A new deadline. Frustration over clashes between Democrats in Congress. And optimism that President Joe Biden’s plan, backed by so-called progressive members, would ultimately succeed.
“Everybody is frustrated,” Biden told reporters outside the White House before departing for Wilmington, Delaware, for the weekend.
Pelosi and Biden are trying to hammer out an agreement with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a 96-member-strong group that’s holding firm on its insistence that it will tank the infrastructure bill if moderates don’t first help pass a budget package that comes in at $3.5 trillion.
Moderates, including two key senators, are upset that the bills have been tied together, and many have so far refused to commit to supporting the budget bill.
Republicans are divided on the infrastructure legislation. Nineteen GOP senators helped Democrats pass it in August, and some Republican representatives have signaled they’ll vote for it. But without the progressives, the bill won’t pass. And Republicans unanimously oppose the budget bill. Democrats plan to use a process called reconciliation to ram it through with zero GOP votes, but that requires support from Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—support that’s currently not there.
Democrats hold only eight more seats than Republicans in the House and have no votes to spare in the 50–50 Senate, where Vice President Kamala Harris can break ties in her role as president of the body.
Democratic leaders have been trying—and failing—to align enough members on reconciliation, attempting to use the infrastructure package as leverage.
Fractures have become more apparent in the party. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) wrote a lengthy statement on Oct. 1 hitting Pelosi for her second delay on the infrastructure vote, after promising she’d bring it before the House before Sept. 27. Pelosi allies circulated posts on social media responding to the statement, including one that noted the progressive bloc is much larger than Gottheimer’s bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.
Sinema released a rare public statement on Oct. 2, expressing disappointment in the continued delay. She helped craft the bipartisan agreement, and her desire to see the House approve it has driven “good-faith negotiations” on the reconciliation package even as she and Manchin have balked at the mammoth price tag.
“Good-faith negotiations, however, require trust. Over the course of this year, Democratic leaders have made conflicting promises that could not all be kept—and have, at times, pretended that differences of opinion within our party did not exist, even when those disagreements were repeatedly made clear directly and publicly,” she wrote. “Canceling the infrastructure vote further erodes that trust.”
About an hour earlier, Pelosi penned a separate note sent to Democrat colleagues in the House, setting a new deadline for the vote. She said they must pass the infrastructure bill before Oct. 31, that she didn’t allow a vote on the infrastructure bill because it would have failed, and that “we will and must pass both bills soon.”
“Negotiations will continue now, with more time for decisions, legislative language, Senate parliamentarian review and public awareness,” she wrote.
Biden told reporters on Oct. 1 that the bills could pass in six days or six weeks. “It doesn’t matter. We’re going to get it done,” he said.
Biden was speaking on Capitol Hill, where he traveled to apply pressure in person on lawmakers who want to pass the infrastructure bill and tackle the budget package separately. That aligns him with the progressive bloc and Pelosi and her allies, who tried downplaying the disagreements within the caucus.
“I think right now the Democratic caucus is 97 or 98 percent unified. There might be some further agreements that need to be made with certain senators who have reservations, but I’m seeing extraordinary consensus across the Democratic caucus. This has been a very positive process,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who is close to Pelosi, told reporters after meeting with Biden on Oct. 1.
Manchin has called the idea of approving another $3.5 trillion “insane,” and Sinema has repeatedly said she won’t vote for that much money in a budget package. Biden told Democrats that the top line may have to be lowered to around $2 trillion to garner enough votes.
Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) said that Democrats are united behind wanting to support the president, even if they have different ideas on how to do that.
“But you know, we’ve got to—we can’t have five different generals here, either,” he told reporters.
Republicans say the refusal to vote on infrastructure without tying it to the larger package shows that progressives are dictating the Democrat agenda.
“The infrastructure bill is held hostage,” Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) wrote on Twitter.
Biden admitted as much in Washington, appearing to confirm lawmakers’ accounts of what he told them behind closed doors.
“I am a realist. I’ve been—I was a senator a long time. I know how legislation gets done. There is no reason why both these bills couldn’t pass independently except that there are not the votes to do it that way. It’s a simple proposition,” he said.
Summing up frustration with Manchin and Sinema, he said: “We can bring the moderates and progressives together very easy if we had two more votes. Two. Two people.”