House progressives have returned to a hardline policy towards the bipartisan infrastructure (BIF) bill, demanding that it and the Build Back Better budget reconciliation bill be passed at the same time, a move that moderates have adamantly opposed in the past.
The position is nothing new for progressives, who have made and held to the threat since mid-August, driven by their suspicion that moderates will not support the budget if the BIF is passed beforehand.
But on Monday, progressives cautiously scaled back on these demands, saying that they would support a separate vote on the BIF if they received President Joe Biden’s assurance that the budget can pass on its own.
“My view is that the president’s word, saying, ‘I have the commitment of 50 senators and those 50 senators are going to vote for this bill and here are the details,’ that’s good enough,” said progressive Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) on “Fox News Sunday.”
Another progressive, Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), agreed. “I want an assurance from the president, for example, that we will pass this larger social safety net package,” said Jones on CNN.
This concession came after months of political brinksmanship from both progressive and moderate factions. While progressives demanded passage of the budget and the BIF at the same time, moderates demanded that the two be passed separately.
The concession also provided a glimmer of hope to party leaders, who had struggled for months to corral their disparate caucus, that the party may be on the verge of uniting behind both bills. This was short-lived, however.
After the White House announced a new, significantly-reduced compromise budget, many progressives were lukewarm with the bill.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the Senate’s foremost progressive, called the bill “good” but said that he and others would fight to “make [it] stronger.”
The 96-strong Congressional Progressive Caucus’ reaction to the bill was also lukewarm. In a statement posted to their website, the caucus said only that they endorse the bill “in principle.”
Risk of Continued Intra-party Squabbles
Much to the chagrin of progressives, key swing votes in the Senate—Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.)—applauded the compromise bill but did not commit to voting for it. Without their votes, the bill cannot pass in the Senate—a risk that progressives are unwilling to take, fearing that moderates will not support the budget bill if the infrastructure bill passes first.
This lack of a commitment rekindled old distrust among progressives, who are now again demanding that both the reconciliation bill and the BIF be passed at the same time.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) briefly summed up this attitude. “Basically it’s the [dis]trust of Manchin and Sinema. That’s the problem.”
On their website, the Congressional Progressive Caucus warned that “Members of our Caucus will not vote for the infrastructure bill without the Build Back Better Act.”
This attitude threatens to reopen now months-old conflicts among progressives and moderates, who have long been frustrated by progressives’ demand to bundle the two bills.
In August, a group of nine moderates demanded that the bills be considered separately. These moderates called the BIF, which passed the Senate with 50 Democratic and 19 Republican votes, a “bipartisan victory for our nation,” and rejected bundling it with the far more partisan budget bill.
This situation was only resolved by an eleventh-hour intervention by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who agreed to allow the BIF to be considered separately. This compromise satiated moderates, who voted with their party to advance the budget proposal to committee for drafting.
But moderates have maintained their opposition to bundling the two bills.
Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), the leader of the nine moderate rebels, rejected progressives’ claim that moderates would not vote for the budget, but insisted on the importance of swiftly passing the BIF. “Of course we’re gonna get reconciliation done, that’s so important,” he argued, “but that doesn’t mean you stop voting on one [bill] … when you’ve got millions of jobs on the line.”
Moderate Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) said that many Democrats are “extremely frustrated that legislative obstruction of the [infrastructure bill] continues—not based on the bill’s merits, but because of a misguided strategy to use the bill as leverage on separate legislation.”
“I am disappointed that my colleagues, a small sect of my colleagues, have decided they are going to deny the American people this much-needed investment for their own political purposes,” Murphy said in an interview.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) emphasized the importance of voting on the two bills separately, noting that the BIF would receive no Republican support if it is bundled with the budget.
“The linkage/de-linkage thing has been so outcome determinate upon so many votes on the GOP side,” said Fitzpatrick. He called the situation “is very frustrating.”
“Every day that’s passed since the Senate passed this, we’re losing GOP support,” he explained, continuing “We don’t know on what planet it’s okay to take a bill that both Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer support … and yet we can’t get a vote on it because it’s being held hostage for the second package.”
Moderates in the House have said little about progressives’ renewed demands to bundle the two bills. However, bundling the two bills could provoke a reaction by moderates and cause weeks more of political brinkmanship, bringing leadership back to square one.