One down, one to go
It looked bleak for a while yesterday, but House Democrats (and a few Republicans, tbh) came through for President Biden when he needed them the most.
Nearly three months after the US Senate passed legislation to upgrade the nation’s rails, roads and bridges while purifying America’s water systems and ensuring rural communities have broadband internet access, the House voted 228–206 late last night to send the bill to President Joe Biden so he could sign it into law.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which represents one-half of Biden’s sweeping economic agenda, satisfies a promise the president made during his campaign to overcome entrenched ideological differences in Congress and show Americans our federal government isn’t a gridlocked as it has proven itself to be. And it gives frontline Democrats who are at risk of losing their seats in next year’s midterms results to promote after an underwhelming performance from the party in several off-year elections on Tuesday night.
“Tonight, we took a monumental step forward as a nation,” Biden said in a statement from the White House after the vote. “Generations from now, people will look back and know this is when America won the economic competition for the 21st Century.”
13 Republicans joined Democrats to vote for the bill for the same reason I mentioned earlier: It’s a meaningful piece of legislation to campaign on regardless of which party proposed it. These GOP members offset the votes against the bill from six progressives, known as “The Squad,” who bucked their party in what they believe was a display of principled defiance. “While [the bipartisan infrastructure deal] includes some positive provisions, it would also make communities like those I represent less safe, less healthy, and less protected from corporate polluters,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan said in a statement last night on why she voted against the bill. “Passing BIF gives up our leverage to get Build Back Better through the House and Senate, and I fear that we are missing our once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in the American people.”
House Democratic leadership went into the Friday morning with hopes to pass the bipartisan infrastructure deal and vote on a rule to advance the Build Back Better Act — aka the other half of Biden’s agenda — to a floor debate before a final vote is cast. But those hopes were quickly dashed when progressives pumped the brakes over what they perceived as a broken promise from leadership to pass both bills together. Progressives are lukewarm on the bipartisan infrastructure deal but fully on board with Build Back Better, which conservatives feel meh about. So the agreement from the start of the negotiations was to link the two bills together so both groups would have to pass the one they loathe to get the one they love.
But yesterday, conservative Democrats said they couldn’t vote on Build Back Better because the Congressional Budget Office, a US federal agency that provides Congress with economic and budgetary analysis, hadn’t scored the bill to verify the Biden administration’s commitment that the legislation is fully paid for. (It’s worth noting that the CBO determined the bipartisan infrastructure deal would add $256 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years, but that didn’t stop conservatives from pushing to expedite a vote for it.) Progressives accused conservatives of moving the goalposts again and generally feel they’ve been made out to be the bad guys in the debate when they’ve kept their promise from the jump.
So from then on, Speaker Pelosi and her two deputies — Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Whip Jim Clyburn — spent the day meeting with both groups in an attempt to salvage their strategy. It looked bleak for most of the day. But those of us who follow politics for a living understand it’s foolish to bet against Pelosi, who demonstrates a remarkable ability to influence her caucus towards her legislative priorities. President Biden canceled a weekend trip with First Lady Jill Biden to their summer home in Delaware to make calls to skittish members. (Vice President Kamala Harris, per a source, joined him in these efforts.)
Progressives and conservatives finally reached a compromise: The latter group committed to voting for Build Back Better if the CBO confirmed that it’s fully paid for; the former group said enough of its members would vote for the bipartisan infrastructure bill to give Democrats a win. Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Josh Gottheimer, the respective leaders of the progressive and conservative Democratic groups, released statements confirming the agreement and then stood on the steps of the Capitol to symbolize their newfound solidarity. And once the bill finally passed, House Democrats were seen and heard exuberantly clapping and shouting in celebration of their victory.
President Biden is scheduled to take a victory lap this morning during remarks on the bill’s passage before heading to Delaware for the weekend. And since the House also voted last night to advance the Build Back Better Act, Democrats will be able to pass it once it receives a CBO score. Then the Senate will draft its own version of Build Back Better and return it to the House for a final vote. And by the end of the year, President Biden and Democrats could have two pieces of transformative legislation — three, if you count the American Rescue Plan from March — to put up against the Republican Party’s culture warfare. And trust me, they’ll need them if they want to maintain their House and Senate majorities next year.