Following Democratic Infighting, Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Stalls

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a news conference in Burlington, Vermont, U.S. March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Following Democratic Infighting, Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Stalls

If progressives blocked the smaller bill, moderate Democrats could block the larger one.

Progressive legislators in the House of Representatives have doubled down on their efforts to block the passage of President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion compromise infrastructure bill, defying Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) requests for it to be passed on Thursday without delay.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, warned that roughly half of her ninety-five-member group was prepared to vote against the infrastructure bill, despite previously supporting it, if it was put to a vote before the larger $3.5 trillion bill. The second, larger bill is being passed through “reconciliation,” a procedural measure that prevents a Republican filibuster.

Progressive Democrats are afraid that moderate Democrats, who have expressed reservations regarding the larger bill, could vote to pass the smaller bipartisan bill before turning around and blocking the larger one. Consequently, they have warned that unless both are passed at the same time, they will prevent the passage of the smaller bill—effectively holding it hostage.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) outlined this strategy in an interview with NBC, saying, “My fear is that if the dual agreement that was reached is broken, and we just pass the infrastructure bill, the leverage that we have here in the Senate to pass the reconciliation bill will be largely gone.”

The progressives’ fears are well-founded. Moderate Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have long objected to the reconciliation bill’s price tag, and Jayapal criticized the pair for rejecting the $3.5 trillion without providing an alternative number.

However, some legislators have criticized Jayapal and other progressives for jeopardizing a bill that all Democrats and many Republicans support. 

"We need both bills. To threaten to vote against one until and unless the other one is ready for ‘my’ approval is not only hostage-taking but risks backfiring," Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) told NBC, warning that if progressives blocked the smaller bill, moderate Democrats could block the larger one, leading Biden’s signature infrastructure proposal to fall apart on the eve of its passage.

While the smaller infrastructure bill’s final text has been drafted and is ready for a vote, the precise language and specifications of the larger reconciliation bill have not yet been finalized, leaving room for further compromises.

A separate struggle on Capitol Hill involves the U.S. government’s looming budget crisis. On Wednesday night, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced a stopgap measure to fund the government until 2022 but warned that an extension would soon be needed. Congress is also facing an impending collision with the U.S. debt limit, which would force the United States to default on its debts if not resolved by October 18.

Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.

Image: Reuters