Nancy Pelosi In Showdown With Centrist Democrats Over Infrastructure Bill

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is staring down a small group of centrist Democrats ahead of key votes this week on the party’s agenda. 

Nine moderates have threatened to withhold support from a $3.5 trillion budget resolution until the House passes a bipartisan infrastructure bill that the Senate already approved earlier this month. 

“We can pass the infrastructure measure now, and then quickly consider reconciliation and the policies from climate to health care to universal pre-K that we believe are critical,” the centrist Democrats, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), wrote in The Washington Post on Monday

But Pelosi has said the House won’t pass the infrastructure bill before it passes the budget reconciliation bill. She said over the weekend that the House would instead advance the budget, with the goal of passing both the budget and the infrastructure bill before October. 

Both bills are potentially major elements in the legacy of Joe Biden’s presidency. 

The infrastructure bill would plow $500 billion into roads, bridges and broadband, and represents the kind of bipartisan cooperation Biden vowed to deliver. As outlined, the budget would dramatically improve daily life for millions of people by funding universal pre-kindergarten, affordable child care and free community college, plus providing a continuation of child benefits that have already started as part of the American Rescue Plan. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is staring down a small group of centrist Democrats ahead of key votes on the party’s agenda

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is staring down a small group of centrist Democrats ahead of key votes on the party’s agenda. 

Both Pelosi and the moderates have claimed putting one bill first would jeopardize the other.

“We must not squander our Congressional Democratic Majorities and jeopardize the once-in-a-generation opportunity to create historic change to meet the needs of working families,” Pelosi said in a letter to her colleagues. 

“Time kills deals,” the moderates wrote, claiming that delaying the infrastructure bill means “risking its passage and the bipartisan support behind it.”

It’s not clear how the passage of time would erode support for the infrastructure bill, but moderates have hinted they might not support the final budget bill at all, citing its overall cost and the fact that it would likely raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy. In other words, it looks as though Pelosi needs to use what leverage she can to maximize support for the budget.

The infrastructure bill could conceivably win even Republican support, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said during a Rules Committee hearing on Monday.

“It clearly has the votes,” he said. “If you put it on the floor it would pass immediately but you’ve chosen to use it as a weapon against your own members.”

Since Democrats have just a tiny majority in the House, both the moderates and the progressive faction that backs Pelosi’s budget strategy theoretically have enough members to tank the other side’s priority ― if they dare.

Democrats will hold a meeting in the Capitol on Monday ahead of a procedural vote to set up the rules for subsequent votes on the budget, the infrastructure bill and a new voting rights bill. Pelosi has said the House would approve the budget resolution later this week, holding final passage of the infrastructure bill until next month.

Unlike the infrastructure bill, however, the budget bill isn’t finished. The vote this week would only advance a nonbinding resolution that allows for the eventual passage of actual legislation that Democrats have not yet written. The resolution sets Democrats up for a reconciliation bill that can slide through the Senate with only 50 votes, meaning Democrats can avoid a Republican filibuster. 

Justice Democrats, a progressive political action committee, released a TV ad over the weekend accusing the moderates of obstructing the Biden agenda because the budget bill “would make billionaires and corporations pay their fair share.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), one of the key architects of the infrastructure bill, threw his support behind the Gottheimer faction on Monday. 

“Just like Democrats and Republicans came together in the Senate to pass the historic bipartisan infrastructure package before considering the Democratic budget resolution, the House should put politics aside and do the same,” Manchin said in a statement. “It would send a terrible message to the American people if this bipartisan bill is held hostage.”

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