Liberals on Tuesday sent a stern warning to Democratic leaders that a bipartisan infrastructure bill cannot pass through the House as long as Senate centrists remain non-committal on the larger social benefits package at the heart of President Biden‘s agenda.
“If she were to call the bill, it will fail,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said leaving a closed-door Democratic Caucus meeting. “Not because the Progressive Caucus, people like me, aren’t willing to vote for it. But … we had an agreement that we were going to get these two pieces [together].”
The warning is just the latest challenge facing Pelosi and other party leaders, who have scheduled a Thursday vote on the $1.2 trillion public works proposal, which passed through the Senate last month.
That timeline reflects Pelosi’s promise to moderate House Democrats, who have sought to divorce the bipartisan infrastructure bill from the larger and more controversial “family” benefits package.
Schakowsky noted that Pelosi, a master vote counter, has built a reputation for never bringing bills to the floor without knowing for certain they will pass — a stipulation the Speaker has repeatedly said also applies to the infrastructure bill. And for that reason, “it was not entirely clear” if leaders intend to push through with their plan to bring it to the floor on Thursday, Schakowsky said.
“I’ve never seen her bring a bill to the floor that’s going to fail,” she said. “It will fail if she does.”
The warning is the latest evidence that key progressives are sticking with their long-held insistence that centrist Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) first commit to supporting the larger social spending package before the liberals vote in favor of the more popular public works bill. And they have the numbers, they say, to sink it.
In a brief interview with The Hill, Pelosi downplayed the threat from Schakowsky and other progressives: “We don’t even know where we are until we see where we come down on our agreement, so there’s no use speculating on what may or may not happen …
“I appreciate Jan Schakowsky,” the Speaker added.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a member of the so-called “Squad” of progressive lawmakers of color, was harsher. She called Pelosi’s decision to reverse course and decouple the two bills a “betrayal.”
“Let me be clear: bringing the so-called bipartisan infrastructure plan to a vote without the #BuildBackBetter Act at the same time is a betrayal. We will hold the line and vote it down,” Tlaib vowed on Twitter. “This is not the time for half measures or to go back on our promises.”
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), chairman of the powerful Rules Committee, is also seeking greater certainty surrounding the intentions of the Senate centrists.
“Look, I want to be a good guy. My father told me when I was growing up there’s a fine line between being a good guy and a goddamn fool. I don’t want to be rolled,” he said. “And I think a lot of us want to make sure that we have an assurance that, in fact, there’s going to be a reconciliation bill.”
But amid the grumbling on the left, a number of other progressives declared Tuesday that they would vote yes on the infrastructure bill when it hits the floor — without any conditions.
Congressional Black Caucus Chair Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) said she will vote yes, as did Foreign Affairs Chair Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), and Reps. David Price (D-N.C.), Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), and Robin Kelly (D-Ill.).
“It’s strategic; it’s the smart thing to do,” Beatty said of the infrastructure vote. “We’ve come a long way with infrastructure. Is it perfect? Is it everything we need? Of course not.”
The infighting and uncertainty have highlighted the fact that, for all the small signs of progress that have emerged in recent days, Democrats pushing Biden’s agenda remain captive to Manchin and Sinema, the two centrists who oppose the president’s favored $3.5 trillion social benefits plan, but have also refused to reveal what level of new spending they’ll support.
That silence has infuriated a host of their fellow Democrats, who are accusing the rebellious senators of peacocking at the expense of Biden’s agenda — and simultaneously threatening the party’s prospects in next year’s midterm elections.
A leading progressive, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), pointed the finger directly at Manchin, saying the centrist West Virginian is holding up the entire process by refusing to tell Biden, congressional leaders and progressives what dollar amount he could live with on reconciliation.
“The House is going to be unified. We need to get one number from one senator and we need to make it very clear that’s holding everything back,” said Khanna, who was national co-chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.
“You’re going to get a consensus on the agreement amongst all the House Democrats and I think you have consensus from 49 senators. So we are literally waiting on one senator to give us a number.
“Maybe Manchin could show up at our caucus and he could see the consensus here,” Khanna suggested.
Caught in the middle of the factional fight has been Pelosi, who has sought to appease moderates by scheduling votes on the infrastructure bill, while placating liberals by insisting both bills move in tandem.
On Tuesday, in a letter to Democrats, she leaned heavily into the second message.
“It would be a dereliction of duty for us to build the infrastructure of America without doing so in a manner that addresses the climate crisis significantly, which enables the U.S. to meet its emission goals by 2030 and do so in a timely fashion,” she wrote. “To do so, we must pass the Build Back Better Act.”
Pelosi also emphasized that the ”negotiations are being led by President Biden to advance his vision.” Indeed, in an effort to break the impasse, Biden on Tuesday huddled with both Manchin and Sinema at the White House.
How the talks evolve over the next several days — and what policy agreements they yield — remains to be seen. But all sides in the debate are agreed that Democrats will eventually send both bills to Biden’s desk — however messy the process of getting them there.
“Let’s just take it day by day,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
Via The Hill