Senate

This week: Democrats face fractures in spending fight

Democrats are grappling with divisions in their own ranks over the path forward on President Biden’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. 

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 Pelosi (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 Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Rob Portman (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 Collins (R-Maine), a member of the group, indicated that they had dropped that. 

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 Carper (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-Cortez (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 Manchin (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 Whitehouse (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 Kaine (D-Va.) and Todd Young (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. 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (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 Garland’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.  

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez AUMFs Biden judicial nominees coronavirus restrictions Infrastructure Iraq War Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema Merrick Garland Nancy Pelosi Reconciliation Rob Portman Sheldon Whitehouse Steny Hoyer Susan Collins Tim Kaine Todd Young Tom Carper
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