U.S. House Democrats passed a long-stalled $1.2-trillion infrastructure bill Friday night after reaching a deal between party moderates and progressives, giving President Joe Biden a much-needed victory after weeks of infighting.
Under the agreement, brokered by Biden and top Democrats, progressives would end their roadblock against the package of road, water and other projects. In exchange, moderates who’ve balked at a separate 10-year, $1.85 trillion measure boosting social and environment programs would commit to backing it later this month if official estimates of its cost are in line with expectations.
Thirteen Republican House members also voted for the bill, which passed the Senate in August with bipartisan support. Six Democrats, all progressives, voted no in protest of the deal.
The emerging pact came after a topsy-turvy day and was described by one Democrat who discussed it only on condition of anonymity.
A vote on the larger measure boosting health care, family services and climate change efforts is now expected later this month, an abrupt retreat from earlier plans to vote on it Friday. That scheduling shift represented a setback for Democrats, many of whom anticipated the day would give Biden a double-barreled triumph on the two pillars of his domestic agenda.
But moderates’ apparent willingness to consider backing that measure stood as a significant step toward a House vote that would ultimately ship it to the Senate.
And under Democrats’ current political circumstances, simply freeing up the infrastructure measure for final congressional approval was a like a burst of adrenaline for them.
House passage of the infrastructure measure would whisk it to the desk of a president whose approval ratings have dropped and whose party got a cold shoulder from voters in this week’s off-year elections.
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Democratic gubernatorial candidates were defeated in Virginia and squeaked through in New Jersey, two blue-leaning states. Those setbacks have made party leaders — moderates and progressives alike — impatient to produce impactful legislation and demonstrate they know how to govern. They also can ill afford to seem in disarray a year before midterm elections that could result in Republicans regaining congressional control.
The White House issued a statement from Biden on Friday night aimed at reinforcing the accord. “I am urging all members to vote for both the rule for consideration of the Build Back Better Act and final passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill tonight,” he said, using the administration’s name for the two measures. “I am confident that during the week of November 15, the House will pass the Build Back Better Act.”
When party leaders announced earlier in the day that the social and environment measure would be delayed, the scrambled plans cast a fresh pall over the party.
Democrats have struggled for months to take advantage of their control of the White House and Congress by advancing their top priorities. That’s been hard, in part because of Democrats’ slender majorities, with bitter internal divisions forcing House leaders to miss several self-imposed deadlines for votes.
“Welcome to my world,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters, adding, “We are not a lockstep party.”
The president and first lady Jill Biden delayed plans to travel Friday evening to their house in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Instead, Biden spoke to House leaders, moderates and progressives, said a White House official who described the conversations on condition of anonymity.
Among those Biden reached was Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which has been at the forefront of delaying the infrastructure measure for leverage. Biden asked her and her 95-member group to back the bill, said a person who recounted the conversation only on condition of anonymity.
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Another progressive, Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., said of the apparent deal with moderates: “We drafted it with them. I think everyone seems to be moving in the right direction”
Progressives have long demanded that the two massive bills be voted on together to pressure moderates to support the larger, more expansive social measure.
Democrats’ day fell apart when after hours of talks, a half-dozen moderates insisted they would vote against the sprawling package of health, education, family and climate change initiatives unless the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office first provided its cost estimate for the measure.
Democratic leaders have said that would take days or more. With Friday’s delay and lawmakers’ plans to leave town for a week’s break, those budget estimates could well be ready by the time a vote is held.
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When the infrastructure measure cleared the Senate, its GOP supporters even included Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. The package would provide huge sums for highway, mass transit, broadband, airport, drinking and waste water, power grids and other projects.
But it became a pawn in the long struggle for power between progressives and moderates. Earlier Friday, Jayapal said the White House and Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation had provided all the fiscal information lawmakers needed for the broad bill.
“If our six colleagues still want to wait for a CBO score, we would agree to give them that time — after which point we can vote on both bills together,” she wrote. That strongly suggested that some progressives were ready to vote against the infrastructure bill.
But that changed after the two Democratic factions reached their agreement.
House passage of the social and environment package would send it to the Senate, where it faces certain changes and more Democratic drama. That’s chiefly because of demands by Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to contain the measure’s costs and curb or drop some of its initiatives.
Moderates have forced leaders to slash the roughly 2,100-page measure to around half its original $3.5 trillion size. Republicans oppose it as too expensive and damaging to the economy.
The package would provide large numbers of Americans with assistance to pay for health care, raising children and caring for elderly people at home. The package would provide $555 billion in tax breaks encouraging cleaner energy and electric vehicles. Democrats added provisions in recent days restoring a new paid family leave program and work permits for millions of immigrants.
Much of the package’s cost would be covered with higher taxes on wealthier Americans and large corporations.
Moderate opposition and strict Senate rules about what can be included in the massive bill suggest that the family leave program and the immigration provisions may be dropped in that chamber.
Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Farnoush Amiri, Kevin Freking, Aamer Madhani, Alexandra Jaffe, Mary Clare Jalonick and Brian Slodysko contributed to this report.
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