Biden fumbles on Democratic unity

President Joe Biden made a visit to Capitol Hill on Thursday to unveil a new $1.75 trillion package to overhaul the country’s health care, education, climate, and tax laws, and personally ask House Democrats for their support on both the infrastructure plan and the separate social policy framework.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday abruptly delayed a vote on bipartisan infrastructure legislation after progressives reasserted their commitment to not vote for that measure without also advancing the Build Back Better budget reconciliation package.

Instead, the House voted Thursday night to temporarily reauthorize transportation funding, which came hours after President Joe Biden announced a drastically watered-down version of the social spending plan.

The vote to extend highway programs until Dec. 3 bought Democrats more time to address government funding and the looming debt limit.

The Senate unanimously approved that extension after it cleared the House.

Ahead of the vote, Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) reiterated the nearly 100-member group’s opposition to allowing the $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill favored by Republicans and corporate Democrats without the $1.75 trillion social spending bill.

“Members of our caucus will not vote for the infrastructure bill without the Build Back Better Act. We will work immediately to finalize and pass both pieces of legislation through the House together

“The Congressional Progressive Caucus just overwhelmingly voted to endorse in principle the entire Build Back Better Act framework announced by President Biden today,” Jayapal said. “We appreciate the President’s leadership and his commitment to getting this process over the finish line. He reaffirmed, as our Caucus has month after month, that both the infrastructure bill and the popular Build Back Better Act must move together because they are part of the same agenda. Today, we are reiterating our enthusiastic commitment to delivering that entire agenda to people across America.

“The reality is that while talks around the infrastructure bill lasted months in the Senate, there has only been serious discussion around the specifics of the larger Build Back Better Act in recent weeks, thanks to the Progressive Caucus holding the line and putting both parts of the agenda back on the table,” Jayapal said. “Now, Congress needs to finish the job and bring both bills to a vote together. This cannot be accomplished without legislative text that can be fully assessed and agreed upon by all parties, including 218 representatives and all 50 senators in the Democratic caucus.”

Key aspects of the legislation included investments in Medicare expansion, climate action, affordable housing, and extending the child tax credit but corporate Democrats insisted on removing many of those items.

“There is too much at stake for working families and our communities to settle for something that can be later misunderstood, amended, or abandoned altogether. That is why dozens of our members insist on keeping both bills linked and cannot vote only for one until they can be voted on together,” Jayapal said. “Members of our Caucus will not vote for the infrastructure bill without the Build Back Better Act. We will work immediately to finalize and pass both pieces of legislation through the House together.”

Many representatives and senators motivated by their ability to raise campaign funds from corporate interests have inspired with progressives a slew of policy disagreements and internecine political feuds that have stalled Biden’s economic plans for months.

According to someone who was in the meeting, Biden told congressional Democrats, “I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the House and Senate majorities and my presidency will be determined by what happens in the next week.”

Biden “put the future of his presidency, and the state of his party, on the line with a major bet that he could persuade a fractious group of Democrats to rally behind him and support a compromise $1.75 trillion social spending plan at the heart of his agenda,” said Washington Post reporters Matt Viser and Sean Sullivan. “His wager — the result of weeks of haggling and what has become a legislative Groundhog Day morass — was in some ways out of character for a president who has been relatively risk-averse, often keeping a safe distance from the most explosive legislative debates.”

Senior White House officials and top congressional aides spent the early hours Thursday morning scrambling to complete the text of a 1,684 page-piece of the social spending bill.

They hoped that $1.75 trillion legislation might unlock opposition to quickly voting on a separate $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan, but the fate of both signature bills remained uncertain. The House abandoned plans to move ahead on the infrastructure package late Thursday, punting until next week.

“We badly need a vote on both of these measures,” Biden pleaded in the caucus meeting earlier in the day, adding, “I need you to help me. I need your votes.”

Biden, Pelosi, and her leadership team were ultimately unable to win over dozens of dug-in liberals in time for a Thursday evening vote.

House progressives said they want to review details in the $1.75 trillion social spending legislation the White House outlined and get a commitment of support from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — something those two have not given.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer had a short response when asked if the moment was an embarrassment for leadership: “We’ll get it done,” he said. Asked if he was disappointed Democrats didn’t pass infrastructure legislation Thursday, Hoyer said simply, “yes.”

When asked if she would vote for the infrastructure bill after the president’s push, Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), said simply “no” but Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), answered “hell no” on the infrastructure question.

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