WASHINGTON (The Hill): House Democratic leaders late Thursday postponed a vote yet again on the bipartisan infrastructure bill amid threats from progressives to tank it as leverage for a separate, larger package to expand social safety net programs.
After a long day of meetings between Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the warring centrist and progressive factions of the caucus, as well as with White House staff, Democrats opted to delay a vote planned for Thursday rather than allow an embarrassing public failure on the House floor.
A notice from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s (D-Md.) office issued shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday confirmed that there would be no further votes for the night. The House is expected to reconvene Friday morning as the negotiations continue.
Pelosi, leaving the Capitol just after midnight on Friday, suggested the infrastructure vote will take place later in the day.
“There’ll be a vote today,” she said. When pressed if the vote is definitive, however, she left some wiggle room: “We’ll see.”
Democratic leadership and the White House were hoping they could reach an agreement on a framework for the larger reconciliation bill that would convince House progressives to vote for the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill. Progressives worry that if they help pass the bipartisan bill before the reconciliation framework is agreed upon, centrists won’t help them pass the reconciliation bill packed with progressive priorities.
But as the night wore on, a deal on a framework with two key Democratic centrists, Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), remained elusive despite haggling with top White House staff. And progressives made clear they were still dug in.
“I don’t see a deal tonight. I really don’t,” Manchin said as he left the meeting with top White House staff in the Capitol basement shortly before 10 p.m.
Manchin maintained that he’s still pushing for a top-line spending figure of $1.5 trillion for the social benefit package — less than half the current $3.5 trillion.
“We’re in good-faith negotiations,” Manchin said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said after House leadership pulled the bill that Democrats “are 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,” she added.
Centrists expressed frustration that the vote had been delayed once again.
Rep. Cindy Axne (Iowa), one of the most vulnerable Democrats heading into the 2022 midterm elections, said in a statement that “all-at-once or nothing is no way to govern.”
“When Iowans tell me they are sick of Washington games, this is what they mean,” Axne said.
A group of centrists had originally secured a commitment from Pelosi that the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill investing in transit and broadband programs, which the Senate passed in August, would get a House floor vote by Sept. 27.
Pelosi announced on Sunday night that the vote would instead happen Thursday, in an acknowledgment that Democratic leaders needed more time to round up support within the caucus.
Pelosi insisted throughout the day on Thursday that the vote would still happen, despite the evidence that progressives could handily sink the bill.
“We’re on a path to win the vote,” Pelosi said Thursday morning. “I don’t want to even consider any options other than that.”
Centrists similarly expressed confidence that the bipartisan infrastructure bill would pass on Thursday.
“She’s definitely talking to folks and working hard. She’s doing the Pelosi magic,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), the co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.
But Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the Congressional Progressive Caucus leader, vowed that the bipartisan infrastructure bill would fail absent any action on the social spending package that addresses party priorities like universal paid family leave, childcare programs, tuition-free community and initiatives to combat climate change.
“Anything can happen. But if it happens, it will go down,” Jayapal warned.
“I have never seen our caucus so strong. And I am a very good vote counter also, maybe not quite as good as Nancy Pelosi sometimes, but I’m excellent,” she said.
House Democrats can only afford up to three defections with their narrow majority and still pass legislation on their own without the help of Republicans. Jayapal, meanwhile, maintained that more than half of the 96-member Progressive Caucus stood ready to vote down the bipartisan bill.
And with only seven House Republicans publicly committing their support for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, it appeared liberals could easily prevent it from passing.
Shortly after Manchin’s preferred $1.5 trillion limit was made public Thursday, Sinema also issued a statement confirming that she did not support the current top-line $3.5 trillion in spending. But Sinema declined to share more details of discussions with Democratic leaders and the White House.
“Sen. Sinema said publicly more than two months ago, before Senate passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, that she would not support a bill costing $3.5 trillion,” Sinema’s office said in a statement. “In August, she shared detailed concerns and priorities, including dollar figures, directly with Senate Majority Leader [Charles] Schumer (D-N.Y.) and the White House.”
Thursday is also when some federal highway and transit construction programs that would be reauthorized under the bipartisan infrastructure bill are set to expire.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) had indicated on Wednesday that lawmakers would pass a standalone short-term extension of those programs if the bipartisan infrastructure bill didn’t pass by Thursday night.