WASHINGTON – President Nancy Pelosi of California on Monday signaled Democrats that she would vote this week on a bipartisan $ 1,000 billion infrastructure bill, striving to save President Biden’s agenda in Congress even as the party remained divided over a broader social safety net. measure.
Progressive lawmakers have long warned they will not vote for infrastructure legislation, which the Senate passed last month, until a domestic policy and a much larger $ 3.5 trillion tax package are also approved by the chamber.
But in private remarks to her caucus on Monday night, Pelosi effectively decoupled the two bills, saying Democrats need more time to resolve their multibillion-dollar social policy differences. The move was tantamount to a bet that Liberals who had been reluctant to let the infrastructure bill support it itself in a vote scheduled for Thursday.
The fate of the more expensive social safety net, which Democrats are pushing through using the expedited reconciliation process to protect it from Republican obstruction, has also not been clearly defined. But with tight margins of control in both chambers, Democratic leaders must keep all of their senators united in favor, and they can afford to lose as few as three votes in the chamber.
Ms Pelosi said her change in strategy only came after it became clear Democrats should downsize the $ 3.5 trillion reconciliation package. Mr Biden negotiated privately with conservative Democrats to agree on a final figure. She described her new approach after speaking with President and New York Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York as the three struggled to unite their members behind the details of the package.
Ms Pelosi said Democrats were on schedule to push through the reconciliation plan until 10 days ago, when she heard the overall cost was to come down, according to a person familiar with her remarks, who told them. described on condition of anonymity. .
But it has been clear for weeks that conservative-leaning Democrats would not accept the size of the bill.
Lawmakers in both chambers have said they hope to quickly iron out the remaining differences between the moderate and liberal factions in their party, though many of the holdouts’ specific demands remain unclear. Ms Pelosi reiterated that she would not accept a reconciliation bill that could not be passed by the Senate.
She told Democrats the reconciliation measure remained important, but wanted to allow time for negotiations to continue and avoid delaying a vote on bipartisan infrastructure legislation. The bill, now due to be voted on Thursday, includes $ 550 billion in new funding over 10 years and maintains a series of key transportation programs that will expire at the end of the fiscal year on September 30.
But even as Ms Pelosi sought to rally the party ahead of the vote, it was unclear whether enough Liberal Democrats would back down at their insistence that the reconciliation plan be implemented first.
Moderate Democrats remained convinced that enough Republicans would back the infrastructure bill to allow it to clean up the House, sending the legislation to Mr Biden’s desk.
Some progressives, however, have pushed back the president’s plan to decouple the two bills, saying they still would not be comfortable supporting the infrastructure measure until they heard assurances from the Senate moderates that they would pass key elements of reconciliation legislation.
“I would actually like them to clarify their demands so that we can participate in them,” said Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, of two senior Senate moderates, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of West Virginia. ‘Arizona.
“The invoices are tied,” Ms. Omar added. “And they have to be linked for anything to get through the House.”