrats fall short of votes for extending eviction ban Photos of the Week: Olympic sabre semi-finals, COVID-19 vigil and a loris MORE (R-Ohio), includes roughly $579 billion in new spending, for a total of roughly $973 billion over five years or $1.2 trillion over eight years. 

The group is floating repurposing coronavirus relief funds as a way to help pay for the proposal, something that’s previously sparked Democratic opposition. They had been expected to propose indexing the gas tax to inflation, but Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSunday shows preview: Delta concerns prompt CDC mask update; bipartisan infrastructure bill to face challenges in Senate Top Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Bill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol MORE (R-Maine), a member of the group, indicated that they had dropped that. 

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But the proposal has faced a lukewarm reception from both the White House and Senate Democrats. 

"Over the last 18 hours, I've had the chance to discuss the new bipartisan infrastructure proposal with a number of the Senators who developed it and with other colleagues and I look forward to more in-depth conversations in the coming days,” Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Top Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Bipartisan framework remains mostly consistent on climate MORE (D-Del.) said in a statement. 

Andrew Bates, the White House deputy press secretary, also said late last week that White House staff had been briefed. 

“Questions need to be addressed, particularly around the details of both policy and pay-fors, among other matters,” he said. 

The bipartisan group is facing pressure from members of the Senate Democratic caucus, who are getting antsy about letting infrastructure drag out as they get deeper into the legislative year without a clear path forward.

Though Senate Democrats have largely sidestepped criticizing their colleagues publicly, the jabs from House Democrats are growing sharper. 

"I do think that we need to talk about the elephant in the room, which is Senate Democrats which are blocking crucial items in a Democratic agenda for reasons that I don't think hold a lot of water,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezSunday shows preview: Delta concerns prompt CDC mask update; bipartisan infrastructure bill to face challenges in Senate House adjourns for recess without passing bill to extend federal eviction ban Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire MORE (D-N.Y.) told CNN. 

But part of the problem for Democrats is that in order to go it alone they would need the backing of all 50 members of the caucus to unlock reconciliation, the arcane budget process that lets them bypass the 60-vote legislative filibuster. 

But Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSunday shows preview: Delta concerns prompt CDC mask update; bipartisan infrastructure bill to face challenges in Senate Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Top Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure MORE (D-W.Va.) hasn’t yet signaled that he’s supportive of going down a Democratic-only path. 

Progressives are also getting worried that climate change could get left out of infrastructure. 

“No more quarreling among enviros and advocates. The issue is not 'or' but 'and.' We need to come together on an all-hands climate solution in the infrastructure bill, knowing that reconciliation will narrow our path. It’s hard, but there’s no other way,” Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseLobbying world Kavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law Christine Blasey Ford's lawyers blast FBI's Kavanaugh investigation as 'sham' MORE (D-R.I.) tweeted. 

AUMF

House Democrats are set to repeal a 2002 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) originally passed by Congress for the Iraq War. 

The House has voted twice previously to pass a repeal, but it went nowhere in the GOP-controlled Senate. Democrats, now in control of the chamber, have predicted that they'll muster the 60 votes needed to send it to Biden’s desk. 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to take up legislation from Sens. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Defense: Watchdog blasts government's handling of Afghanistan conflict | Biden asks Pentagon to look into mandatory vaccines | Congress passes new Capitol security bill GOP, Democrats battle over masks in House, Senate Senators introduce bipartisan bill to expand foreign aid partnerships MORE (D-Va.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill MORE (R-Ind.) that would repeal both the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs, which are both related to Iraq.

COVID-19 protocol 

The House is updating its COVID-19 as lawmakers return from a three-week recess. 

Democratic leaders announced late last week that lawmakers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will no longer be required to wear masks in the House chamber. The updated guidance comes after the Capitol’s attending physician determined that only people who aren't fully vaccinated or are "vaccination-indeterminate” need to wear masks. 

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House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerProgressives camp outside Capitol to protest evictions House adjourns for recess without passing bill to extend federal eviction ban Top Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure MORE (D-Md.) also announced changes to the procedure for holding votes. 

"Members are further advised that each vote taken by the House will now be open for a total of 20 minutes and will close immediately thereafter. Voting groups will no longer be implemented,” the guidance from Hoyer’s office said. 

Nominations

The Senate is poised to confirm Biden’s first appeals court nominee. 

Senators are set to vote Monday evening on Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to be a judge for the D.C. circuit, filling the vacancy created by Merrick GarlandMerrick GarlandDOJ sues Texas over Abbott order restricting transportation of migrants Graham, Cuellar press Biden to name border czar Garland floats legal action over Abbott immigration order MORE’s confirmation as attorney general. 

The Senate is also set to vote on Lina Khan’s nomination to be federal trade commissioner and Kiran Arjandas Ahuja’s nomination to be Office of Personnel Management director.