After over a month of infighting between progressive and moderate wings of the party, House Democrats have indicated that they are moving toward completion of their expansive $3.5 trillion budget bill.
Despite continuing challenges that threaten to derail President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda, the Democratic leadership is still confident of the agenda’s success in the lower chamber.
Biden’s “build back better” agenda—including both the budget bill and the Senate-passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill—has faced many hiccups over the course of its short existence.
‘Rushed Deadline,’ Splits Between Moderates and Progressives Threaten Budget Bill
Most notably, a drawn-out feud between moderates and progressives through much of August and September threatened the bills.
Nine moderates, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), demanded that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have the House vote on the infrastructure bill before considering the budget. Progressives, suspecting that the moderates would not support the budget after the infrastructure bill was passed, made a corollary promise. The 95-strong caucus said that they would not vote for the infrastructure bill without first passing the budget.
In a closed-door meeting with Gottheimer, Pelosi made a deal to satiate the moderates. The speaker promised that the infrastructure bill would be voted on by Sept. 27 in exchange for the moderates’ votes to advance the bill to be drafted by House committees.
Though this deal satisfied the moderates, it has left House Democrats with precious little time to draft the expansive piece of legislation. And sustained disagreement between moderates and progressives continues to threaten to derail the process if the agreement is not kept.
This short time scale has turned some supporters of the bill into hesitant opponents.
During a meeting of the House Ways and Means Committee on the bill, Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) emphasized her support for the bill, but said that the “rushed deadline” had created many problems for lawmakers trying to understand the bill.
Murphy argued that the House should step back and take time to evaluate the legislation in depth before rushing into passage of the law, and said that she could not support the bill without these concessions.
In the Senate as well, moderates’ skepticism of the budget remains on the minds of House Democrats as they work to frantically craft the legislation.
The challenges were clear early in the process: The budget bill only managed to move out of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) Budget Committee by a thin 50-49 party-line vote. This was only possible with moderate Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W. Va.) vote, which he said he gave “out of respect for [his] colleagues.” But the senator also emphasized then that he was making no promises to vote for the bill when it comes back to the upper chamber.
Since then, Manchin has taken a definitive stance against the bill, writing in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that he would not be supporting such an expensive bill.
Another moderate, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, has joined with Manchin. A spokesman for the senator said definitively that Sinema would not vote for a $3.5 trillion bill.
Crafting a bill that these moderates will approve adds another challenge to House Democrats’ already loaded dockets.
Democratic Leadership Unfazed By Challenges
Despite these challenges, the Democratic leadership maintains its confidence that the bill will succeed.
On Wednesday, Pelosi was asked by a reporter whether the House would still be holding a vote on the infrastructure bill on the agreed-upon date.
She responded quickly in the affirmative, saying, “We are on schedule, let me put it that way.”
The reporter followed up the question by asking whether the reconciliation bill would be on schedule as well. Though unwilling to go into specifics, Pelosi again expressed confidence.
She responded: “We are on schedule. That’s all I will say. And we’re calm and everybody’s good and our work’s almost done. We’re in good shape.”
At a press conference Tuesday, House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said of the fast approaching Monday deadline, “Six days is an eternity in this place, and we’re going to get this done.”
During the conference, Jeffries touched on the negotiations with hesitant senators. He said that talks were ongoing with the Senate, but was unwilling to go into specifics.
Jeffries touched on the difficulty of making cuts to appease the Senate, saying, “Everything is important in terms of making [the] investments necessary to lift up everyday Americans.” Still, he conceded that the cuts were necessary to craft a bill that could pass the Senate. Vice Chairman Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) added that Democrats were working to get the final bill “as close to $3.5 trillion as possible.”
An audience member asked about the House leadership’s plan if the reconciliation bill is not ready by Sept. 27.
Jeffries indicated that the House leadership is in communication with progressives and will ensure that the caucus will not tank the infrastructure bill if the reconciliation bill is not ready.
Jeffries explained, “At the end of the day, what motivates us—Democrats across the ideological spectrum—is delivering for the people.” He continued: “This is the president’s agenda … He promised he would undertake this transformational effort to the American people. And we are going to make sure that promise is kept.”
“At the end of the day, we always land at the highest common denominator [between progressives and moderates in the party] and we will do that in this case,” he said. “We’re gonna pass the infrastructure agreement, and we’re gonna pass the Build Back Better Act.”
Jeffries expressed the caucus’s determination to succeed in passing the agenda, stating “Failure is not an option.”