House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had it all figured out. She’d allow the moderates in the Senate to pass a $1 trillion infrastructure bill and then put the hammer down and insist the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion American Families Plan — the most significant expansion of the nation’s social safety since the Great Society — be approved before the infrastructure bill was considered in the House.
This was the radicals’ playbook. But nine Democratic moderates in the House are saying no way. They want Pelosi to pass the infrastructure bill before the House takes up the budget reconciliation bill. And they have the votes that would put some teeth into that threat.
At the time, Pelosi’s strategy made sense.
Approving the budget resolution is essential to enacting President Joe Biden’s agenda. The resolution, which the Senate also approved this week, must be adopted by the House before both chambers are allowed to advance a sweeping economic package worth $3.5 trillion through a process that can be approved along straight party lines since it cannot be filibustered in the Senate.
But Pelosi for weeks has made clear that the consensus within her caucus was to hold up the infrastructure bill until the Senate approves the larger Democratic-only bill, a move aimed at both pressuring moderate Senate Democrats to back the massive package but also ease concerns among House progressives that the $1.2 trillion infrastructure didn’t go far enough.
“Some have suggested that we hold off on considering the Senate infrastructure bill for months — until the reconciliation process is completed. We disagree,” the group said in a letter to Pelosi on Thursday. “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.”
This is a question of Pelosi being damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t. There are a couple of dozen radicals who will absolutely not vote for a bipartisan infrastructure bill until their partisan, $3.5 trillion bill passes the Senate. The moderates won’t vote for the partisan reconciliation bill unless the bipartisan bill is first passed in the House.
Ten years ago, we could have referred to the situation as a “Mexican standoff.” But we don’t want to get on the wrong side of the internet censors. Maybe they won’t notice.
Pelosi is going to have to muster all the support for both bills from her own caucus. There may have been enough Republican support in the Senate to get the bipartisan bill through, but the House is a far more partisan body and few Republicans would want to bail Pelosi out of her troubles.
So what looked like a promising autumn of Biden legislative victories, giving him a strong leg up in a reelection battle, may end up being a spectacular failure with both bills going down in flames.