August 25, 2021
House Passes Partisan Budget Resolution, Delays Infrastructure Vote Until September
House to vote on bipartisan infrastructure deal in late September
On Monday, August 23, Speaker Pelosi called the House back to Washington for an abbreviated session to advance three key elements of President Biden’s domestic agenda: 1) the Bipartisan Infrastructure package or “BIF”; 2) the $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” reconciliation instructions; and 3) a key update to the Voting Rights Act, named in honor of the late Rep. John Lewis.
Earlier this month, a group of nine House moderates began to push back on the Speaker’s efforts to combine the BIF and the $3.5 trillion reconciliation effort into one vote. Moderates wanted to be given the opportunity to vote separately on the BIF and the reconciliation bill. With a slim majority in the House, Speaker Pelosi could only afford defections from three members of her caucus.
Additionally, BIF cosponsor Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-AZ) restated her opposition to the size of the reconciliation package. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) made similar remarks during the same news cycle. Late Monday night, House action was postponed as a speedy compromise with the House moderates proved elusive.
Speaker Pelosi ultimately demonstrated her considerable political abilities by forging a workable compromise with the House moderates by early Tuesday afternoon, effectively decoupling the measures. The compromise set up a final vote on the BIF on September 28, but allowed the reconciliation process to begin in both Chambers without House Members having to take a direct vote on the $3.5 trillion package. Instead, Members voted on a procedural matter, with all Democrats voting yes and all Republicans voting no.
Committee Chairs have been given till mid-September to pull together their proposals for the reconciliation effort, and we will be watching those developments closely.
Democratic progressives have carried the day, but it is important to note that the reconciliation effort is far from over. The $3.5 trillion called for has very few details attached, and the thorny issues of how to pay for this package are still unresolved. Some combination of tax increases on both corporations and individuals will have to be considered, as most revenue options were exhausted in constructing the BIF. Although the US business community remains almost unanimously in favor of the bipartisan infrastructure effort, this will not be the case for the reconciliation effort.
Further complicating the situation for the Democrats are the ongoing images of chaos coming from Afghanistan. Biden has been on his heels dealing with his first major international crisis, as US forces attempt to airlift stranded civilians and refugees.
On the domestic front, vaccine hesitancy has allowed the COVID Delta variant to take hold in certain quarters, calling into question when the pandemic will finally recede, even as the FDA grants full approval to the Pfizer vaccine.
Given this backdrop, Democrats are not going to abandon a hard-fought legislative victory in the form of the bipartisan infrastructure deal. With history as a guide, many progressives believe that their fragile majorities in both the House and Senate are in jeopardy – as the party in control of the White House often suffers heavy losses in the first mid-term election. Progressives want to take bold action on key priorities and repair fissures in the social safety net that were exposed during the ongoing pandemic. Moderates appear concerned that the size and scope of this $3.5 trillion in new spending, coupled with tax increases, will create a backlash and ensure electoral defeat in their battleground states and districts. The 2022 midterm elections are just fourteen months away.
When Congress returns in late September, and the final details of the reconciliation bill come into clearer focus, expect continued tensions within the Democratic party. Time will tell which side of the Democratic political spectrum has the best read on the whims of the electorate.