As Infrastructure Deal Gathers Steam, Democratic Cracks Start to Present

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WASHINGTON – Liberal House Democrats, sandwiched between President Biden’s personal lobbying for a bipartisan infrastructure deal and their own ambitions for a far more expansive domestic agenda, warn that they will not hesitate to overturn the deal without action on their long-awaited priorities.

The brewing battle of progressives versus moderates more aligned with the presidential tactics exposes cracks in the party’s fragile strategy for executing its economic plans.

Democratic leaders said the Senate centrists’ deal, which would pump $ 1.2 trillion into roads, bridges, tunnels and broadband, would not get through Congress without a second, larger bill. This move includes advanced wishlist items that Republicans have rejected, such as universal access to preschool and community colleges, an expansion of health care services, and extensive efforts to combat climate change.

But progressive members of the House of Representatives have begun to question the depth of that commitment, especially after Mr Biden dismissed a threat to tie the tighter bill to the more expensive one and when he and other administrative officials start a lobbying blitz across the country, to build support for the infrastructure package.

On Tuesday, Mr. Biden will be promoting the deal in La Crosse, Wisconsin, the home district of long-targeted House Democrat Ron Kind. And on Monday, Pete Buttigieg, the Secretary of Transportation, toured a crumbling tunnel into Manhattan with two New Jersey Democrats, both of whom said they were convinced Congress should switch to infrastructure now.

“We will do what we should have done from the start, which is to try to pass this good bipartisan law, and then the Democrats, as a majority party, will try to pass laws,” one of the representatives, Tom Malinowski, said after the visit with Mr. Buttigieg. “There is no need for drama.”

Representative Josh Gottheimer, who was also on the tour, said the bipartisan infrastructure deal was historic in itself and “something we should celebrate by getting it closed as soon as possible.”

But Liberals fear that some Democrats – especially centrists like Senators Joe Manchin III from West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona – will lose or force their appetite for another big economic package if the bipartisan move gains enough momentum to be passed quickly become progressives to significantly reduce the scope and cost of such a plan before they are ready to vote for it.

House progressives are warning that their support for the infrastructure deal depends on the success of the larger bill, which could be worth billions of dollars, that the Democrats are pushing through a budget maneuver known as reconciliation to protect it from a Republican filibuster.

“The president can say he’s bipartisan, he can go out and support the deal, but at the end of the day, if he wants to, he has to support our priorities,” said Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington MP and chairman of the Progressive caucus, which represents 93 members of the House of Representatives.

The pressure will increase. Mr Buttigieg’s trip to New Jersey and New York on Monday included Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, and revolved around perhaps the region’s greatest infrastructure priority, a pair of long-searched rail tunnels into the city.

While Mr. Biden visits La Crosse, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack will also be in western Wisconsin to promote the potential benefits of the infrastructure compromise for rural communities.

Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, the main vote teller for the Progressive Caucus, had a blunt message about government lobbying.

“I think it’s really important to know that it won’t do anything,” she said. “It is clear that a majority of democratic groups, progressive or not, are interested in getting results and that will only happen when progressives are on board.”

But Republicans are already working to pressure Democrats to decouple the two measures.

“The president has appropriately separated a potential bipartisan infrastructure bill from the massive, independent tax and spending plans that the Democrats want to pursue on a partisan basis,” Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, said in a statement Monday. “Now I urge President Biden to engage Leader Schumer and Spokesman Pelosi and ensure that they follow his example.”

Both have said the two measures will run in parallel, and spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi said last week that there would be no infrastructure measure without a law of reconciliation.

Updated

June 28, 2021, 8:09 p.m. ET

The two legislative steps are tricky. The infrastructure deal is backed by five Republican senators but needs to get five more to take down a filibuster, and more if Democrats break up. At the same time, the Democrats must unite around a law of reconciliation on social and climate spending, which must not be too big for moderate Democrats, but also cannot throw so many liberal priorities overboard that it loses the left flank.

Mr. McConnell’s move to decouple the bills and pass an infrastructure deal himself was quickly embraced by some Republicans who were desperate to convince the centrist senators to support their compromise. Indiana Republican Senator Mike Braun followed McConnell’s testimony with his own statement that the infrastructure compromise was “bad business as long as President Biden, Spokesman Pelosi, and Leader Schumer insist on pursuing a multi-trillion dollar tax Issue a reconciliation package. “

All of this is causing House Liberals to worry that Mr Biden and moderate Democrats will accept the infrastructure deal now rather than playing for the bigger package later.

“We want to make sure our communities are represented in federal law,” said MP Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, “and the fact is that these bipartisan agreements often exclude working communities and color communities that are really in need of infrastructure investments . “

The House Progressive Caucus is pushing for bill addressing five categories: the “care industry,” which includes paid family vacation, universal childcare and $ 400 billion in long-term health care; Medicare expansion to reduce eligibility to 60 years, expand vision, dental and hearing coverage, and enable government to negotiate prescription drug prices; Action on climate change, including a clean energy standard for utilities and a civilian climate corps; a path to citizenship for important immigrants; and low-income housing.

Senator Bernie Sanders, the independent Vermonter who heads the Budget Committee, sees all of this being put into a budget resolution in July that could cost $ 6 trillion. Other Senate Democrats say they want a much smaller package.

But House Liberals are in no mood to give up their priorities while letting Republicans handle infrastructure spending. Progressive caucus leaders have actively recruited their members to show Ms. Pelosi how closed and serious they are, Ms. Jayapal said.

Ms. Omar said the House Liberals would meet with House Budget Committee chairman John Yarmuth of Kentucky this week as he begins drafting the House budget and has been in constant communication with Mr. Sanders.

“The last thing you want is progressives who say, ‘We’re voting no because they sold out climate, education and childcare,'” said California MP Ro Khanna, who predicted that a united left flank would only one bill pull down for the infrastructure.

Moderate Democrats in the House and Senate are also working together to prevent such an outcome, said Gottheimer, who used a language like that of the Republicans in the Senate: “I don’t think we should take our infrastructure hostage.”

Rep. Rick Larsen, a Democrat whose district north of Seattle is sweating in record-breaking heat, said a House surface transportation bill due this week would mark another milestone for House and Senate negotiators. This bill includes climate-related financing, which is not included in the Senate Agreement, to replace diesel-powered buses and ferries with emission-free versions and to pump record sums into local transport and rail. It is firmly opposed by the leaders of the Republicans in the House of Representatives.

Larsen, a senior member of the Transport and Infrastructure Committee, said the bill should help shape any final deal that Democrats hope to see before existing transport programs expire on Sept. 30. For the first time in more than a decade, the bill also includes earmarking for home district projects requested by members, which makes legislators invest more personally.

“House Action keeps the momentum of the Senate bill and a final deal,” said Larsen. “What it looks like in the end, I can tell you when we’re done.”