Jul 29, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Infrastructure bills face House chaos

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries is seen running up the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries arrives for a House vote last month. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The infrastructure agreement cinched Wednesday by senators faces several changes in the House before it — and a companion reconciliation bill — have any chance of becoming law.

Why it matters: The myopic focus on the bipartisan group of Senate negotiators overlooks House progressives and others ready to pounce. They have the ability to quash any deal, given the narrow Democratic margins not only in the Senate but also the House.

What they're saying...

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), No. 5 in House leadership: "It's important to have a bipartisan bill … but we also want a 21st century infrastructure bill that is resilient and sustainable, and recognizes the threat that climate change poses."

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), whip of the House Progressive Caucus, told Axios the group is debating whether they'll demand substantive changes.

  • "I think it's gonna be really valuable for us to be as involved as possible. We do have a progressive champion [Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)] in the Senate ... and the chair here on the House side is also a member of our caucus [Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.)].”

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said: "The soup is not cooked yet. So, I'm not going to prejudge what they're doing."

What we're hearing: Progressive Democrats are opposed to the Senate Budget Committee's plans to keep the total price tag for the two bills at $4.1 trillion, especially if Republicans ultimately refuse to support the bipartisan, "hard" infrastructure package in the Senate.

  • Axios reported last week that Senate Democrats on the Budget Committee don't want to reopen debate on the roughly $1.2 trillion bipartisan proposal, even if it founders in their chamber.
  • They're eager to make the argument that the GOP opposed the measure even when it included everything their party members negotiated.
  • "Why not try to get a more ambitious proposal if Republicans are no longer in the equation?" one progressive lawmaker told Axios, requesting anonymity.

Between the lines: By design, the House is an entirely different beast than the Senate, a rowdy chamber with 435 members as opposed to a more clubby group of 100.

  • In a sense of the chamber's tenor, Rep. DeFazio, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, called the Senate's bipartisan bill “crap” during a private meeting on Tuesday, Politico reported.

The bottom line: In order to pass, the infrastructure bills have to go through a rigorous process in the House — one that could change the face of both measures before President Biden takes the cap off his pen.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the number of members of the House to 435.

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