Democrats Hand Joe Biden His Long-Awaited Infrastructure Win
After a torturous series of never-ending Infrastructure Weeks, President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats took the largest step yet toward ending the political Groundhog Day. On Friday night, House Democrats passed a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, 228-206, with 215 Democrats and 13 Republicans voting for the bill, and six Democrats and 200 Republicans voting no. Since it already passed the Senate, the so-called Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act now heads to Biden’s desk for his signature, allowing the president to claim a major win as his approval ratings sag.
The House passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill Friday, but did not vote on a much larger, sweeping climate and social spending measure as originally planned. © Joshua Roberts/Getty Images Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks to reporters as House Democrats work on infrastructure and spending bills on Capitol Hill on November 4, 2021 in Washington, DC.
The result was a major step forward for President Joe Biden’s agenda, but a blow to progressives who’ve long pushed for the two bills to be tied together. Progressives were able to extract a commitment from House moderates to vote for the spending measure by November 15, although that pledge came with an important caveat.
To get the infrastructure bill passed, House Democrats went looking for trust
They found that trust in a handful of small meetings between lawmakers on different ends of the Democratic political spectrum.The problem was trust.
The now successful infrastructure bill passed the House on a bipartisan basis, 228-206, with 13 Republicans voting in favor. The legislation was a compromise between a bipartisan group of lawmakers, includes major investments in roads, water quality, bridges, and broadband. It’s known as BIF — the bipartisan infrastructure framework — since members of both parties have backed it. Because it has already passed the Senate, it now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk to become law.
The $1.75 trillion social spending bill, dubbed the Build Back Better Act (BBB), did not receive a vote, however, and won’t be heading to the Senate. It contains historic funding for early childhood education and climate as well as key health care reforms.
Who are the 6 House Democrats who voted against the infrastructure bill?
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive House Democrats voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Here's why.Their main reason for the down vote: They wanted to pass the bill with its counterpart, a multi-trillion-dollar spending deal called the Build Back Better Act that is still being negotiated in Congress.
The House action followed a chaotic day of back-and-forth over the two votes. Progressives have consistently demanded that votes for the two bills — the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the social spending package — be linked. They feared that moderates, who back BIF, would abandon the spending bill if the infrastructure bill passed first.
To satisfy this demand, Democratic leaders scheduled a vote on both for Friday. This week, however, a group of moderate Democrats including Reps. Kurt Schrader, Stephanie Murphy and Jared Golden, urged a delay for the social spending bill until it received a score from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) laying out how much it would add to the national debt.
In response to these concerns, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided to keep the infrastructure vote on the books, and delay the vote on the Build Back Better Act until lawmakers could get more information.
Infrastructure bill saga shows Pelosi's tenuous grip on House Democrats
It took House Speaker Nancy Pelosi nearly three months of wrangling the progressive and centrist factions in her caucus, last-minute delaying of votes, two Capitol Hill visits from President Joe Biden, a decoupling of the two halves of Democrats’ "Build Back Better" legislative agenda, and a bill-saving bump from 13 Republicans to pass a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill in a late-night vote. © Provided by Washington Examiner The saga demonstrates what a tenuous hold the speaker has over the House Democratic Caucus as she navigates its razor-thin majority, having only three votes to spare before Republican votes are needed to pass legisla
This strategy immediately prompted uproar from progressives, making it appear that the infrastructure vote would fail. Because Democrats have such narrow margins in the House, they can’t afford to lose more than three members on any vote. That gives any group of moderates or progressives the power to hold up legislation.
Biden intervened Friday night, and with Pelosi, offered progressives and moderates a deal. In exchange for progressive votes for the infrastructure package, moderates would pledge to vote for the spending bill, so long as the Congressional Budget Office — which will lay out how much the measure adds to spending and the deficit — finds the measure’s fiscal impact is as projected.
In the end, all but six progressives were willing to take the deal, enough for the infrastructure bill to pass the House.
The fate of the social spending bill, however, is now uncertain. Moderates are holding out for a score from the Congressional Budget Office before they move forward. And it may be that the CBO finds the spending bill would add to the deficit more than expected. In that case, moderates would not be required to vote for the bill, though they did promise to try “to resolve any discrepancies in order to pass the Build Back Better legislation.” Some could conceivably refuse to vote for it at all. In the best case scenario, a vote on the bill isn’t expected to take place until later this month at the earliest and then, should it pass, it must still get through the Senate as well.
Why progressives still aren’t voting for the infrastructure bill
It’s the only leverage they have to guarantee that the social spending bill moves forward.Their strategy to pin the senators down was on display Thursday, when the Congressional Progressive Caucus refused to move forward on a bipartisan infrastructure bill without a simultaneous vote on Democrats’ larger social spending bill. Because House Democrats have a narrow three-person margin, any major defections can sink legislation.
Of concern to progressives is whether the spending package will stay alive. Without a concurrent vote on the social spending measure, progressives don’t really have much leverage to ensure that it won’t be abandoned entirely.
Previously, Congressional Progressive Caucus leader Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) said that progressives trusted Biden to deliver the support of moderate Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema for the bill. Both senators have demanded major cuts and reworking to the spending package over the past few weeks, and Manchin, in particular, has expressed concern about the cost.
Now, they’ll get a chance to see if moderates in both the House and the Senate actually come through for the legislation, if they’ll continue to whittle it down, or if they will come to oppose it altogether.
Why moderate lawmakers want to know the CBO score
Both bills are quite large. The infrastructure bill will spend $1.2 trillion on roads, water quality, bridges, and broadband, while the social spending and climate bill would put $1.75 trillion toward early childhood education and clean energy as well as key health care reforms. Together, they’d represent nearly $3 trillion in spending spread over several years that would come less than a year after Congress authorized $1.9 trillion in a third coronavirus relief bill.
Jayapal explains how progressives chose pragmatism: 'We need to keep our eyes on the prize'
The Congressional Progressive Caucus got the White House message -- no more delay. Members embraced a compromise economic package as the best available deal, and accepted private assurances of Senate support. © Andrew Harnik/AP Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., speaks to reporters as she walks out of a House Democratic Progressive Caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021. Then Joe Manchin, one of the recalcitrant senators they were counting on, went before television cameras to warn he might sink the negotiated plan.
Biden has emphasized that the entirety of the $1.75 trillion bill would be paid for with revenue raisers including a new corporate minimum tax, a tax on stock buybacks, and an additional tax on top income earners. An estimate from the Joint Committee on Taxation suggested the measure would bring in about $1.5 trillion in revenue over a decade. That calculation did not include newly added provisions like policies to cut prescription drug costs and to ramp up IRS tax enforcement that are expected to bring in further revenue. Progressives have noted, too, that the bipartisan infrastructure bill is not fully paid for and would add an estimated $256 billion to the debt, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Despite this, the scale of the legislation still has moderate lawmakers in both the House and Senate worried, and they’re not fully convinced by the estimates they’ve seen. A Wharton analysis, for instance, found that Biden’s proposed framework could add as much as $2.5 trillion to the deficit.
Their demands for a CBO score — which would lay out the measure’s effects on spending, revenue, and the deficit — stem from worries that these programs will increase the deficit further, and that the revenue raisers included in the legislation won’t be sufficient to cover these costs.
Moderates have said they’d feel more comfortable moving forward if they knew for certain that the bill would have limited impacts on the debt.
“We have, because of Covid, already spent about $6 trillion roughly, and we need to approach this in a fiscally responsible manner, and the only way to do that is to know how much this package costs,” Murphy has previously said.
Democratic leaders race to resolve demands from moderates as they push for votes on social safety net and infrastructure bills
House Democratic leadership is scrambling to try to address concerns from a group of moderate Democrats that threaten to once again delay the timeline for votes on President Joe Biden's sweeping social safety net plan and a separate infrastructure bill, the latest sign of the obstacles facing the party as it pushes to enact its agenda. © Craig Hudson/Bloomberg/Getty Images U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, arrives to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. The House plans to vote today on the White House's $1.
Democrats are running out of time to pass BBB
It could take as much as two weeks for the House to get a CBO score on the bill, something the Senate is also waiting on for the budget reconciliation process. The deal struck between progressives and moderates projected CBO data would come by November 15.
Any delays in getting that score could pose a problem for getting the spending bill passed before the year is over — or even before next spring, when lawmakers will begin to turn their attention to the 2022 midterm elections.
Congress will be on recess for two weeks in November and out again in the second half of December. Should the CBO score come in two weeks, lawmakers would receive it right before leaving Washington, DC, for the Thanksgiving recess. After returning from that break, lawmakers would have roughly 10 legislative days left before their winter recess to get the bill through the House and Senate.
Finishing the spending bill is expected to be particularly difficult given that Democrats haven’t yet agreed on what will be in it. Moderate senators are still pushing back on the size and some provisions in the spending legislation, and have winnowed it down notably in recent weeks. Progressives in both chambers are working to put provisions that have been stripped out back in, and, as was seen Friday, moderates continue to voice concerns about overall cost.
And even once the spending bill passes the House, it will still face a long journey through the Senate. The social spending bill is being advanced through the budget reconciliation process, which allows bills to pass the Senate with a simple majority. And Democrats have a one-vote majority. But reconciliation also mandates a bill’s provisions affect the budget.
The Senate parliamentarian, who rules on what is and isn’t allowed in a reconciliation bill, will need to make a decision on what can and can’t be included in the bill after Democrats finish their internal negotiations and the CBO score is released. After that, again, as part of the reconciliation process, the bill will also have to go through a step known as “vote-a-rama” in which senators will be able to add amendments to the legislation and alter it even more.
Once passed in the Senate, it will head back to the House, where lawmakers will need to approve the Senate’s changes.
It’s also important to remember that the spending bill isn’t the only thing lawmakers need to address. On December 3, if Congress doesn’t take action, the government will default on its debts, triggering a possible global economic crisis, and if lawmakers don’t pass more government funding, it could shut down as well.
A lot is riding on both bills passing the House quickly, but it’s no longer clear that can happen. And if the House fails to advance the spending bill, Biden’s full agenda — and all the benefits it hopes to bring — won’t come to fruition.
Joe Biden's Remarkable Week May Just Rescue His Presidency .
A week ago Biden was staring into the abyss. By Saturday morning, the story was almost entirely different. Biden was able to celebrate "infrastructure week," making a dig at Donald Trump after the House passed the infrastructure bill with GOP support on Friday evening. Suddenly it was the Republicans who were at each other's throats, while in the Democratic Party, a Biden-brokered truce between moderates and progressives opened the door for yet more legislation."It was always likely that the Democrats would eventually reach sufficient agreement to pass the infrastructure bill," Quirk told Newsweek.