Politics

Democrats splinter over how best to move forward with Biden's economic agenda

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Key Points
  • House Democrats are divided over how to proceed in passing a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a broader spending plan, which together make up President Joe Biden's economic agenda.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is facing pressure from opposite flanks of her party as she tries to move forward with a budget resolution next week.
  • Centrists want the House to vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill before the chamber takes up Democrats' proposal to boost the social safety net, while progressives want to wait to take up either plan until the Senate approves both of them.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a news conference with mothers helped by Child Tax Credit payments at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, July 20, 2021.
Elizabeth Frantz | Reuters

House Democrats will move next week toward passing sprawling economic plans they hope will boost households and help to keep them in power after next year's midterms.

But first, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has to resolve disputes within the party over how best to approve the trillions of dollars in spending that make up President Joe Biden's economic agenda. The disagreements threaten to trip up a delicate process as Democrats try to push through two bills that would refresh U.S. infrastructure and bolster the social safety net.

The party aims to approve separate plans: a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by the Senate and an up to $3.5 trillion investment in social programs and climate policy crafted only by Democrats. The House next week plans to follow the Senate in approving a budget resolution, which would allow Democrats to push their spending plan through Congress without a Republican vote.

Pelosi faces a jam from opposite flanks of her party as she tries to pass the economic agenda. To win over both progressives who want a sprawling spending package and centrists wary of the $3.5 trillion price tag, the California Democrat has outlined a strategy to vote on the two bills only after the Senate has approved both of them.

The plan has hit a snag. Nine House Democrats — enough to cost their party a majority vote — have called on Pelosi to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill before the budget resolution.

They reiterated their stance Sunday even after the speaker said she would consider advancing both measures during the same procedural vote next week.

Attempts to appease centrists could alienate liberals. The Congressional Progressive Caucus said last week that a majority of its 96 members said they would not vote for the infrastructure plan until the Senate passes a "robust" budget reconciliation bill.

The jam leaves the path forward for Democrats unclear as they plan a brief return from their August recess to push ahead with their economic agenda.

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Rep. Gottheimer on threatening stalemate over budget plan until infrastructure bill gets passed

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a New Jersey Democrat and one of the lawmakers who called for a separate vote on the bipartisan plan, said Monday that it could take months for Democrats to pass their bill, delaying infrastructure projects. He said he still wants to move ahead with a budget resolution after an infrastructure vote.

"The outcome is we'll find a solution here, and that's what I'm optimistic about," Gottheimer told CNBC.

One key Democrat on Tuesday put pressure on his colleagues to back the budget measure. Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, wrote to Democrats urging them to "join me in supporting the passage of a budget resolution, and maintaining pressure to preserve a House voice as this legislative process plays out."

House passage of the infrastructure bill would send it to Biden's desk for his signature.

After the House approves a budget resolution, Democrats still have to craft their final spending plan. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has said he wants committees in his chamber to craft their portions of the bill by Sept. 15.

Democratic senators including Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have suggested they will try to cut spending from the $3.5 trillion package. The bill will fail unless all 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus support it.

Democrats' plan is set to expand Medicare, extend strengthened household tax credits, boost child care and paid leave and invest in green energy, among other provisions.

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