House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sought to reassure moderate members of her conference late Monday that they would not be asked to pass a spending bill with a higher price tag than any legislation the Senate approves.
In a so-called “Dear Colleague” letter, Pelosi told her fellow Democrats that while she hoped the bill that comes to the floor will call for $3.5 trillion in spending, in accordance with the budget framework passed by the House last month, “[w]e must be prepared for adjustments”.
Pelosi has held off on bringing a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill already passed by the Senate up for a vote while congressional Democrats and the White House attempt to hammer out the details of the larger proposal — which they hope to force through both chambers without Republican support through the parliamentary maneuver of reconciliation.
However, Pelosi committed on Aug. 24 to holding a vote on the bipartisan measure by Sept. 27. Meanwhile, progressive Democrats have warned that they will vote to kill the infrastructure bill if the $3.5 trillion spending plan has not passed both houses of Congress by then.
One of those progressive Democrats, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), confirmed to reporters Monday that she would be a “no” vote on the infrastructure bill if the reconciliation measure had not passed.
“You have a very small destructive group of members who want to hold the entire country’s agenda hostage for an arbitrary date,” she said, according to CNN. “And this is not, it’s not representative of the agenda of the caucus, it’s not representative of the agenda of the president, and we need to stay focused on the original, on the original process that allowed us to move forward in the first place.”
Another progressive Democrat, Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, shrugged off the suggestion by moderates that she and her left-wing colleagues were bluffing about opposing the infrastructure bill, telling reporters: “They can take that bet if they want.”
It’s not clear how many House Republicans would vote to support the $1.2 trillion measure, but moderates say it’s unlikely they would back it in sufficient numbers to overcome a progressive revolt.
“The sense early on was, if it was the Squad, we could overcome that,” Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), a member of the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus, told CNN. “If it was a jailbreak beyond that on the left, that it would be a challenge.”
On Monday, the chairman of the House Budget Committee warned that action on the bigger bill may not be possible until next week — if Democrats can even agree on what the bigger bill looks like.
“Basically, everything’s sort of dependent what happens in the next 48 hours,” Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) told reporters Monday. A day earlier, Yarmuth told “Fox News Sunday” that work on the reconciliation package could slip “sometime into early October” and acknowledged that the final topline amount would likely “be somewhat less than $3.5 trillion.”
The holdup on the larger measure is being caused by series of internal debates that are forcing House leadership to tread delicately. For example, Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY) has called for the reconciliation bill to include the repeal of a cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions, which was limited to $10,000 under then-President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax reform. Ocasio-Cortez, for one, has expressed willingness to raise the cap on SALT deductions, but not repeal them all together.
While much of the focus when it comes to vote-counting on Capitol Hill is on the 50-50 Senate, the House is almost as finely poised. Currently, Democrats have a majority of eight seats. Since motions fail if a House vote is tied, Pelosi can only afford to have three of her colleagues oppose either spending bill and still have them pass.
If and when the reconciliation bill passes the House, it is likely to run into more trouble in the Senate. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have said they will not support a $3.5 trillion spending plan.
Axios reported Sunday that Manchin has privately suggested that Congress hold off on any consideration of the $3.5 trillion bill until next year — a move that would likely scuttle both pieces of landmark legislation.