Aug 24, 2021 - Politics & Policy

House Democrats strike deal to advance infrastructure, voting rights proposals

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, center, departs the House Democratic Caucus meeting
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) departs the House Democratic Caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

After hours of infighting, House Democrats on Tuesday struck a deal that would approve their $3.5 trillion budget resolution, set up floor action on the bipartisan infrastructure bill by Sept. 27 and advance voting rights legislation.

Why it matters: The deal is key to advancing Democrats' top three priorities — all of which are expected to receive little to no House Republican support.

Between the lines: This comes after a showdown among House leadership, progressives and moderate Democrats over the order in which to tackle passing their dual infrastructure bills.

  • Moderates, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), wanted to vote on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill before passing the budget resolution, which unlocks the process for Democrats to pass their $3.5 trillion reconciliation package.
  • They worry delaying the bill could jeopardize its chances of ultimately passing, especially if it gets caught up later on in a series of messier votes on more difficult legislation.
  • But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attempted to appease progressives early on in insisting the House wouldn't vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill until they passed Democrats' $3.5 trillion reconciliation package — essentially using the bipartisan bill as leverage.

The result: The agreement allows all sides to say they got something, though none can claim a total win.

  • Moderates failed at their principal goal: strong-arming leadership into voting for the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill first. And while they'll say they succeeded in getting the party to at least agree to a vote by Sept. 27, the deadline is "non-binding" — making it more of a talking point for the mods and less of a power play.
  • The haggling came at the cost of infuriating many of their Democratic colleagues, but it did score them another important centrist vote, adding Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) to their ranks. It also showed how influential they can be if they band together, emboldening them ahead of another expected infrastructure battle next month.
  • And while Pelosi succeeded in ensuring the budget framework passes before a vote on the bipartisan bill, it didn't happen without a massive struggle first — not a good look for a party that controls both chambers of Congress and the White House.
  • The self-imposed Sept. 27 deadline also creates a talking point that Pelosi can't ignore. It's something she and others in leadership will have to answer for when it approaches.
    • “In consultation with the Chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I am committing to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill by September 27.  I do so with a commitment to rally House Democratic support for its passage," Pelosi said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.
  • It is unlikely the mammoth reconciliation bill is even finished being written by Sept. 27. Congressional committees are currently drafting different sections, and have a soft deadline of submitting their legislative text by Sept. 15.

What they're saying: “These negotiations are never easy. I think it was Hillary Clinton who says, ‘It takes a village.’ I say, ‘It takes a therapist,’” said House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern.

What to watch: How the inter-party warring upsets the balance of power within the House Democratic caucus. Pelosi has long had to deal with the demands of the party's different factions, but leadership always expected holdouts to fall in line when put to the test.

  • Moderate Democrats surprised everyone when they held their ground on Monday.
  • How these power dynamics continue to shift will be key to watch this fall when the House tries to pass both infrastructure bills as well as a flurry of must-pass government funding and debt limit legislation.

What's next: The House is expected to vote on a procedural rule this afternoon that would "deem" the $3.5 trillion budget as passed and set up the eventual vote on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan package.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

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