“Even if there were Republicans who go along” to help the Senate infrastructure bill pass the House this month, said Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, “we will have more individuals, more Democrats. who are going to vote it down without the atonement bill.”
Jayapal said more than half of her 96-member caucus have privately expressed their willingness to block the bipartisan Senate bill without their party line bill in tow — far more than the roughly two dozen liberals who have made their threat public.
“I’m very confident in our numbers, and it’s much more than 20,” the Washington Democrat said.
The House returns Monday for a pivotal two-week session that will see a much-anticipated vote on that Senate infrastructure deal. The plan, approved by Pelosi and moderates, is to vote on the bill Sept. 27, along with an up to $3.5 trillion package that will fund dozens of liberal goals, from universal pre-K to Medicare expansion.
But as a battle within the party threatens that ambitious timeline, the party line bill may not be ready by the end of September. And progressives fear that Pelosi’s truce with centrists could leave their members with vanishingly few of their priorities.
Behind the scenes, progressive members have begun discussing how to exert their influence in the worst-case scenario of Senate infrastructure bill approval this month, with little progress on the party’s massive $3.5 trillion social spending plan. Still, even as several liberals pledge to oppose the infrastructure bill, many senior Democrats argue it will be much harder to live up to that threat if it actually comes up.
If enough liberals are willing to leverage that legislation, some think it would squeeze the moderates into the party’s much broader social spending package, which is funded in part by tax hikes for the rich and corporations.
“Many of us agreed to move the bipartisan bill on the understanding that the House would bring them together. It is certainly not my preference to let the bipartisan bill pass without a reconciliation agreement,” said Senator Chris Murphy (D -Conn.), a former member of the House.
However, many Democrats are skeptical about defeating a key Biden priority — even temporarily.
“I’m not worried about the bill,” said House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a close ally of Biden. But the South Carolinian also wouldn’t say whether the leadership would try to delay the infrastructure vote if the party line isn’t ready, an outcome many Democrats fear given the tense private negotiations with the Senate.
Moderates in the House, including some of the 10 who pushed for the late September infrastructure vote, insist they can overcome opposition from the left as long as they get GOP aid. Centrist Democrats also personally doubt that enough liberals will be willing to tarnish Biden’s agenda by blocking the bill.
The moderate group reiterated Pelosi’s commitment to a Sept. 27 vote in a long pronunciation Friday evening.
“We would like to thank the leadership for their continued, strong commitment – codified in the rule and voted on by every Democratic member… – to vote on the landmark bipartisan infrastructure bill by that date,” said the group, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (DN. J.), wrote.
But Jayapal said her caucus is sticking to the same demand from this summer, that the dueling bills must go together. The group’s leaders questioned their members again this month, after asking for it in July, and the result was widespread willingness to block the bipartisan agreement.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), the group’s chief voter, said in a statement that Biden, Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and the Progressive Caucus “all agree that these bills are two parts of a whole.” and will be passed on together. That has not changed.”
the menacing deadlock is a key test for Jayapal, who last fall consolidated power within the CPC by becoming the sole leader and passed a slew of changes to give the group more leverage by ensuring it votes as a bloc on key issues.
So far, the caucus has had few public confrontations with the House leadership this Congress, except for a short-lived dispute over the Capitol Police Department budget in a security funding bill last spring.
A senior Democratic aide indicated that leaders are aware of the progressives’ demands: “There is serious concern among the leadership that there will be no votes to pass the infrastructure bill unless reconciliation occurs at the same time, which cannot happen unless the Senate passes.” “moves more quickly to pre-conferencing” of the mass party line law, the aide said, speaking candidly on condition of anonymity.
Rather than fight publicly with their leaders, Jayapal and other senior progressives have dug hard into their list of policy demands — from climate action to immigration review — and helped those ideas gain support in the wider caucus. Central elements of their plan are expected to make it to the Democrats’ final proposal.
Liberals aren’t digging into the timing of infrastructure votes to “make a statement” about their power, Jayapal insisted. “It’s about being able to really say to the American people, we’re absolutely 300 percent committed to doing what we’ve promised you. They want to see us fight for them.”
Part of the challenge for progressives is the breadth of their caucus in the House; it includes enthusiastic Biden supporters, swing district Democrats, and even some members of the centrist Problem Solvers Caucus. And while the group is much larger than its centrist counterparts, liberals tend to be less willing to declare war on party leaders.
On the other side of the Capitol, Senate liberals are openly advocating for Pelosi to find a way to stand firm despite her deal with moderate Democrats. They hope she can slow down the vote on the infrastructure, give her progressives a chance to fuel it, or even round out the huge party line bill in the coming week — a far from impossible outcome.
“I am hopeful that we will hold the line. The deal was always that both pieces would go through together,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “Everyone has circled the date ‘Sept. 27’ on their calendar.”
All 50 Senate Democrats supported the infrastructure bill, on the understanding that the party’s wings would move together. Many hated the bipartisan bill, worried it wasn’t spending enough to make a real difference, and lukewarm about its shaky funding.
But liberals realized they couldn’t persuade moderates like Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) to agree to the sweeping spending bill without also blessing Sinema-Manchin’s bipartisan bill. For many progressives, splitting the party’s two-track plan to legislate both proposals would be a breach of trust and incur significant losses.
“If that continues, many, many important issues that will be addressed in reconciliation are unlikely to get done,” said D-Ore Senator Jeff Merkley, ticking off investments in climate, housing and education. “There are so many important things that risk failing if we don’t keep these two bills together.”
The calculation is different for less liberal Democrats. Those lawmakers would rather see the bipartisan bill sent to the president’s desk, regardless of the status of the social spending plan, to bolster Biden and their candidates in tight Senate and House races. Democrats are now six months from approving $1.9 trillion in coronavirus aid without finalizing any more presidential priorities.
Asked about the infrastructure bill, Senator Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) – who faces a tough race next year – said he would like the House to “pass it now.”