The House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on September 30 on the Senate passed $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Jobs and Investment Act that includes $550 billion in new spending over 5 years. The unusual bipartisan agreement passed the Senate in August by a vote of 69-30, with 19 Republican Senators joining all 50 Democrats to vote in favor of the bill. Despite bipartisan Senate support, however, the bill’s vote was ultimately delayed on October 1 as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) continues to struggle solidifying her coalition.
The most liberal members of the Democratic Caucus have refused to support the bill unless there is agreement to pass a separate much larger $3.5 trillion bill. That bill includes President Biden’s most controversial priorities for “human infrastructure” including welfare, education, child care, elder care, and climate provisions.
On September 27 progressive lawmakers erupted when Speaker Pelosi walked back her pledge that all of President Biden’s legislative agenda would move through Congress at the same time. Pelosi now wants to first move the infrastructure bill rather than wait for Senate action on the second bill. That bill is unanimously opposed by Republicans and does not yet even have the support of all Democrats in the Senate.
Without Republican support Pelosi can only lose three Democratic votes and still pass the legislation. Far more than three of her most liberal members have said they will intentionally kill the infrastructure bill which, ironically, they all support. It includes money to rebuild roads and bridges, shore up coast lines against climate change, protect public utilities from cyberattacks and modernize the electric grid. It would also pay for new public transit projects, upgrade and repair ports, inland waterways, railroads and airports and replacement of lead drinking water lines – all Democratic priorities.
In the pasts few days, possible help for Speaker Pelosi’s effort has come from an unexpected source. Business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable and some Senate Republicans – working at cross-purposes with Republican leaders in the House — have mounted an all-out drive to persuade House Republicans to back the legislation.
However, with Democrats publicly brawling over Biden’s agenda, the House Republican leadership has no interest in having their rank-and-file bail Pelosi out of her predicament. House Republican leadership is fearful that a win on this broadly popular measure might help Democrats in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections. The GOP leaders are also subject to intense pressure from conservative groups that oppose the measure. They are also hopeful that moderate Democrats who have pressed for passage will be angered enough by the loss that they will exact revenge by bringing down the larger social policy bill.
Despite Republican Leadership pressure, some moderate Democrats say that as many as 20 Republicans are willing to support the measure anyway, but only if Pelosi can win over enough liberal Democrats to keep the vote close.
Once this battle is over, Democrats will try to pass the larger bill using the cumbersome and complex budget reconciliation process, which allow certain budget-related bills to pass with a simple majority of the Senate rather than the usual 60 votes necessary to avoid a filibuster. That legislation includes an assortment of long-time Democratic priorities, including expansion of existing health, education, and child care programs. Republicans are lockstep in opposition to the bill that would be paid for by increasing the corporate tax rate from 21% to 26.5% on businesses earning more than $5 million per year, and by raising the top individual tax rate from 37% to 39.6% for those earning more than $400,000 a year or $450,000 per couple. Because the Democrats have only 50 votes in the Senate, they will need every one of their votes to pass the bill.