A cadre of moderate House Democrats forced Speaker Nancy Pelosi to retreat from holding an initial vote on President Biden’s $3.5 trillion expansion of America’s social safety net.
Mrs. Pelosi, a California Democrat, attempted to strong-arm lawmakers into voting for a vague and ambiguous congressional rule to advance the package on Monday. The move, however, was opposed by 10 moderate Democrats, who argued that the House should instead take up Mr. Biden’s recently passed $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal.
With Mrs. Pelosi only being able to suffer three defections in the narrowly divided House, the moderates effectively blocked the legislation.
“We don’t have the votes for the rule at the moment. Leadership is trying to change that but not having much luck,” said a Democratic congressman who spoke to The Washington Times.
Rather than suffer defeat, Mrs. Pelosi opted to delay the vote until Tuesday. The decision came after hours of tense negotiations between Mrs. Pelosi and the moderates, led by Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey.
Although several concessions were offered to the moderates, Mrs. Pelosi refused to hold an immediate vote on the infrastructure deal. Rather, the speaker stood by her previous pledge to not take up infrastructure until the Senate has passed the bigger $3.5 trillion package.
Democrats have dubbed the $3.5 trillion bill “human infrastructure” as a complement to the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that focuses on road, bridges and airport projects.
The bigger bill amounts to a wish list of liberal priorities — addressing items such as climate change, amnesty for illegal immigrants, tuition-free community college and expanded health care. It would be paid for with higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations.
Since the $3.5 trillion package is unlikely to garner Republican support, Democrats plan to pass it in the Senate via budget reconciliation. The process allows some spending measures to avoid the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster threshold and pass with a simple majority of 51 votes.
Likewise, within the House, the package is unlikely to garner any GOP votes. That reality means Mrs. Pelosi will have to unify her majority.
At the moment, however, there are broad fissures between moderates and far-left Democrats infrastructure and reconciliation.
While moderates have raised concerns about the size and scope of the reconciliation package, progressives have refused to support infrastructure because it is too narrow.
The 98-member Congressional Progressive Caucus argues the bipartisan infrastructure deal does not go far enough on climate change or social issues. Most have threatened to withhold their support unless the infrastructure deal moves alongside the reconciliation package.
“The budget resolution isn’t a political pawn. It’s an opportunity to deliver on our agenda by making long-overdue and life-changing investments in the health, safety, and education of the people who need it most,” said Rep. Cori Bush, a Missouri Democrat and progressive firebrand. “We are not here to play politics with people’s lives — we are here to pass transformative policies.”
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer warned that infighting, fueled by flagrant mistrust among moderates and progressives, could derail both spending bills.
“We need to trust one another,” said Mr. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat. “This is mutually assured destruction.”
• Kery Murakami contributed to this story.