Jul 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Infrastructure deal's Democratic opposition

Rep. Peter DeFazio is seen speaking during a news conference.

Rep. Peter DeFazio. Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images

Some progressive House Democrats — and potentially 20 members of the pivotal Transportation and Infrastructure Committee — are signaling they'll vote against the Senate’s $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package.

Why it matters: With just three Democratic votes to spare, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and President Biden must seriously consider every possible House defection if they hope to pass the Senate package.

  • "If it comes over in that form and it’s take-it-or-leave-it, I'm going to work to defeat it," Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the T&I Committee, told Axios.
  • "It’ll fail the House of Representatives," he said. "You know, I voted against Obama's [economic] recovery act."

Driving the news: While Senate negotiators are struggling to find a compromise on roughly $579 billion in new spending for "hard" infrastructure, Democrats on DeFazio’s committee are signaling the package might have just as much difficulty in the House.

  • 31 of the committee’s 37 Democratic members wrote Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday to ask for "a bicameral negotiation prior to the passage of any final infrastructure package."
  • "We don't want to see our work taken for granted and just be a rubber stamp for the Republicans," Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) told Axios. "I would guess there are 20 'no’s'" for the Senate bill.
  • "I am a 'no.' I am," Rep. Henry Johnson (D-Ga.) told Axios.
  • There's also a broad concern in the House Progressive Caucus, lawmakers said.

The big picture: The Senate is attempting to pass two infrastructure packages at the same time: the bipartisan framework, which focuses mostly on traditional projects like roads and bridges, and a $3.5 trillion, Democrat-only bill that includes new spending for universal preschool, free community college and Medicare expansion.

  • The bipartisan package suffered a procedural setback Wednesday when Republicans voted against proceeding to a floor vote on an actual bill, which they say isn’t ready.
  • But there's also Democratic concern with the emerging compromise, as well as what might happen to the Senate deal in the House.
  • "I voted today to move forward to consideration of a bipartisan infrastructure bill, but more must be done to guarantee my support for the legislation currently being drafted," said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Between the lines: The White House is reaching out to wavering lawmakers on DeFazio’s committee, as Politico reported, and on Wednesday afternoon, DeFazio said he received a call from White House counselor Steve Ricchetti, the president's infrastructure point man.

  • "We’re in close touch with the president’s colleagues in the House, who he deeply respects and values as core partners," said Andrew Bates, a deputy White House spokesman.
  • Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg also traveled to DeFazio's district last week, where the chairman called it an "honor" to host him.
  • But on Wednesday, before he spoke with Ricchetti, DeFazio called White House outreach to his committee members "odd" and hinted that officials were trying to work around him.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the number of committee signatories to 31.

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