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House Democrats are hoping to push a $3.5 trillion budget framework Tuesday after an impasse between House leaders and centrist Democrats threatened to derail progress on the vast majority of President Biden’s domestic agenda.
House leaders are looking to use a procedural workaround to avoid a lengthy battle, but the rift between Democrats over how far Congress should go in reshaping the role of the federal government is still unresolved.
Party leaders say they hope to finish work on a spending bill by Oct. 1, leaving just weeks to address serious concerns among centrists over the cost of Biden’s spending plans. But a group of moderates wants a guarantee that the House will vote soon on a separate, roughly $1 trillion infrastructure bill the Senate approved this month amid concerns that filling out the details on the broader spending bill could take months.
Democrats are attempting to move forward with this spending legislation without the support of any Republicans — a plan that gives leaders little room for error.
Pelosi insists the bills should be tied together
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is pursuing a strategy of tying the fate of a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill to the broader spending plan full of Democratic priorities. Tuesday’s procedural vote — originally planned for Monday — featured an open rebellion from many centrists, who are concerned about the size and process of passing a large partisan bill. Pelosi has insisted that the House will not vote on the infrastructure bill until the Senate passes a bigger spending package, but now she is being forced to give a specific timeline. This comes as she must keep the party unified to get either bill passed in a chamber where Democrats have a narrow majority — she has just a three-vote margin with Republicans united against the effort to link the two measures.
After hours of late-night talks Monday, leaders offered a compromise to the centrists: They will tuck the budget vote inside a procedural vote that advances the budget resolution. The procedural vote also sets up debate and a vote on a voting rights bill for later Tuesday. They will also include a provision to attract the support of moderates that specifies if the House hasn’t voted on the bipartisan infrastructure by Sept. 27 it will take up the bill on that date, according to a Democratic leadership aide. It’s unclear if enough moderates will agree to this proposal to secure passage of the procedural motion later on Tuesday. Two centrists pushing for the commitment — Reps. Henry Cuellar of Texas and Jim Costa of California — told reporters the proposal was satisfactory to them.
Democrats have been split on the approach since Pelosi announced her plan in June. Progressive Democrats worry that allowing a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill before the Senate completes action on the broader spending package will reduce their leverage on that legislation. Moderate Democrats say it is irresponsible to wait to pass the bipartisan bill.
But Pelosi and other leaders have insisted that the only way to make good on promises to address climate change and provide support to workers and families is to tie the two bills together.
“I know we will succeed because of the confidence I have in the shared values of all in our Caucus for America’s working families,” Pelosi told Democrats in a letter sent Monday. “The success of each bill contributes to the success of the other.”
As leaders worked to find the votes for the compromise, Pelosi told reporters Tuesday morning, “When we bring up the bill, we will have the votes.”
The House will consider the same budget resolution that was approved this month in the Senate in order for that plan to succeed. Democrats plan to use a feature of the budget process, known as reconciliation, to avoid a Republican filibuster in the Senate. But there is little agreement on what should be included once a budget is passed.
Some moderate Democrats say infrastructure investments can’t wait
A group of nine centrist Democrats, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., released statements demanding an immediate vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill.
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“We have the votes to pass this legislation right now, which is why I believe we should first vote immediately on the bipartisan infrastructure package, send it to the President’s desk, and then quickly consider the budget resolution, which I plan to support,” Gottheimer wrote. “We need to get people to work and shovels in the ground.”
A 10th moderate, Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida, released an op-ed Monday night criticizing Democratic leaders linking the two bills, saying it was “poor legislative strategy” and vowing, “I cannot in good conscience vote to start the reconciliation process unless we also finish our work on the infrastructure bill.”
Progressive members have said the bipartisan bill is insufficient and falls short of Biden’s promises. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has framed the budget bill as the best way for Democrats to pass priorities such as addressing climate change, federal funding for family support like child care and money for education.
“The American people delivered us the House, Senate, and White House not only to improve roads and bridges, but to improve their daily lives, too,” Jayapal said in a statement after the Senate advanced the budget. “We can do that by using this governing moment to ensure that President Biden’s complete agenda is realized.”
The centrist Democrats have support from their ideological counterparts in the Senate
Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., have both supported the push for the House to vote on the bipartisan bill immediately while leaders work out differences on the bigger plan.
Sinema went a step further Monday when her spokesman, John LaBombard, issued a statement saying the senator “will not support a budget reconciliation bill that costs $3.5 trillion.”
Leaders hope to pass both bills before the end of September. But the difficulty getting Democrats to agree how to take this procedural step means the process of writing the details of the spending bill and agreeing to a final price tag is likely to be incredibly contentious — just within the Democratic caucus.