In a victory for progressives, House Democrats delayed passage of a bipartisan infrastructure deal as President Joe Biden also insisted Friday on passage of a more ambitious package of social spending and climate priorities. He conceded privately that the latter plan would be cut significantly.
Biden met with House Democrats on the two bills Friday afternoon at the Capitol and told reporters afterward, “It doesn't matter whether it’s in six minutes, six days, or six weeks, we're going to get it done.”
Moderates wanted the House to pass the $1.2 trillion, Senate-passed infrastructure measure before taking up Biden's Build Back Better bill
The House Budget Committee has advanced a $3.5 trillion version of the Build Back Better measure, which would be moved through the budget reconciliation process, requiring no GOP support in the 50-50 Senate. But Democratic leaders and the White House have yet to reach an agreement with the two Senate holdouts, Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. Sinema’s demands aren’t clear, while Manchin has insisted that he won’t accept a bill larger than $1.5 trillion.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters that Biden was clear during the meeting that the infrastructure and Build Back Better bills “were tied together,” and he gave no timetable for Democrats to reach agreement.
“He said, ‘I support the (infrastructure bill) entirely. If I thought I could do it right now, I would. But we need to get this reconciliation bill’,” Jayapal said.
A House moderate, Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said Biden also indicated that the size of the Build Back Better package would be slashed closer to $2 trillion.
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Both bills have significant implications for agriculture. The Senate-passed infrastructure bill would authorize $550 billion in new spending over 10 years, including new funding for rural broadband expansion, inland waterway improvements and roads and bridge construction.
The Build Back Better package would include new spending on renewable fuels, agricultural research, conservation programs, forestry and child nutrition assistance.
Cuellar and other moderates had reached an agreement with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to hold a vote on the infrastructure bill by last Monday, regardless of the status of the reconciliation measure. But that deadline came and went, and Biden effectively undercut the moderates’ deal on Friday by tying the infrastructure bill’s fate to the reconciliation package.
“He is the president of the United States, and he says that he wants to get this done, and he basically linked them together,” Cuellar told reporters.
Asked if the lack of a deal was a setback for the Democratic agenda, Cuellar said, “I think if we get it done, there'll be a victory. The question is whether we get that victory.”
As the intra-party negotiations dragged on, the federal highway program was being effectively shut down because of the expiration of its legal authority on Thursday, coupled with the delay in a House vote on the infrastructure bill, which includes an extension of the highway authority.
Friday evening, the House passed a bill, 365-51, to extend the highway program’s authority for 30 days and provide more time for the intra-party negotiations to continue. The Senate subsequently passed the bill by unanimous consent on Saturday.
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