Facing an embarrassing defeat at the hands of progressives in her party, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was forced to cancel a vote on a Senate-passed $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill Thursday — failing to garner the support needed for passage after far-left Democrats vowed to block the measure until there is movement on a sweeping $3.5 trillion social spending bill.
The feud threatens two of President Biden’s top legislative priorities and has so far confounded party leaders, senior congressional staffers, and White House aides who have sought a solution.
Pelosi had insisted all week that the infrastructure legislation would come up for a vote Thursday. She had initially promised moderate members of her conference who supported that measure that it would be voted on by Sept. 27, but allowed the deadline to slide as she sought to placate progressives who wanted to vote on the larger bill first.
The speaker was confident earlier Thursday that the $1.2 trillion bill would pass on her schedule, despite minimal whipping efforts from House Democratic leaders.
“I do not plan on not doing anything,” she told reporters when asked if she would delay the vote. “I plan on moving forward in a positive direction. I’m only envisioning taking it up and winning.”
Hours later, the speaker sought to put a positive spin on what she called a “productive and crucial day”.
“Discussions continue with the House, Senate and White House to reach a bicameral framework agreement to Build Back Better through a [$3.5 trillion] reconciliation bill,” Pelosi wrote in a so-called “Dear Colleague” letter.
“The Bipartisan Infrastructure bill has already had its rule passed and its debate has concluded. All of this momentum brings us closer to shaping the reconciliation bill in a manner that will pass the House and Senate.”
Moderate Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), tweeted late Thursday that hopes for an agreement “ain’t over yet!”
“This is just one long legislative day — we literally aren’t adjourning,” he wrote. “Negotiations are still ongoing, and we’re continuing to work. As I said earlier: grabbing some Gatorade and Red Bull.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that the two sides were “closer to an agreement than ever. But we are not there yet, and so, we will need some additional time to finish the work, starting tomorrow morning first thing.”
Left-wing lawmakers had repeatedly asserted in recent days that they had more than enough votes to tank the infrastructure bill, with Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) calling on moderate Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-West Va.) — both of whom have had multiple meetings at the White House in recent days — to provide a topline number for the social spending bill.
Almost on cue, a July memo signed by Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) emerged Thursday, revealing that the West Virginian had requested a topline figure of $1.5 trillion.
On Wednesday, Manchin had reiterated his opposition to spending $3.5 trillion “when we have already spent $5.4 trillion since last March.”
“What I have made clear to the President and Democratic leaders is that spending trillions more on new and expanded government programs, when we can’t even pay for the essential social programs, like Social Security and Medicare, is the definition of fiscal insanity,” he said in a statement. “Suggesting that spending trillions more will not have an impact on inflation ignores the everyday reality that America’s families continue to pay an unavoidable inflation tax.”
Jayapal told reporters that she believed Manchin’s statement had galvanized more progressives to vote against the infrastructure bill — which Manchin played a key role in negotiating — and insisted that her bloc had the votes to bring down the measure,
House progressives been encouraged in their intransigence by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who told reporters that he did not see an agreement on the final form of the social spending bill coming together by Thursday evening and cautioned that progressives would lose leverage if the infrastructure bill was passed first.
“What deal, what deal?” Sanders asked. “We do not know what the deal is. If it’s a $10 trillion deal I will sign off on it.”
House Democratic moderates are similarly incensed after Pelosi cut a deal with them in July to hold a vote on the infrastructure measure in exchange for their votes on a budget allowing Democrats to move forward with the $3.5 trillion plan — which they are attempting to pass without Republican support.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), the chair of the moderate-conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, threatened to withhold her vote on the reconciliation bill on Wednesday if the bipartisan bill did not come before the House, arguing that the delay had hindered her “trust” that leadership and progressives would negotiate with them in good faith.
Democrats currently hold a majority of eight seats in the House of Representatives, meaning that only three of Pelosi’s members can vote against any measure before it is defeated — assuming all Republicans hold firm.