Progressives Hold the Key to House Passing Infrastructure, and They're Not Budging Yet

Progressive Democrats have thrown a wrench into plans to fast-track a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package that would upgrade roads, bridges, broadband and other priorities around the country.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, has been aiming to hold a vote on the crucial piece of President Joe Biden's agenda this week, but some Democrats say they still aren't ready—angling for an agreement on a massive expansion of the social safety net that will come up in a separate bill.

Pelosi has publicly praised the left-leaning wing of her caucus as fighting for their priorities.

The White House late Thursday night released a statement of progress from press secretary Jen Psaki.

"A great deal of progress has been made this week, and we are closer to an agreement than ever," she said. "But we are not there yet, and so, we will need some additional time to finish the work, starting [Friday] morning first thing."

The House is on call for a potential vote after lawmakers left the U.S. Capitol after midnight Thursday, continuing negotiations. But the standoff continues between progressive Democrats and two moderate senators holding up a Senate vote on the larger bill.

"I have consistently said that we need a vote in the Senate because I want to make sure that there are no delays that there are no mix-ups that there are no mixed understandings about what the deal is, and so that's what I've been saying," U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters Friday. "This is the legislative process. It has to work itself out, hopefully it will be soon. We're going to work."

The progressives, backed by U.S. Senate Budget Chair Bernie Sanders—a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats and ran for the Democratic presidential nomination—want a clearer picture of what they can get out of the proposed $3.5 trillion spending plan that would provide for universal pre-kindergarten, free community college, paid family leave and other priorities Biden has laid out in his agenda.

"We're laser focused on trying to make sure that we establish universal pre-K, free community college, expanding Medicare—That's what we wanted to look for people and that's what we're fighting for," U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told reporters at the Capitol on Friday. "I know we're all committed to the same goal."

Biden has spent recent days making numerous phone calls and holding meetings with key lawmakers, trying to help broker a deal.

"President Biden is deeply involved—I can promise you that he is deeply engaged in trying to iron out these differences, and I'm grateful to him for his leadership," Jayapal said.

As first reported by Politico, conservative Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia in July circulated a document that outlined his counteroffer at $1.5 trillion, with restrictions on spending before money meant to aid the coronavirus pandemic recovery is spent.

He and U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona, are seen as the key votes to passing the social safety net expansion, commonly referred to as the "reconciliation bill" because of a procedure that will allow it to pass with 50 votes.

Democrats hold exactly 50 seats in the Senate, so without any GOP support they have no votes to spare. Republicans are in agreement that they will vote against the reconciliation bill, even if details aren't hammered out.

The Senate last month advanced on a broad bipartisan vote, including support from U.S. Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. But the House GOP is pushing its members to vote against the bill.

Progressives block infrastructure deal
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. Above, a view of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday evening September 28. Drew Angerer/Getty Images