Biden Faces Another Intraparty Revolt

Biden Faces Another Intraparty Revolt

Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein

President Joe Biden explicitly called on the House to deliver him two legislative victories today by advancing both a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and a $1.85 trillion package pairing social and environmental programs with tax changes. Members of his party weren’t able to overcome intraparty divisions to do it.

“I'm asking every House member, member of the House of Representatives to vote yes on both these bills right now,” Biden said Friday morning in remarks from the White House touting the economic recovery and a strong October jobs report. “Send the infrastructure bill to my desk, send the Build Back Better bill to the Senate.”

Democrats still scrambling to line up votes: House Democratic leaders, having postponed a vote on the Build Back Better plan Thursday night, scrambled Friday to line up the votes for both bills, but their efforts were frustrated by an ongoing split between centrists and progressives that forced them to hold off on the planned vote on the social spending bill.

A group of six centrist House Democrats, concerned about the costs of that plan, continued to insist that they wanted to see a formal Congressional Budget Office analysis of the bill before they would vote on it. With Democrats only able to lose three votes, that demand effectively delayed the planned Build Back Better vote.

Progressives responded by saying they would be willing to wait and then pass both bills together. “A full accounting of the spending and revenue has been provided by the White House, numerous pieces of the legislation have already been scored, and the [Joint Committee on Taxation] has put out analysis that Build Back Better will contribute to reducing the deficit,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), the Congressional Progressive Caucus chair, said in a statement. “However, 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.”

But with Democrats eager for some sort of progress, the Congressional Black Caucus then offered up a compromise: hold a vote on the infrastructure package — BIF, in congressional parlance — and a procedural vote on the social spending plan.

“We had hoped to be able to bring both bills to the floor today,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Friday afternoon. “Some members want more clarification or validation of numbers that have been put forth, its top line – that it is fully paid for — and we honored that request. So today we hope to pass the BIF and also the rule on Build Back Better, with the idea that before Thanksgiving – it should take another week or so to get the numbers that they’re requesting…. Then we will have a Thanksgiving gift for the American people.”

Putting pressure on progressives: The leadership plan put pressure on progressives to fall in line and support the infrastructure plan even without the assurances they want on the larger package. President Biden reportedly called Jayapal Friday afternoon to discuss strategy, but Jayapal apparently told the president she would still not vote for the infrastructure bill. In all, about 20 progressives reportedly have indicated that they are ready to buck Pelosi — and Biden —and vote against the infrastructure bill today.

What’s next: Pelosi typically doesn’t bring up bills that don’t have the votes to pass — and while Pelosi told reporters she’s keeping her own whip count of votes, it’s not clear yet whether Democrats will be able to get the infrastructure bill to Biden’s desk. In the meantime, the delay on the Build Back Better act, which House leaders now hope to pass the week before Thanksgiving, adds to an already packed calendar toward the end of the year.

The bottom line: The lack of trust among Democrats continues to derail Biden’s agenda.

“If the House sends Biden the bipartisan infrastructure bill today- on top of the jobs report & recent COVID news, you could argue it’s one is the best days of his presidency,” Garrett Haake of NBC News tweeted. “If they don’t pass anything, it’s basically the third round of last week of September process fumble.”

Asked if she worries that the continued uncertainty over the status of votes makes it look like Democrats can’t get out of their own way, Pelosi acknowledged the challenge but added that her party isn’t “a lockstep party” and respects different opinions. “Welcome to my world,” she said. “This is the Democratic Party.”