Sanders signals House should hold off on infrastructure vote

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Thursday said he's not prepared to support a stripped-down $1.75 billion framework unveiled earlier in the day by the White House and signaled that progressives in the House should hold off on voting for a separate infrastructure measure.

Sanders argued that House progressives shouldn't send the bipartisan infrastructure bill to President Biden's desk until they know that all 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus support the reconciliation package.

"Before there is a vote in the House on the infrastructure bill, the members of the House have a right to know that 50 U.S. senators are supporting a strong reconciliation bill," he said.

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have made positive remarks about the framework but have stopped short of full-throated endorsements.

The White House wants to see the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) says she's bringing the bill to the floor, daring progressives to oppose it.

But Sanders, a leader of progressives on both sides of the Capitol, said the framework has "major gaps."

"Clearly to my mind it has some major gaps in it. The American people are very, very clear that they're sick and tired of paying the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. There is to the best of my knowledge no language in there that takes on the pharmaceutical industry," Sanders told reporters outside his office.

The bill does not include a measure to allow the government to negotiate prescription drug prices for Medicare and other programs with drug companies.

The remarks from Sanders could give House progressives cover to vote against the infrastructure bill if Pelosi moves forward with a floor vote on Thursday.

Progressive leaders after a trip by Biden to Capitol Hill, where he spoke to House Democrats, were not saying they'd vote for the infrastructure bill.

While Sanders praised the White House framework as a "major, major step forward," he said there was room for improvement.

"I'm going to do my best to make a good bill even stronger," he said. "We have got to move forward to dental, as well as eyeglasses and the cost of prescription drugs."

The framework extends Medicare coverage to hearing, but not to dental and vision, as he'd desired.

Sanders said "members of the House in my view are going to have to have an assurance" from Manchin and Sinema that they will support the budget reconciliation bill.

"What you don't want to see is the infrastructure bill pass and then not have the kind of Build Back Better bill that we need," he said. "That's why you need 50 members [of the Senate] on board before there should be a vote, in my view, in the House."

Updated at 12:36 p.m.