WASHINGTON — The House is bracing for a much-anticipated vote on a major infrastructure bill that doesn’t appear to have the support it needs to pass.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters Wednesday that she wants it to pass Thursday, but she left wiggle room to delay the vote. The legislation, which passed the Senate last month, is opposed by scores of progressive Democratic lawmakers, who say they want progress on legislation to bolster the social safety net, called Build Back Better, to come first.
“If it happens before the Build Back Better Act, I think it will be voted down. I know it will be voted down,” said progressive Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., counting himself among the “no” votes.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has promised that more than half the 95 members of the group will vote against the infrastructure bill if it comes up before the safety net bill.
The holdup is the result of a standoff between Democratic moderates, who want to de-link the two measures and pass the $550 billion infrastructure bill quickly, and progressive lawmakers, who are holding it up because they don’t trust centrists to support the bigger one without the smaller one.
Jayapal said the problem is the Senate, particularly centrist Democrats Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who haven’t said what they support or oppose in the $3.5 trillion House version.
“They need to come up with their counteroffer, and then we sit down and negotiate from there,” she told reporters Wednesday.
Centrist Democrats say the infrastructure bill must pass Thursday.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., a leader of the Blue Dog Coalition, said Democratic leadership “needs to whip this vote as aggressively as they whipped the budget resolution vote.”
“If the vote were to fail tomorrow or be delayed, there would be a significant breach in trust that would slow the momentum in moving forward in delivering the Biden agenda,” she said.
The heart of the dispute is that progressives believe the infrastructure and safety net bills were part of a packaged deal in which each wing of the party could achieve its priority. Centrists say they never signed off on any such deal and want to separate the two bills. Each side needs the other’s votes to pass either bill under the wafer-thin Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate.
House Republicans don’t plan to offer much help. They’re pressuring their members to vote “no” on the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, a moderate Democrat first elected in 2018, said the party should keep calm and carry on, regardless of what happens Thursday.
He said the infrastructure bill can come up again and pass, and that both proposals ought to pass.
“The only thing that my district cares about is that we deliver. They don’t care about the process,” he said. “They don’t care whether we do it on September 27 or 29 or October 2. What matters is that we deliver. And Democrats win by being the party that delivers.”
Malinowski told reporters that House Democrats are frustrated that they don’t know where the Senate stands on the bigger bill. Democrats have 50 votes in the Senate and need all of them.
“There’s a frustration. For the negotiation to succeed, everybody has to say what they want,” Malinowski said, adding that “if everybody were to come to the table” and say what they can support or oppose, Democrats could “come to a deal very quickly.”
President Joe Biden has been involved in the talks, meeting and speaking regularly with Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. He recently called on centrists like Manchin to come up with a price tag they can get behind so Democrats can proceed.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., a progressive who has said she won’t support the infrastructure bill before the safety net package, called on Biden to resolve the dispute, saying he should use “the immense power that he has with the executive to really bring the party together and say: We’re going to pass both of these bills at once.”
“That eliminates the infighting. It gets rid of all of this drama,” she said. “This is the entire agenda. We’ll do it in one fell swoop, and we don’t have to worry about all of this hostage-taking.”
Garrett Haake, Haley Talbot and Kyle Stewart contributed.