WASHINGTON — Nine moderate House Democrats told Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday that they will not vote for a budget resolution meant to pave the way for the passage of a $3.5 trillion social policy package later this year until a Senate-approved infrastructure bill passes the House and is signed into law.
The pledge, in a letter released early Friday, is a major rift that threatens the carefully choreographed, two-track effort by congressional Democrats and the Biden administration to enact both a trillion-dollar, bipartisan infrastructure deal and an even more ambitious — but partisan — social policy measure. The nine House members are more than enough to block consideration of the budget blueprint in a House where Democrats hold a three-seat majority.
The Senate passed the infrastructure bill on Tuesday with 69 votes, including 19 Republicans. It then approved, on a party-line vote early Wednesday, a $3.5 trillion budget resolution that, if passed by the House, would allow Democrats in both chambers to assemble the social policy bill this fall without fear of a Republican filibuster in the Senate.
Ms. Pelosi has called the House back early from its summer recess to consider the budget resolution the week of Aug. 23. To assuage liberal Democrats more interested in the social policy bill, Ms. Pelosi promised that she would not bring the infrastructure bill to a vote in the House until the Senate passed the social policy bill. Liberals fear that once the infrastructure bill is signed, moderate Democrats in the House and Senate will withdraw their support for the far-reaching social policy measure.
But that social policy bill might not pass until well into the fall, if ever, given the 50-to-50 partisan split in the Senate. And moderate House Democrats say delaying a vote on infrastructure runs the risk of unforeseen events derailing it.
“With the livelihoods of hardworking American families at stake, we simply can’t afford months of unnecessary delays and risk squandering this one-in-a-century, bipartisan infrastructure package,” reads the letter, which has Representative Josh Gottheimer, Democrat of New Jersey, as the first signer. “It’s time to get shovels in the ground and people to work.”
Understand the Infrastructure Bill
- One trillion dollar package passed. The Senate passed a sweeping bipartisan infrastructure package on Aug. 10, capping weeks of intense negotiations and debate over the largest federal investment in the nation’s aging public works system in more than a decade.
- The final vote. The final tally in the Senate was 69 in favor to 30 against. The legislation, which still must pass the House, would touch nearly every facet of the American economy and fortify the nation’s response to the warming of the planet.
- Main areas of spending. Overall, the bipartisan plan focuses spending on transportation, utilities and pollution cleanup.
- Transportation. About $110 billion would go to roads, bridges and other transportation projects; $25 billion for airports; and $66 billion for railways, giving Amtrak the most funding it has received since it was founded in 1971.
- Utilities. Senators have also included $65 billion meant to connect hard-to-reach rural communities to high-speed internet and help sign up low-income city dwellers who cannot afford it, and $8 billion for Western water infrastructure.
- Pollution cleanup: Roughly $21 billion would go to cleaning up abandoned wells and mines, and Superfund sites.
If they stick to their position, Democratic leaders and President Biden face their first major test in the process. More than half of the nearly 100-strong Congressional Progressive Caucus has taken the opposite position, saying they will not vote for the infrastructure bill until they have a social policy measure funding their priorities: climate change, education, health care, family leave, child care and elder care.
With the promised defections from the Progressive Caucus, it would appear that Ms. Pelosi faces a stalemate, lacking the votes to either deliver the infrastructure bill to President Biden’s desk or advance the budget resolution needed to protect the final legislation from Republican obstruction.
Until now, most congressional Democrats had been optimistic that both measures could find enough support.
“This is President Biden’s agenda, this is the Democrats’ agenda, this is what we ran on and we need to deliver,” Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a leader in the Progressive Caucus, said of the social policy bill. “It is important for us not to miss the mark, and I don’t see a conflict.”
But her moderate colleagues do. “We will not consider voting for a budget resolution until the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passes the House and is signed into law,” they wrote.
That sentiment may go beyond the nine. Other more moderate Democrats, who declined to sign, have also said they very much want an immediate vote on the infrastructure bill.
“This is a once-in-a-generation infrastructure bill, and I think we should strike while the iron is hot,” Representative Elissa Slotkin, Democrat of Michigan said. “We should bring it to the House and vote on it as soon as possible.”
The draft letter was signed by Mr. Gottheimer and Representatives Filemon Vela of Texas, Henry Cuellar of Texas, Ed Case of Hawaii, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia, Jared Golden of Maine, Vicente Gonzalez of Texas and Jim Costa of California.