WASHINGTON — Nine moderate House Democrats told Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday that they will not vote for a budget resolution meant to pave the way for the passage of a $3.5 trillion social policy package later this year until a Senate-approved infrastructure bill passes the House and is signed into law.
The pledge, in a letter released early Friday, is a major rift that threatens the carefully choreographed, two-track effort by congressional Democrats and the Biden administration to enact both a trillion-dollar, bipartisan infrastructure deal and an even more ambitious — but partisan — social policy measure. The nine House members are more than enough to block consideration of the budget blueprint in a House where Democrats hold a three-seat majority.
The Senate passed the infrastructure bill Tuesday with 69 votes, including 19 Republicans. It then approved, on a party-line vote early Wednesday, a $3.5 trillion budget resolution that, if passed by the House, would allow Democrats in both chambers to assemble the social policy bill this fall without fear of a Republican filibuster in the Senate.
If they stick to their position, Democratic leaders and President Joe Biden face their first major test in the process. More than half of the nearly 100-strong Congressional Progressive Caucus has taken the opposite position, saying they will not vote for the infrastructure bill until they have a social policy measure funding their priorities: climate change, education, health care, family leave, child care and elder care.
Pelosi has called the House back early from its summer recess to consider the budget resolution the week of Aug. 23. To assuage the progressives, Pelosi promised that she would not bring the infrastructure bill to a vote in the House until the Senate passed the social policy bill. The liberal progressives fear that once the infrastructure bill is signed, moderate Democrats in the House and Senate will withdraw their support for the far-reaching social policy measure.
But that social policy bill might not pass until well into the fall, if ever, given the 50-50 partisan split in the Senate. And moderate House Democrats say delaying a vote on infrastructure runs the risk of unforeseen events derailing it.
“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,” reads the letter, which has Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., as the first signer. “It’s time to get shovels in the ground and people to work.”
With the promised defections from the Progressive Caucus, it would appear that Pelosi faces a stalemate, lacking the votes to either deliver the infrastructure bill to the president’s desk or advance the budget resolution needed to protect the final legislation from Republican obstruction.
On Friday, Pelosi was sticking to her position that the “hard infrastructure” legislation, which funds roads, bridges, tunnels, rail, transit and broadband, must be packaged with the social policy bill, or what Democrats are calling “soft infrastructure” — social welfare and climate change projects, financed by significant tax increases on wealthy individuals and corporations.
Senior leadership aides framed it as a numbers game: Scores of Democrats say they will not vote for one without the other, versus the nine on record that want action now on infrastructure.
But one side will have to blink.
Until now, most congressional Democrats had been optimistic that both measures could find enough support.
“This is President Biden’s agenda, this is the Democrats’ agenda, this is what we ran on and we need to deliver,” Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., a leader in the Progressive Caucus, said of the social policy bill. “It is important for us not to miss the mark, and I don’t see a conflict.”
But her moderate colleagues do.
“We will not consider voting for a budget resolution until the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passes the House and is signed into law,” they wrote.
That sentiment may go beyond the nine. Other more moderate Democrats, who declined to sign, have also said they very much want an immediate vote on the infrastructure bill.
“This is a once-in-a-generation infrastructure bill, and I think we should strike while the iron is hot,” said Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich. “We should bring it to the House and vote on it as soon as possible.”
The draft letter was signed by Gottheimer and Reps. Filemon Vela of Texas, Henry Cuellar of Texas, Ed Case of Hawaii, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia, Jared Golden of Maine, Vicente Gonzalez of Texas and Jim Costa of California.
Virtually all of them come from swing districts or areas of the country that shifted toward former President Donald Trump.
Gottheimer in 2018 won a seat that had been long occupied by Republicans. Golden, from conservative northern Maine, has often bolted from the Democratic position.
Bourdeaux, from suburban and exurban Atlanta, was the only Democrat in 2020 to win a Republican district. As Georgia’s Republican state Legislature and governor begin redrawing district lines, she will be one of the most vulnerable Democrats in 2022.
Three of the nine are Latinos from Texas, which saw a marked shift in Hispanic voting toward Trump.
The nine could be running a big political risk by putting their names on paper. As one leadership aide put it, the legislative offer is a package deal, not an à la carte menu, and they will face enormous pressure over the next two weeks to fold.
“This is now up to Democrats,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., who toured infrastructure projects with Gottheimer and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as the administration was pressuring lawmakers to move forward. “We have a large and diverse Democratic caucus, and the important thing is to pass all of this with substantial Democratic support.”
He added, “The one thing we know for sure as Democrats is, the responsibility is on our shoulders.”