A group of nine conservative House Democrats on Friday threatened to torpedo a $3.5 trillion budget resolution—the cornerstone of their party's social spending and climate agenda—unless Speaker Nancy Pelosi first allows a vote on a $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill that has been criticized as inadequate and potentially harmful to the environment.
"In what world is it 'moderate' to kill a $3.5 trillion agenda against the majority of your own party? It's far-right austerity."
—Zack Burley, The Climate Mobilization
In a letter to Pelosi (D-Calif.), Democratic Reps. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia, Filemon Vela of Texas, Henry Cuellar of Texas, Ed Case of Hawaii, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Jared Golden of Maine, Vicente Gonzalez of Texas, and Jim Costa of California warned that they "will not consider voting for a budget resolution until the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passes the House and is signed into law."
"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," the letter reads. "It's time to get shovels in the ground and people to work."
The new letter drew immediate backlash from progressive activists. Ezra Levin, co-executive director of Indivisible, argued that "the greatest threat to [President Joe] Biden's agenda is not the Progressive Caucus or the Squad, but these conservative Democrats who want to tank it unless Pelosi accepts unpopular changes."
"Why do these conservative Democrats want Biden, Pelosi, and the Democratic agenda to fail?" Levin asked. "Do they want to be in the minority next year? Maybe they're more comfortable there."
Pelosi has said publicly that she will not permit a vote on the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill until the upper chamber also approves a sweeping budget reconciliation package—a strategy endorsed by House progressives. The House is expected to end its August vacation early to take up the $3.5 trillion budget resolution, the passage of which will allow congressional committees to begin crafting a reconciliation bill that can pass without any Republican support.
"This is President Biden's agenda, this is the Democrats' agenda, this is what we ran on and we need to deliver."
—Rep. Ilhan Omar
Given Democrats' narrow control of the House, conservatives have the numbers to sink the budget resolution and progressives have the votes to defeat the bipartisan infrastructure bill—a stalemate that threatens to undercut the Democratic leadership's hopes for a smooth "two-track" legislative process.
"There are not sufficient votes to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill this month," a senior Democratic aide told Politico in response to the new letter. "This is nine. There are dozens upon dozens who will vote against the [bipartisan bill] unless it's after the Senate passes reconciliation."
Earlier this week, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) announced that a majority of respondents to a survey of its nearly 100 members said they are prepared to withhold their votes from the bipartisan infrastructure bill until the Senate approves a full reconciliation package, not just the budget resolution.
"Our caucus is clear: the bipartisan bill will only be passed if a package of social, human, and climate infrastructure—reflecting long-standing Democratic priorities—is passed simultaneously through budget reconciliation," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the CPC.
Progressives believe that delaying a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill is necessary to secure passage of the reconciliation measure, which is expected to include major investments in green energy, an expansion of Medicare, paid family and medical leave, a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, and other major Democratic priorities.
"This is President Biden's agenda, this is the Democrats' agenda, this is what we ran on and we need to deliver," Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), the CPC whip, told the New York Times on Friday.
If the House sends the bipartisan infrastructure bill to President Joe Biden's desk before the Senate greenlights a reconciliation package, progressives fear that conservative Democrats will then be free to defect and tank the multitrillion-dollar legislation. Already, some self-styled moderate Democrats such as Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have voiced opposition to passing a $3.5 trillion bill.
And in their letter to Pelosi on Friday, the nine conservative House Democrats did not commit to voting in favor of the $3.5 trillion budget resolution even if the bipartisan infrastructure package passes; the lawmakers merely vowed to "consider" supporting the resolution.
"It what world is it 'moderate' to kill a $3.5 trillion agenda against the majority of your own party?" asked Zack Burley, a policy associate at The Climate Mobilization. "It's far-right austerity."