WASHINGTON — Progressive members of Congress insisted Sunday that two key pieces of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda would advance in tandem as negotiations with the moderate wing of the Democratic Party continue.
The optimistic projections come after House progressives on Friday stood firm in refusing to advance the Senate-passed $550 billion infrastructure bill without movement on a separate social safety net measure, and after Biden appeared to conclude that slim Democratic majorities in both chambers had intertwined their fate.
“Oh, we’re gonna get it all done,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said on MSNBC’s “The Sunday Show with Jonathan Capehart.”
She added: “Every single member of my caucus has said, we’re gonna vote for that bill, as long as we get the reconciliation bill that has the rest of the very important priorities that the president laid out.”
Jayapal had promised that more than half of her group’s 95 members would vote against the infrastructure bill if it came up before the safety net bill, the size of which has been the subject of intense disagreement between the Democratic Party’s factions. Moderates have pushed for a pared-down version while progressives insist that the plan’s $3.5 trillion price tag will boost an economy upended by the pandemic.
Despite weeks of haggling, and a last-minute visit by Biden to the U.S. Capitol to try and soothe tensions, Democratic leadership was forced to delay the infrastructure vote Friday after it became clear it would not pass. Moderates were unhappy an agreement couldn’t come together.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who along with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has objected to a a $3.5 trillion measure, blasted House Democrats for their “failure” to hold a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure plan, an effort she led in the Senate.
“Arizonans, and all everyday Americans, expect their lawmakers to consider legislation on the merits — rather than obstruct new jobs and critical infrastructure investments for no substantive reason,” Sinema said in a statement Saturday. “What Americans have seen instead is an ineffective stunt to gain leverage over a separate proposal.”
Both measures have the support of Democrats and remain likely to pass in some form. But the size of the safety net bill, which Democrats are trying to pass on a party-line basis, remains a sticking point. Biden told Democratic lawmakers during the Friday afternoon meeting that negotiations have already lowered the topline price tag to something between $1.9 and $2.3 trillion, according to multiple sources that attended the meeting.
Biden told reporters Saturday that “there is no reason why both these bills couldn’t pass independently except that there are not the votes to do it that way.”
“It’s a simple proposition. And so, I think it makes sense I support both of them, and I think we can get them both done,” he added.
Progressive Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., said on “Fox News Sunday” that he is confident Biden will be able to negotiate a compromise that will allow both pieces of legislation to succeed.
“What I have said consistently, what most progressives have said is, that we want to do what the president wants,” Khanna said. “And I think the House moderates thought, ‘Joe Biden is a moderate, he agrees with us.’ Actually this time he didn’t. He agreed that we want both bills.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, chairmain of the Budget Committee, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the agenda items need to stay linked together, and that the timeline didn’t matter.
“There is a strong feeling on the part of many of us that if you just pass the infrastructure bill — which is a good bill, I voted for it — then we will not get to the bill that working families really want, that finally demands that the wealthiest people of this country start paying their fair share of taxes,” Sanders, I-Vt., said.
Sanders, like Jayapal, struck an optimistic tone about the ongoing talks with moderates.
“Our job right now is to rally the American people to continue the negotiations, and I think at the end of the day we’re going to pass both pieces of legislation,” he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, has set a new deadline of Oct. 31 for the House to pass the infrastructure bill.
The House is in a committee work period for the next two weeks and members have been advised that they will be given 72 hour notice if they need to return to Washington for significant legislation.