Moderates vow to block budget to secure infrastructure funding

The Hill

August 13, 2021 9:43 am

A group of House moderates is throwing a wrench in the Democrats’ two-prong economic agenda, threatening to block a multitrillion-dollar budget bill until party leaders enact the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure package, according to a letter obtained by The Hill.

Behind Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Democrats had intended to return to Washington the week of Aug. 23, interrupting their long summer recess in order to pass the budget blueprint, which was approved by the Senate on Wednesday.

That budget resolution authorizes Democrats to begin crafting their $3.5 trillion package of economic priorities — including an expansion of social safety net programs, health care coverage, immigrant rights and environmental protections — which is expected to be considered by both chambers in the fall.

Only afterward, Pelosi has said, will the House vote on the Senate’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which was also passed by the upper chamber earlier this week.

A group of nine moderate Democrats, however, have another design in mind.

In the letter to be sent to Pelosi on Friday, the centrist lawmakers maintain that their districts simply can’t wait for the infrastructure spending to go out the door. They’re demanding that the Senate’s bipartisan bill be adopted this month, or they won’t support the budget resolution — a threat with real teeth given the Democrats’ slim House majority and the Republicans’ unanimous opposition to the Senate’s budget bill.

“The country is clamoring for infrastructure investment and commonsense, bipartisan solutions,” reads the letter. “With the livelihoods of hardworking American families at stake, we simply can’t afford months of unnecessary delays and risk squandering this one-in-a-century, bipartisan infrastructure package. It’s time to get shovels in the ground and people to work.”

The New York Times was first to report on the Democrats’ letter.

The letter was spearheaded by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), a co-chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, and endorsed by eight other moderate Democrats: Reps. Henry Cuellar (Texas), Jim Costa (Calif.), Kurt Schrader (Ore.), Filemon Vela (Texas), Vicente Gonzalez (Texas), Jared Golden (Maine), Ed Case (Hawaii) and Carolyn Bourdeaux (Ga.).

The threat poses a dilemma for Pelosi, President Biden and other party leaders because there’s a separate, parallel ultimatum coming from House liberals, who say they won’t vote for the infrastructure bill without the Senate first passing the $3.5 trillion social benefits package — a strategy Pelosi has endorsed. 

“We have been clear for three months that we are not going to vote for the bipartisan package unless there is a reconciliation package that has passed, that includes sufficient funding for our five priorities,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters earlier this month.

With liberals vowing to oppose infrastructure without the budget and moderates vowing to oppose the budget without infrastructure, it’s unclear how Pelosi intends to proceed.

A senior Democratic aide downplayed the threat Friday morning, noting that the centrist letter signers represent a tiny fraction of a House Democratic Caucus that otherwise supports the two-track voting schedule laid out by the Speaker.

“There are not sufficient votes to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill this month,” the aide said in an email. “This is 9. There are dozens upon dozens who will vote against the [bipartisan infrastructure bill] unless it’s after the Senate passes reconciliation.”