Troubles continue among congressional Democrats’ loose coalition of members as moderates in both chambers try to pull the party towards the center and progressives try to push it further left.
Recently, Democrats have squabbled over whether Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) $3.5 trillion budget resolution and the $1.2 trillion Senate-passed infrastructure bill should be considered together. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has expressed that she intends to force a vote on both bills at the same time as part of what Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called President Joe Biden’s “two-track strategy.”
But some moderate Democrats in the House are opposed to this move. In a letter addressed to Pelosi, the nine signatories—Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Carolyn Bordeaux (D-Ga.), Filemon Vela (D-Texas), Jared Golden (D-Maine), Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), Vincente Gonzalez (D-Texas), Ed Case (D-Hawaii), Jim Costa (D-Calif.), and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.)—urged the speaker to consider the infrastructure bill separately from the budget resolution.
“We urge our House colleagues to follow the same path as the Senate: vote first on the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and then consider the budget resolution,” the letter reads. It continues that the Senate’s passage of the infrastructure bill “is a bipartisan victory for our nation—the largest investment in infrastructure in a century.” They rejected the idea that the House should “hold off on considering the Senate infrastructure bill for months—until the reconciliation process is completed … With the livelihoods of hardworking American families at stake, we simply can’t afford months of unnecessary delays and risk squandering this once-in-a-century, bipartisan infrastructure package. It’s time to get shovels in the ground and people to work.”
They concluded by saying that they “will not consider voting for a budget resolution until the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passes the House and is signed into law.” In this they would join the 212 House Republicans, who will undoubtedly oppose passage of the pricey budget resolution. This move would be enough to negate House Democrats’ slim nine-seat majority, bringing a vote on both proposals at the same time to be rejected 221-211.
But Pelosi is facing an equal challenge from House progressives, who have said that they will not vote to pass the infrastructure bill without passing the budget resolution. Pelosi, for her part, has expressed frustration with the nine House moderates, calling the letter “amateur hour.” She also said that the two-track solution is the “consensus” and that “the votes in the House and the Senate depend on us having both bills.”
Now, two prominent Senate Democrats have joined the fray in the House. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), the two most outspokenly moderate Democrats in the upper chamber, are reportedly advising the nine signatories of the letter in the House.
Manchin in particular has been a target of progressive irritation. For Senate Democrats to pass any legislation with their razor-thin 50 votes (plus one from the vice president), every single Democrat must be on board. But Manchin has frustrated these plans with his disagreement on some progressive policies. For example, the senator has said publicly that he would not vote to remove or reform the filibuster, a position that kills any Senate hopes to force through legislation unpopular with Republicans. Though he voted to forward Sanders’s budget resolution, he expressed that the vote was only out of “courtesy for [his] colleagues” and warned that he “wasn’t making any promises” about how he would vote when the resolution came back to the upper chamber.
Sinema has also clashed with prominent progressives. In a tweet, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) criticized Sinema for not supporting Sanders’s budget.
“Good luck tanking your own party’s investment on childcare, climate action, and infrastructure while presuming you’ll survive a 3 vote House margin – especially after choosing to exclude members of color from negotiations and calling that a ‘bipartisan accomplishment,’” Ocasio-Cortez wrote.
Just Democracy, a group that describes itself as “a coalition of grassroots racial justice groups and social justice groups from across the country calling for structural change to our democracy, starting at its foundation,” is also unhappy with the Arizona senator. The group is taking donations for a six-digit ad campaign against Sinema, accusing her of “prioritizing the Jim Crow filibuster over voting rights for black and brown Arizonans.”
Now, these two enemies of congressional progressives are joining with the nine moderate House Democrats, a move that further imperils Sanders’s budget proposal. The two senators are advising the caucus on how to negotiate with Biden, who wants the two pieces of legislation passed together as part of his “build back better” agenda, and with House leadership.
With this development, the future of both the infrastructure bill and the budget resolution are uncertain. Schumer can spare no defections in the Senate. In the House, Pelosi can spare no more than three. And seemingly, those defections are inevitable for Pelosi either way. If she pushes through the infrastructure bill first, she will lose the progressives and fail to pass the legislation; if she pushes through the two bills together, she will lose the nine and fail to pass the legislation. With Manchin’s and Sinema’s entry into the stalemate, the passage of either piece of Senate-passed legislation will require that one side relents or that the two wings reach an agreement. Still, this puts moderate Democrats in a hugely advantageous bargaining position, as both chambers need their support to override Republican objections.