President Joe Biden walks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as he arrives to meet with House Democrats at the U.S. Capitol on October 01, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Kevin Dietsch | Getty Images
The House was expected to delay a vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill Friday as President Joe Biden pushed congressional Democrats to forge a consensus on a broader spending deal.
As his legislative priorities hung in the balance, Biden went to the Capitol on Friday afternoon to meet with House Democrats and rally support for his economic agenda. After being greeted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her top deputies, the president spoke to a full Democratic caucus meeting, acknowledging both measures would have to be linked to pass.
“I’m telling you, we’re going to get this done,” he told reporters as he left the Capitol. “It doesn’t matter when. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in six minutes, six days or six weeks, we’re going to get it done.”
Pelosi had told centrist Democrats the chamber would pass the infrastructure plan by Thursday. Democratic leaders pushed the vote as progressives threatened to sink the bill until they get assurances the Senate will approve a broader plan to invest in party priorities including climate policy, household tax credits and health-care expansion.
Democrats cited progress after a flurry of talks among White House officials and key members of Congress bled into early Friday morning. Pelosi had suggested the infrastructure bill could pass Friday, but a vote appeared unlikely as the progressive and centrist flanks of her party stood trillions of dollars apart on a desired price tag for the second spending package.
Biden told lawmakers that in order to find a compromise with centrist senators, they would likely have to cut the overall spending in the Democratic bill to $2 trillion to $2.5 trillion, from the proposed $3.5 trillion, Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, told reporters.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the Washington Democrat and Congressional Progressive Caucus chair who spearheaded the effort to delay the infrastructure vote, told reporters that Biden “was very clear the two [proposals] are tied together.”
The House was in recess Friday as Democrats struggled to strike a deal that would allow them to hold a vote on the infrastructure bill. The chamber was reportedly considering a vote to reauthorize federal surface transportation funding, which expired at the end of the day Thursday when lawmakers did not approve the legislation.
As the president and White House officials try to bridge a gulf between the liberal and centrist flanks of the party, press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that “compromise is necessary, it’s inevitable.”
The talks hold enormous stakes for the government benefits millions of Americans will receive in the coming years. Through their spending package, Biden and top Democrats aim to boost access to child care, paid leave, pre-K and community college. They hope to speed up green energy adoption and lower the Medicare eligibility age, while expanding coverage to include dental, vision and hearing benefits.
The proposal would mean changes for corporations and the wealthiest Americans in the form of tax hikes to offset the new spending. Democrats have floated a 26.5% top corporate tax rate and 39.6% high individual rate — both levels below or in line with those set before the 2017 GOP tax cuts.
But some of what Democratic leaders bill as a transformative plan in the mold of the New Deal could fall to the wayside as they try to win support from centrist holdouts, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., will need both of their votes to push a bill through without Republicans in a chamber split 50-50 by party.
Manchin has set a $1.5 trillion asking price for the plan — less than half of the $3.5 trillion investment his party set out to pass. It is unclear now where the sides can find a compromise or what they would cut from the proposal.
Sinema left Washington on Friday as efforts to strike a deal continued, NBC News reported. She returned to Arizona for a medical appointment and expects to speak with White House officials Friday, Sinema spokesman John LaBombard told NBC.
Late Thursday, Psaki said Democrats are “closer to an agreement than ever” after White House officials held a flurry of meetings with Pelosi, Schumer and other key lawmakers. She noted that “we are not there yet, and so, we will need some additional time” to strike a deal.
“While Democrats do have some differences, we share common goals of creating good union jobs, building a clean energy future, cutting taxes for working families and small businesses, helping to give those families breathing room on basic expenses—and doing it without adding to the deficit, by making those at the top pay their fair share,” she said in a statement.
The infrastructure bill — which Biden sees as a complementary piece of his domestic agenda — has already cleared the Senate and will go to the president’s desk once the House passes the legislation. It would put more than $500 billion in new money into roads, highways, bridges, public transit, broadband and utility systems.
The Senate passed the bill with bipartisan support. It appears to have more limited Republican backing in the House, which has given progressives leverage to delay a vote as they seek assurances about the second spending plan.
Meanwhile, the Republicans who helped to craft the infrastructure bill in the Senate have tried to put more pressure on the House — including their GOP counterparts — to pass it.
In a joint statement late Thursday, Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Bill Cassidy, R-La., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said they were “disappointed” by the vote delay. They said they “remain hopeful the House will come together in a spirit of bipartisanship just as the Senate did and pass this important piece of legislation.”
The senators added, “It deserves the strong support of both parties.”
This story is developing. Please check back for updates.