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Politics: Democrats Hand Joe Biden His Long-Awaited Infrastructure Win

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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.

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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.

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That victory only arrived after Biden and Democratic leaders strong-armed progressive lawmakers enough to get them to relent on what had previously been the party’s official position: requiring that the infrastructure bill travel alongside a $1.75 trillion social spending bill titled the Build Back Better Act.

Progressives had successfully kept the two bills together for months, fearing that moderates wouldn’t vote for the latter without holding the former as leverage.

But with pressure growing from Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to pass the infrastructure bill, progressives had little choice on Friday but to take a legislative leap of faith.

While Biden and moderates got their win, liberals left the Capitol with a procedural vote to advance Build Back Better—and with a written promise from moderates to vote for the legislation if it gets a positive fiscal analysis from Congress’ independent budget watchdog.

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For progressives, the trade was not ideal. But lawmakers acknowledged it was about all they had.

After a day that former Congressional Progressive Caucus chairman Mark Pocan (D-WI) dubbed “a clusterfuck,” the vast majority of the CPC decided the commitments from a few moderates to vote for the Build Back Better Act—as long as the Congressional Budget Act came back with a fiscal analysis in line with the White House’s—was enough.

After hours of suspense, at 11:25 p.m. Friday night, the bill passed the House.

Clearing the House is not the Build Back Better Act’s main issue, however. That claim to fame belongs to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).

The centrist Democrat from West Virginia’s opposition to key planks of the Build Back Better Act has already forced Democrats to cut the size of the bill in half. And he is still not committed to passing the expansive legislation. He said this week it would take some time for him to consider it, but his tone during a Monday press conference seemed to solidify in the minds of progressives that Manchin may never get to yes.

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On top of the social spending bill’s tenuous status, there are provisions in the bill on immigration, desired by House Democrats, that are likely to get stripped out because they do not conform to the Senate’s rules.

So, for those Democrats who support getting some kind of legislation enacted to fulfill the party’s promises on climate, health care, and the economy, their ability to play hardball seemed to end on Friday. Now, they must hope House moderates keep their word—and trust that Biden can somehow get Manchin to embrace a package he has called a “recipe for economic disaster.”

A full-on existential crisis was not in the cards when Democrats began the week. On Monday, they had actually been optimistic that they could close compromises that would please their ideologically diverse and paper-thin majorities enough to move the agenda forward.

The left, led by Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), had stuck firm to its demands that the two bills travel together, a position that had forced Pelosi to twice delay votes on the infrastructure bill in October.

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But she also showed some willingness to pass the infrastructure bill without a clear path for the Build Back Better agenda. Jayapal said she was prepared to pass both bills out of the House, even though there wasn’t a clear signal that the social welfare bill would pass the Senate.

The adapted plan, to move just the infrastructure bill and set up debate for the Build Back Better Act, wasn’t enough for Jayapal and other progressives. But to pass the social spending bill, which was only finalized in legislative text this week, required the support of nearly every Democrat in the House, and a half-dozen moderates said they would not vote for the bill unless there was a full fiscal analysis from the Congressional Budget Office.

Nevertheless, Pelosi moved ahead with a vote. She surprised Democrats by announcing votes on the infrastructure bill and the procedural vehicle for the Build Back Better Act for Friday night, and the Progressive Caucus had a marathon session to mull their response.

Members were under immense pressure; Jayapal, who had been open and talkative with the press through the process, left at one point without saying a word to reporters. It was later reported by CNN that she was taking a call from Biden.

Progressives fumed that the handful of moderates who withheld their support for the Build Back Better Act were not subject to similar pressure. Aides vented publicly and privately about the narrative of progressives being the problem children of the party, and never the moderates. And progressives can credibly claim they are trying to ensure that both planks of Biden’s agenda become law, while moderates leave ample room for doubt over whether they support anything beyond the infrastructure bill.

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Still, progressives quickly coalesced around a plan to accept the word of a moderate faction that they have openly distrusted—and which has openly distrusted them.

Biden, who cancelled a planned trip to his vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware at the last minute on Friday afternoon, instead spent the evening in the residence alongside his legislative affairs team, “making calls and staying in close touch with leadership and members,” according to a White House official. Vice President Kamala Harris also joined him in the calls.

“I am urging all members to vote for both the rule for consideration of the Build Back Better Act and final passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill tonight,” Biden said in a statement released as he joined those calls. “I am confident that during the week of November 15, the House will pass the Build Back Better Act.”

The president, whose frequent calls for congressional Democrats to pass both measures in one go had become increasingly desperate, urged the Congressional Progressive Caucus earlier on Friday to vote on the BIF immediately, according to a White House official, with no mention of the massive social spending measure.

“The president is speaking with House leadership, progressives, and moderates in an effort to come to a solution,” the official said, “and he has been urging a vote tonight.”

Earlier on Friday, principal deputy White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that the president had been “in close touch” with House members as he advocated for a “yes” vote on a bill that the caucus already supports.

“I can’t speak for the mechanism” on voting Friday, Jean-Pierre said when asked about timing, but “if it’s today, that’s wonderful, that’s great.”

Jean-Pierre was straightforward about the potential electoral effect that the months-long delay in passing the spending packages had on Democrats in elections this week, telling reporters that the loss of the Virginia governor’s mansion was evidence that “the American people felt we hadn’t moved quickly enough.”

“We just have to act—we cannot not deliver for the American public,” Jean-Pierre said, adding that the shortened patience of the American public had become clear to the administration. “The time is now to get this down—that’s how his assessment is.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Biden's $1T infrastructure bill historic, not transformative .
WASHINGTON (AP) — The $1 trillion infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signs into law represents a historic achievement at a time of deeply fractured politics. But the compromises needed to bridge the political divide suggest that the spending might not be as transformative as Biden has promised for the U.S. economy. Faced with flagging support as the U.S. continues to slog through a pandemic and rising inflation, the president has treated infrastructure as proof that government can function again.

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