Sep 29, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Democrats' moment of truth

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is seen speaking with reporters on Wednesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks with reporters on Wednesday. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The “put-up or shut-up” moment has arrived for House Democrats.

Why it matters: What happens in the next 24 hours will be a crucial indicator of how long it will take, and how difficult it will be, to fulfill President Biden's agenda.

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) promised a vote on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill on Thursday. House progressives and Senate Democrats remain split on supporting the companion $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation first. Massive spending legislation depends on who blinks.
  • The impact is less about deadlines — they've been set arbitrarily — and more about the power struggle within the Democratic Party.
  • The resolution could determine the outcome of next year's midterm elections. The party's divisiveness could ultimately be its demise.
  • The White House said in a statement Wednesday night: "The engagement that [the president], his Cabinet and senior staff have been pursuing with members of Congress for months will continue going into [Thursday]."

Driving the news: Pelosi already delayed the vote on the Senate-passed, "hard" infrastructure measure once this week, conceding it did not have the votes to pass.

  • She flexed her leadership muscles during a closed-door meeting with her caucus on Monday, during which she made clear the party should not allow negotiations on Biden's broader reconciliation package to hold the bipartisan bill hostage.
  • Three days later, she faces the prospect of delaying that vote once again — or risking its failure.
  • Pelosi has said flat-out she will not bring a bill to the floor unless it will pass.

The latest: As late as Wednesday evening, progressives were still demanding that, at a minimum, the House, Senate and White House strike a specific agreement on the reconciliation package before voting on the infrastructure bill.

  • They also want an agreed-upon price tag. Neither is going to happen.
  • Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said Wednesday afternoon it's "not possible" for the Senate — meaning him and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — to cut a deal on reconciliation before the scheduled House vote.
  • Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, also told reporters her members would defeat the bipartisan bill if it comes to the floor without such an agreement.
  • "We can always bring it up for a vote again," she declared.

Meanwhile, Democratic centrists say their patience is wearing thin after Pelosi delayed their promised vote this past Monday.

  • "If the vote were to fail [Thursday] or be delayed, there would be a significant breach of trust that would slow the momentum in moving forward in delivering the Biden agenda," said Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.).

What's next: The House is scheduled to adjourn at the end of this week for a two-week recess.

  • That would further delay debate on the president's signature agenda items.
  • There's also a chance leadership keeps members in town longer to continue hashing out a deal on reconciliation, as well as addressing the debt limit.
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