Moderates bring House to standstill in Biden budget clash
Nine moderate Democrats signed onto a letter late last week raising their objections to pushing ahead with Biden's broader infrastructure proposal without first considering the smaller public works plan.
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Confronting moderates, House Democratic leaders tried to muscle President Joe Biden’s multitrillion-dollar budget blueprint over a key hurdle, working overnight to ease an intraparty showdown that risks upending their domestic infrastructure agenda.
Tensions flared and spilled into early of Aug. 24 as a band of moderate lawmakers threatened to withhold their votes for the $3.5 trillion plan. They were demanding the House first approve a $1 trillion package of road, power grid, broadband and other infrastructure projects that’s already passed the Senate.
Despite hours of negotiations at the Capitol, the House chamber came to a standstill and plans were thrown into flux late Monday, as leaders and lawmakers huddled privately to broker an agreement. Shortly after midnight, leaders announced no further votes would be taken until Tuesday’s session.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi implored Democrats during a private caucus not to bog down and miss this chance to deliver on the promises Biden and the party have made to Americans.
“Right now, we have an opportunity to pass something so substantial for our country, so transformative we haven’t seen anything like it,” Pelosi said, according to a person who requested anonymity to disclose the private comments.
Pelosi told them it was “unfortunate” they were discussing the process when they should be debating the policy. “We cannot squander this majority and this Democratic White House by not passing what we need to do,” she said.
With Republicans fully opposed to the president’s big plans, the Democratic leaders were trying to engineer a way out of a potentially devastating standoff between the party’s moderate and progressive wings that risks Biden’s agenda.
Pelosi’s leadership sought to sidestep the issue by persuading lawmakers to take a procedural vote to simply start the process and save the policy fight for the months ahead, when they will be crafting and debating details within the full $3.5 trillion budget proposal.
Challenging their party’s most powerful leaders, nine moderate Democrats signed onto a letter late last week raising their objections to pushing ahead with Biden’s broader infrastructure proposal without first considering the smaller public works plan that has already passed the Senate. Other moderates raised similar concerns in recent days.
“I’m bewildered by my party’s misguided strategy to make passage of the popular, already-written, bipartisan infrastructure bill contingent upon passage of the contentious, yet-to-be-written, partisan reconciliation bill,” wrote Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., a leader of the centrist Blue Dog caucus, in the Orlando Sentinel. “It’s bad policy and, yes, bad politics.”
In the narrowly divided House, every vote matters and a few dissenters could conceivably end the Democratic majority’s hopes for passing any proposal.
With most of Biden’s domestic agenda at stake, it’s unimaginable that Pelosi, D-Calif., would allow an embarrassing defeat. That’s especially true because the package is stocked with priorities like child care, paid family leave and a Medicare expansion that are hard-fought party goals. It also comes as the president is already under criticism over his handling of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The $3.5 trillion budget resolution will set the stage this fall for further legislation to fill in that blueprint, and committees are already fast at work drafting how that money would be spent on the social safety net, environment and other programs over the next decade.