House progressives optimistic that Biden will deliver after Capitol Hill meeting on infrastructure

Comes after House Democrats failed to vote on the legislation Thursday evening

Eric Garcia
Saturday 02 October 2021 01:44
Biden visits Democratic caucus in bid to win infrastructure bill
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Progressive members of Congress expressed confidence after President Joe Biden visited the House Democratic caucus on Friday afternoon, saying they think they will be successful in passing the two major infrastructure bills that make up the president’s domestic agenda.

Mr Biden headed to his old stomping grounds on Capitol Hill, where he served as a Senator from 1973 to 2009 before his election as vice president, after Democrats failed to vote by late Thursday on a bipartisan infrastructure package that already passed the Senate in August.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had initially scheduled for the vote to happen Thursday evening after telling moderates in her caucus the vote would happen this week.

But after progressives in the House and Sen Bernie Sanders announced their opposition to the bill if it did not include a larger social welfare bill Democrats want to pass through the Senate. The larger bill would be passed through a process called reconciliation, which requires a bare 51-vote majority and sidesteps a Republican filibuster.

White House officials met late on Thursday evening with Sens Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, both conservative Democrats who have raised objections to the cost of the reconciliation legislation. Both chafed at Democrats’ proposed $3.5 trillion price tag and Mr Manchin has proposed the package be slashed to $1.5 trillion.

The New York Times reported that Ms Sinema was headed back to Arizona on Friday for a doctor’s appointment to follow up on a foot injury – and also a fundraiser with donors to her political action committee at a resort.

Rep Pramila Jayapal, the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, praised the president after the meeting.

“The president was fantastic,” she told The Independent on her way to a meeting with the caucus after the talk with the president. “We’re getting both bills to his desk. And that’s what he wants. It’s his agenda.”

Rep Ruben Gallego, who like Ms Sinema hails from the state of Arizona, said Mr Biden asked the progressives to look at a number less than $3.5 trillion, but did not give a specific price tag.

“He was very specific, he said would like us to look at the policy first and work the math up,” Mr Gallego told reporters. But Mr Gallego also said that Mr Biden had “no confidence” that if the bipartisan deal passed first “that the reconciliation will also pass”.

Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York was kept her comments more close to the vest, declining to reveal what she told the president. She said the ultimate dollar figure of the larger reconciliation bill was still “subject to negotiations” among the Democratic caucus, but she felt optimistic.

“I think it was positive,” she told reporters. “I still feel good about where we’re at.”

Rep Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, another member of the so-called “Squad” that includes Rep Ocasio-Cortez, was also more reserved but sounded a pragmatic note.

“We have more work to do,” she told The Independent but said she did not think there would be a vote on infrastructure on Friday evening. “There’s overwhelming consensus that we need to pass both. That still remains true.”

On their way to the meeting with progressives, Rep Mondaire Jones told Rep Jamie Raskin he felt “great” about the discussion with the progressives. Mr Raskin said Democrats would ultimately pass the entire package.

“It’s a little bit messy because we’re Democrats, because we’re the party of the people,” he said. “But in the final analysis, we’re going to get it together and we’re going to deliver.”

Moderate Democrats said Mr Biden wanted to build consensus. Rep Henry Cuellar of Texas, whose 2020 primary opponent Ms Ocasio-Cortez endorsed, said the president tried to tell progressives to come down from $3.5 trillion. Mr Cuellar said Mr Biden threw out $1.9 trillion or $2 trillion.

“He threw that at the progressives and then he told us, we need both bills,” he said. When asked about whether there would be an infrastructure vote Friday night, he Mr Cuellar said, “I don’t think so.”

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