House Democrats gathered Monday night for a tense meeting ahead of a week of votes that could make or break President Biden’s domestic agenda — with lawmakers set to consider both a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and a $3.5 trillion social spending bill in the coming days.
“The only person who knows exactly what’s going to happen this week,” Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) told The Post, “is a really good psychic.”
Debate on the smaller infrastructure proposal opened Monday evening, with a vote in the House expected Thursday. Progressives had repeatedly threatened to vote against the measure if the larger spending plan was not passed by both the House and Senate first, but Democratic moderates were confident Monday that they still had the votes to approve the bill.
“The Speaker [Nancy Pelosi] doesn’t schedule these unless we’re gonna have a win,” Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) told reporters.
The moderates’ job is likely to be made easier by a handful of House Republicans who are expected to vote for the infrastructure bill — which was passed by the Senate last month — despite heavy pressure from GOP leadership to oppose it. Meanwhile, the White House has brought little pressure to bear on members of the president’s party — so far.
“I have a feeling that either they don’t want to put undue pressure on some of those progressives who’ve taken a ‘public position’ on this and then get embarrassed by the whip count,” one Democratic lawmaker told The Post, “or they don’t want to have to whip until they absolutely have to.”
Progressive unity against the infrastructure measure is by no means certain, with Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) — himself a progressive — criticizing far-left members of his own party over their vow to tank the bill.
“I have no idea what they’re thinking. Some of them just like speaking to you,” he told reporters. “They get off on that and that seems to be the end in itself. The end should be passing legislation and not doing ‘Meet the Press.’”
The tug-of-war over the infrastructure bill may be child’s play compared to the drama that awaits when the time comes to vote on the $3.5 trillion social spending bill, which Democrats are attempting to get through the House and Senate without Republican support through reconciliation.
The bill as written faces near-certain doom in the 50-50 Senate, since Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have come out against spending $3.5 trillion. Pelosi (D-Calif.) sought to smooth the way for a scaled-back version of the bill last week, telling colleagues in a letter that while she hoped the $3.5 trillion in spending would be enacted, “[w]e must be prepared for adjustments.”
According to sources, the speaker echoed that message Monday night, telling members of her conference that “we are not going to pass a bill that’s not going to pass the Senate.”
“The Senate isn’t going to go along with $3.5 trillion,” Cohen emphasized. “We don’t need to sacrifice our transportation infrastructure bill on something that the Senate may never come to agreement on.”
Members of the far-left have so far remained undeterred.
“We are not passing anything short of having the full Build Back Better agenda,” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) vowed after Monday’s meeting.
“What we have said is we need the entire reconciliation bill,” agreed Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). “Some framework that can still take another several months to get done, that the Senate hasn’t agreed to, that hasn’t been voted on, is not going to do it for us.”
However, much of the focus on Capitol Hill is not on members of the “Squad,” but on Manchin. The West Virginian has not said publicly what level of spending would make him feel comfortable with supporting a reconciliation bill, though reports have suggested his limit would be between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion, leaving a wide gulf for the White House and congressional leadership to bridge.
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