House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (AP)
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Pelosi, Centrist Democrats in standoff with key vote ahead


A group of nine centrist Democrats has been at an impasse with Mrs. Pelosi and liberal Democrats for more than a week over a strategy to tie together the infrastructure bill, already passed with bipartisan support in the Senate, and Mr. Biden’s $3.5 trillion package of healthcare, education and climate provisions currently being crafted. That bill is expected to rely on just Democratic support under a process tied to the budget. To unlock that process, Mrs. Pelosi needs nearly all of her caucus on board for a procedural step planned for this week in the House.

“Any delay to passing the budget resolution threatens the timetable for delivering the historic progress and the transformative vision that Democrats share,” Mrs. Pelosi warned in a letter to House Democrats Saturday night.

The infrastructure and broader antipoverty bills are central to Mr. Biden’s domestic agenda, which he wants to keep on track after a chaotic week focused on the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Democratic leaders months ago established a plan to move the two bills in tandem through both chambers of Congress. Their strategy gives both centrists—whose top priority is the infrastructure bill—and the liberal wing of the party—which is adamant about passing the broader package—some leverage in ensuring both bills get passed as Democrats hold each chamber by the narrowest of margins.

But earlier this month, the group of centrist Democrats balked at the plan and demanded that Mrs. Pelosi first bring the infrastructure bill to the House floor to swiftly pass it. Unless that happens, they threatened to oppose a budget framework, which is the first step in advancing the broader $3.5 trillion budget package and is expected to get a vote on the House floor Tuesday.

“It is time to get it done right now,” Rep. Kurt Schrader (D., Ore.), part of the group of nine centrists, said of the infrastructure bill. “Let’s get a big win, restore America’s faith that despite our differences, we can actually get stuff done.”

The speaker has repeatedly said she would not bring up the infrastructure bill for a vote in the House until the Senate has passed the full $3.5 trillion package in an effort to keep the party’s centrist and liberal wings invested in passing both bills. In the Senate, the $3.5 trillion bill can pass without GOP support through a process that enables it to advance with just a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes most bills need—but only if it retains the support of all 50 members of the Democratic caucus.

Dozens of liberal House Democrats have said they would not vote for the infrastructure bill until the broader budget package passes the Senate, in a bid to use their muscle to maintain pressure on centrist Democrats, some of whom have expressed concerns over the size and cost of a $3.5 trillion bill.

“Frankly, if we were to pass the bipartisan [infrastructure] bill first then we lose leverage,” said Rep. Ritchie Torres (D., N.Y.). If the nine centrist Democrats don’t budge, “it’s a recipe for gridlock because I can assure you that members like me have no intention of budging on our position,” Mr. Torres said. The centrist Democrats reiterated their position in a series of coordinated statements on Friday.

Mrs. Pelosi can lose no more than three Democrats on votes expected to be opposed by all Republicans. In an effort to appease the centrists, Mrs. Pelosi has scheduled a vote Monday night that would procedurally advance both the infrastructure bill and the budget framework. Centrists indicated that step was insufficient, since it wouldn’t pass the infrastructure bill. They worry that yoking the two bills together could result in months of delay before the broader $3.5 trillion budget package is ready for a vote.

Committee chairs in both chambers are currently working on fleshing out details of the sweeping budget package by a mid-September deadline set by congressional leaders, although many Hill aides believe crafting such a complicated bill could take longer.

White House officials, including several cabinet secretaries and senior aides, have spoken with members of the group of nine centrist House Democrats to hear their perspective and urge them to support the procedural vote on Monday night, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

Mr. Biden spoke with Mrs. Pelosi on Saturday about the infrastructure legislation and budget framework. The president reiterated his support for moving forward with both measures at the same time, according to the White House.

“We’re still in the place we were, but I think the good news is both sides are committed to trying to find a path forward here,” Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D., N.J.), part of the group of nine centrists, said Saturday. He said the lawmakers were in discussions with the White House and Democratic leaders.

“We really feel strongly that we’re going to hold to our guns here until we can work this out in a way that moves infrastructure along,” he said.

The $3.5 trillion budget package is expected to broaden the country’s safety net through subsidized child care, paid family leave, an expansion of Medicare to encompass dental, vision and hearing benefits, and universal prekindergarten, among many other measures. The bill is also set to tackle climate change through a series of energy tax incentives and a program to push the U.S. to receive 80% of its electricity from clean sources by 2030.

Republicans have criticized the $3.5 trillion proposal as wasteful spending that could stoke inflation and add to the debt after a year of unprecedented federal support to contend with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The $1.9 trillion Covid relief package passed by Democrats earlier this year “has only fueled inflation,” said Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri, the top Republican on the House Budget Committee. “People are smart. They know another $3.5 trillion will only cause more damage.”

Some centrist Democrats outside the group of nine have indicated they would like a better sense of when the infrastructure bill will get passed into law.

“If we’re continuing to pursue this dual track, it’s very important to me to know when we’re going to vote on this bill that is so consequential to my district,” said Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D., Va.) However, she didn’t threaten to oppose the budget framework, which passed the Senate earlier this month.

The impasse has frustrated some liberal Democrats, who said their leaders established the strategy of moving the two bills together weeks ago and have continued to reiterate that plan.

“If someone tells you there’s a fish fry in two weeks on a Friday” and then keeps on reminding you, said Rep. Mark Pocan (D., Wis.), “you can’t really come in Thursday afternoon and say you want chicken.”

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

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