Biden's Domestic Agenda on the Line as House Punts Crucial Infrastructure Vote

A key piece of President Joe Biden's agenda has stalled in the U.S. House, as Democratic leaders again delayed a vote on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package amid partisan in-fighting.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, had already delayed the vote multiple times, as the White House tried to negotiate a deal over money for road and bridge repairs, electric car incentives, and water system and broadband upgrades, among several other priorities that Biden had laid out during the presidential campaign last year.

Negotiations are expected to continue on the effort, though its delay signals struggles in getting Biden's agenda through under razor-thin margins in both the House and Senate.

A strong bloc of progressive Democrats, encouraged by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, have said they will vote against the bipartisan-backed infrastructure proposal, likely torpedoing the bill, if it came to a vote without assurances on a separate $3.5 trillion expansion of the social safety net—another centerpiece of Biden's agenda.

Conservative Democratic U.S. Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have so far balked at the price tag for the larger bill, which would provide for pre-Kindergarten, free community college, paid parental leave, expanded Medicare benefits and lower housing costs. It's commonly called the "reconciliation bill" because it relies on a procedural move in the Senate to bypass Republicans, but it would require the support of all 50 Democrats in the chamber. If it advances, it's likely to be trimmed down significantly, but it's unclear which programs would be stripped, as negotiations continue behind closed doors.

In a statement Wednesday night, Manchin, who has been a top advocate of the infrastructure bill, described the larger social issues-focused package "the definition of fiscal insanity," citing the trillions of dollars Congress has approved in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

"At some point, all of us, regardless of party must ask the simple question—how much is enough?" Manchin said.

But progressives haven't balked at the possibility of tanking both plans. Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus told reporters at the Capitol Wednesday night that Manchin's remarks likely have bolstered support for their effort to block infrastructure until the larger measure solidifies.

"I don't know what to say, [Manchin] needs to either give us an offer or this whole thing is not going to happen," she said. "We're 'No' on the bipartisan bill until we get a vote on the reconciliation bill."

Despite the gridlock at the Capitol, polls have shown wide bipartisan support for both proposals among voters.

A recent POLITICO/Morning Consult poll found about 56 percent of voters support the bipartisan infrastructure package, including 77 percent of Democrats and more than half of Republican voters.

On the reconciliation proposal, a Quinnipiac University poll over the summer found 62 percent of respondents supported $3.5 trillion for social programs "such as child care, education, family tax breaks and expanding Medicare for seniors." About 32 percent that they oppose the proposal.

Congres Biden Infrastructure vote
A view of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday evening September 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress continues to work on a continuing resolution to avert a government shutdown before a Friday deadline, a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, and a $3.5 trillion social safety net and spending package. Drew Angerer/Getty Images