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How the mess in Congress shows why Democrats are right to be freaking out

Instead of an orderly passage of two of Democrats’ biggest priorities, however, the outlook looks far more rocky for Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Biden agenda. Like, much rockier.

Let’s start small — and then go global.

There has been a long-running disagreement between Pelosi and the moderate wing of the party in the House about the order that two pieces of legislation should move. Pelosi and her fellow liberals want the House to first vote to approve the $3.5 trillion budget resolution and then vote on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that came to the House after a bipartisan deal was worked out in the Senate.

Moderates — led by New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer — want the order reversed. They want to get the $1.2 trillion transportation bill passed so that it can immediately get to President Joe Biden’s desk and made into law. Only after the infrastructure bill passes do they want to move on to the $3.5 trillion budget resolution.

Pelosi, whose legislative and political prowess is historically strong, misread this one. She clearly believed that Gottheimer and the nine other moderate Democrats who had joined him in calling for the infrastructure bill to precede the budget resolution would fold when the time came.

But on Monday night, Gottheimer and his fellow moderates hung together. And because Pelosi’s majority is incredibly narrow, she couldn’t proceed with her budget-resolution-first plan. Which forced her into conversations with Gottheimer about what he wanted — and whether there was a compromise available. (In truth, these conversations should have happened weeks ago. Gottheimer’s objections to the order of the bills Pelosi was proposing weren’t new.)

The likelihood, of course, is that Pelosi finds a way to placate Gottheimer — likely by scheduling a date certain for the infrastructure bill vote — and they get the budget resolution passed before the week is out. (As of this writing, the Rules Committee appeared to be working on an agreement that would set September 27 for the start of the House debate over the infrastructure bill.)

Now, pan the camera out — and look at what this all tells us about the current state of the Democratic Party.

The big thing the last 24 hours reveals is how little trust there is between moderates and liberals in the House. Liberals don’t want to pass the infrastructure bill first because they think doing so would take away the carrot they need to keep moderates on board for the full $3.5 trillion in spending that they badly want. Moderates believe that if they give liberals that $3.5 trillion budget vote first, the $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan may never see the light of day, with liberals walking away once they’ve gotten what they want.

That lack of trust is corrosive to a party — much less one clinging to its majority in the face of political winds that have begun to blow in their faces.

Which bring me to this: Democrats have to defend their narrow majority in roughly 15 months. The history of midterm elections in the first term of a president of your party are, um, dire. And that already bleak outlook is made worse — far worse — when the president’s approval rating is below 50%, as Biden’s is right now.

Moderates, who tend to represent swing districts that are at the top of Republicans’ takeover list, feel the pressure created by the weight of history and Biden’s recent poll slippage acutely. Which makes them less willing to just trust liberals — who face far less electoral peril. And when the hard work of passing the specifics of a massive $3.5 trillion budget bill, those moderates are going to be even more skittish.

In short: This was supposed to be the easy part. That it wasn’t speaks to the very rough road ahead for Democrats.

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