Nine Democrats Threaten to Blow Up Biden's Agenda

Nine Democrats Threaten to Blow Up Biden's Agenda

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Plus, FEMA has spent $1 billion on Covid funerals
Friday, August 13, 2021

It’s Friday the 13th, and a group of moderate House Democrats is looking to put something of a scare into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Here’s what you need to know.

Nine Centrist Democrats Threaten to Blow Up Pelosi's Budget Plan and Biden's Agenda

A group of centrist House Democrats is threatening to derail much of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda. In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, nine moderates said they will withhold support for a $3.5 trillion Democratic budget blueprint unless she first allows a vote on the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package passed by the Senate this week.

“With the livelihoods of hardworking American families at stake, we simply can’t afford months of unnecessary delays and risk squandering this once-in-a-century, bipartisan infrastructure package,” the moderates wrote. “It’s time to get shovels in the ground and people to work. We will not consider voting for a budget resolution until the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passes the House and is signed into law.”

The letter is signed by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (NJ), Carolyn Bourdeaux (GA), Filemon Vela (TX), Jared Golden (ME), Henry Cuellar (TX), Vincente Gonzalez (TX), Ed Case (HI), Jim Costa (CA) and Kurt Schrader (OR). But while Gottheimer is co-chair of the House Problems Solvers Caucus, the threat could cause some real problems for Democrats and President Joe Biden’s economic agenda.

Why it matters: Democrats have employed a two-track strategy, aiming to pass both the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill backed by moderates and a larger package favored by progressives that focuses on social safety net programs and combating climate change. Pelosi has insisted the House will only take up the bipartisan bill after the Senate passes the broader package. The strategy is meant to ensure that the moderate and progressive wings of the party hold together, with each side backing the bill supported by the other, but Democratic leaders are walking a tightrope as various factions press their priorities.

Democrats can only afford to lose three votes when the House looks to pass a budget resolution later this month, a critical step toward enacting the larger package. That means that the nine Democrats threatening to withhold their votes could scuttle a huge chunk of Biden’s agenda.
Some moderates have previously called on Pelosi to allow a stand-alone vote on the bipartisan bill, but this is the first time the centrist lawmakers have gone so far as to publicly say they’re willing to block the budget resolution.

At the same time, progressives have issued their own threat, with dozens of progressives indicating they will withhold their votes on the infrastructure bill until the Senate adopts a reconciliation package — meaning that even if Pelosi were to hold a quick vote on the bipartisan bill, it could very well fail. “The important thing to me is to get both bills passed and to the president,” Rep. Tom Malinowski, a moderate Democrat from New Jersey, told The Washington Post. “I fear that forcing a vote now would undermine, not advance, that goal.”

What’s next: “Democrats have too much at stake to let internal turmoil sink their domestic agenda,” Alan Fram of the Associated Press says, “but it was initially unclear how leaders would resolve the problem. Biden, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who faces a similar moderates vs. progressives balancing act in his chamber, may have to present a united front about how to untie their knot and pressure rank-and-file lawmakers into line.”

The White House said Friday that it’s confident that House Democrats, like their Senate counterparts, will come together to advance both parts of Biden’s economic agenda.

Biden Changes Emphasis as Inflation Worries Mount

The White House is changing the way it talks about its economic agenda in response to growing public concerns about inflation, The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein and Rachel Siegel report Friday.

Although administration officials say they expect current levels of inflation to be temporary, polling data suggests that inflation could be a political problem for Democrats. As a result, the White House has decided to tie President Biden’s policy proposals to a broad theme of cost-cutting.

In a speech this week, Biden emphasized that his policies — which include lowering drug prices, subsidizing child care and providing free community college education — would help reduce costs for American families.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki underlined the point. Asked about Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) expressed concerns that Biden’s plan to spend $3.5 trillion over 10 years on hard and soft infrastructure risks increasing inflation, Psaki said that the “Build Back Better agenda could also be called the ‘Cost-Cutting Agenda for Working Families.’”

A White House official told the Post that the new approach is also intended to counter Republican attacks on Biden’s agenda as inflationary.

“They’re trying a new message: The message is, ‘We understand there’s inflation, and the right way to get at it is to invest in improving our supply chain, not pulling back on policy support for the economy.’ That’s a smart message,” Julia Coronado, president of Macropolicy Perspectives, told the Post. “If you can relieve the pressure on these supply chains — not by hitting demand, but by improving infrastructure — you’re basically lifting the economy’s potential to meet that demand.”

FEMA Has Spent $1 Billion on Covid Funerals

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has spent more than $1 billion to help cover the cost of funerals of those who have died from Covid-19, the agency announced Friday.

Congress authorized FEMA to spend up to $2 billion on the Covid-19 Funeral Assistance program as part of the $900 billion pandemic relief bill passed in December and added another $50 billion to cover general coronavirus-related costs in the $1.9 trillion relief bill signed into law in March.

FEMA started accepting applications for funeral assistance in April, and more than 150,000 people have received aid so far, with another 90,000 applications pending. Applicants can receive up to $9,000 per burial, with a $35,500 limit for those who have lost multiple loved ones to the disease.

The agency has provided burial assistance in the past, but at nowhere near this scale. “FEMA's Funeral Assistance program allows us to provide funds directly to those who may be facing an unexpected financial burden following the tragic loss of a loved one,” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said in a statement, “and we are committed to providing this assistance with the compassion, fairness, integrity, and respect these families deserve.”

Number of the Day: 918,000

After peaking at over 3 million in mid-April, the number of daily doses of Covid-19 vaccine started dropping in the U.S., falling to about half a million by early July. But the emergence of the more transmissible delta variant has given new impetus to the vaccination effort, and on Friday the Biden administration announced that 918,000 doses has been administered, the highest number in more than a month. “HUGE VACCINE DAY,” White House aide Ben Wakana tweeted.

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