WASHINGTON (thehill): White House officials told House Democrats Tuesday to get ready to go it alone on infrastructure, setting the stage for party leaders to tap an obscure budget procedure to move President Biden’s top domestic priority without Republican support.
Huddling in person in the Capitol for the first time since the COVID crisis hit, members of the Democratic Caucus were briefed by Steve Ricchetti, a top adviser to Biden, and Shalanda Young, the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), who said they would give Senate negotiators seven to 10 days to reach a bipartisan agreement, according to Democrats in the meeting.
If no deal is reached in that time, the officials said, Democrats will gauge the progress of those talks, and charge ahead with a partisan package if need be.
“They’re giving it a week or 10 days more and that’s about it,” Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), chairman of the Budget Committee, said as he emerged from the meeting. “And then we move along with reconciliation — for everything.”
The briefing came as a group of 10 senators — five from each party — are scrambling to secure an infrastructure agreement that can pass through both chambers and win Biden’s signature. The group faces fierce headwinds, however, as conservatives are already objecting to the early contours of the package, saying it’s too large, while liberals are also lining up in opposition, saying it’s too small.
Given the protracted impasse, Yarmuth predicted that Democrats will have to act alone to move Biden’s two-part infrastructure plan, one part dealing with traditional transportation projects, the other with programs designed to help families financially. Yarmuth is readying his budget to do just that.
“We’re assuming right now that everything will be done by reconciliation —everything meaning the jobs plan and the families plan,” Yarmuth said. “That doesn’t preclude a bipartisan agreement. If one happens, we just take that part out of the instructions. But right now we’re assuming everything will be [done by reconciliation].”
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said the White House officials instructed Democrats to prepare for two separate tracks: one allowing for a bipartisan agreement, the other empowering Democrats to act alone.
“If they choose the obstruction pathway, then we’re prepared to do what is necessary to get the American jobs plan over the finish line,” Jeffries warned.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), head of the powerful Progressive Caucus, said she’s skeptical of the Senate negotiations, for three reasons.
First, she doesn’t see 10 Republicans breaking ranks to support a top Biden priority. Second, the contours of the Senate proposal, so far, reveal a package far too small to win the support of liberals in either chamber. And third, the gas tax some senators have proposed to help cover the new costs is regressive, in the eyes of liberals, who would oppose the package as a result.
“What we have said consistently is that it would be very difficult for us to vote on a smaller bipartisan package that leaves out so many of our critical priorities,” Jayapal said. “And unless we absolutely have the other package — reconciliation packages — moving at the same time and we have 50 votes in the Senate for it” then liberals will oppose it, she said.
“That is the challenge for us,” Jayapal said. “We’re not going to vote on something smaller unless there’s something that has everything in it at the same time.”
Yarmuth, for his part, said he’s aiming to have his budget passed through the House before the long August recess. Asked if it will have the votes to pass, he said he’s “confident” — with an asterisk.
“I’m not overly confident, but I’m confident,” he said. “Everybody’s committed to getting this done.”