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GOP should grab the chance to upend Pelosi’s plan on reconciliation

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) answers questions on Afghanistan, the budget and the infrastructure bill during her weekly press conference on Wednesday, August 25, 2021.
Greg Nash

House Republicans have an unusual opportunity this week both to enhance the nation’s infrastructure and reduce the chances that the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill will ever become law.

The American people strongly support spending on physical infrastructure, a degree of support buttressed by hurricane Ida’s destructive flooding earlier this month. The sharp reduction in deaths from Ida — when compared to Katrina 16 years ago — is directly attributable to an infrastructure project, the newly-built levees around New Orleans.

The progressives in the House know this, too, and are relying on the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate in early August to be the engine that drags along the fiscally dangerous — and much less popular or necessary — $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill now under negotiation by the Democrats in both the Senate and House. From all indications, the Biden administration also believes that passing a combined infrastructure and reconciliation bill will revive popular support for a president whose poll numbers are sagging after his catastrophic handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal. 

As it happens, however, House Republicans are likely to hold the key to whether the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by the Senate will become law.

In late August, a dissident group of nine Democrats braved the disapproval of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), as well as the progressives in their party, and many of the Democrats’ most powerful liberal funding sources, to force a separate House vote on the Senate infrastructure bill on Sept. 27 — before a vote on the reconciliation bill.

This effectively killed the speaker’s original plan, which was to attach the popular infrastructure bill to the reconciliation package, enhancing the chances that the highly controversial reconciliation legislation — chock full of entitlements and tax increases — will get through the House and Senate.

It now looks as though Speaker Pelosi will allow a separate vote on the infrastructure bill on Monday, Sept. 27, and will urge Democrats to vote for it. In that case, from all indications, a large number of progressives will likely vote against the bill, hoping to defeat it so it can be used to help build support for the reconciliation bill when that is ready for a vote in the House.

House Republicans can foil the progressives’ plan if they vote for the infrastructure measure on Sept. 27. In that vote, a large number of centrist Democrats will be voting for the infrastructure bill, but not enough to pass it. On this, the Republicans hold the balance for passage.

To be sure, this will be a difficult vote for Republicans. The Wall Street Journal, as well as many of the key commentators on Fox News, have described this bill as wasteful. Some of its pay-fors have been challenged by the Congressional Budget Office. It’s not perfect, to be sure, something that is often true of bipartisan measures, but there is no question that it has the support of the American people and contains major funding for the physical infrastructure that the nation needs. 

Republican House members should recognize why there is a separate bipartisan Senate infrastructure bill; 19 Republican Senators, including Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other conservatives, voted for this bill in the hope that separating the popular physical infrastructure bill from the $3.5 trillion reconciliation measure would reduce the support for the reconciliation measure. That’s why the GOP should provide the votes necessary to pass the infrastructure bill and send it to the president. That is the best call for the GOP, on policy and politics.  

The stakes are too high for Republicans to aid the progressives’ plan by killing the infrastructure bill when it is brought up for a separate vote in the House next week. If it is defeated as the progressives hope, and can then eventually be combined with the reconciliation bill into a single package, that will significantly enhance the chances that both measures will pass Congress — something that would be disastrous for the country. The risk of this possibility is too great to ignore.  

As the Journal’s editorial page put it “Americans should be shouting from the rooftops to stop this steamroller before they wake up to a government that dominates their lives in a country they don’t recognize.” 

However, if the House were to pass the infrastructure bill alone there is a good chance that President Biden’s $3.5 trillion fiscally disastrous reconciliation plan will never get a vote in either the House or the Senate. That would be the right outcome for the GOP and the country.

Peter J. Wallison is a senior fellow emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute. His most recent book is “Judicial Fortitude: The Last Chance to Rein in the Administrative State.”

Tags american jobs plan American Rescue Plan Act Biden infrastructure plan bipartisan infrastructure agreement budget reconciliation bill Democratic Party Joe Biden Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Presidency of Joe Biden Reconciliation

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