A cadre of moderate House Republicans saved President Biden’s $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal from defeat on Friday after far-left Democrats rebelled against the legislation.
13 House Republicans, including never-Trump acolytes like Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, joined with 215 Democrats to narrowly pass the bill. Given the narrow margin that Democrats control the House, Mr. Biden could only afford three defections.
Joining Mr. Kinzinger in backing the bill were GOP Reps. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio and Fred Upton of Michigan, who are known for their criticism of former President Donald Trump. Mr. Gonzalez, who voted to impeach Mr. Trump earlier this year, is not seeking reelection.
Among the GOP defectors were also several centrist-leaning lawmakers representing marginal districts: Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Don Bacon of Nebraska, John Katko of New York and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey. This included several blue-state Republicans like Reps. Chris Smith of New Jersey and Nicole Malliatokis, Tom Reed and Andrew Garbarino of New York.
The two biggest outliers among defectors were Reps. David McKinley of West Virginia and Don Young of Alaska. Both lawmakers represent districts that are heavily Republican.
“Tonight, instead of playing politics, I put America and West Virginia first,” said Mr. McKinley. “America’s infrastructure has been in dire need of modernization and this bipartisan infrastructure bill is what … West Virginia needs to restore our aging infrastructure.”
A group of six Democrats opposed the legislation. They were all members of the far-left “Squad,” namely Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and additions to the group: Cori Bush of Missouri and Jamaal Bowman of New York.
They argued that for months there was an agreement to pass both the bipartisan infrastructure package and Mr. Biden’s larger social welfare and climate change bill, known as the Build Back Better Act.
“Passing [the infrastructure bill] gives up our leverage to get the Build Back Better through the House and Senate,” said Ms. Tlaib. “I fear that we are missing our once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in the American people.”
The infrastructure legislation, which sailed through the Senate with bipartisan support over the summer, now heads to Mr. Biden’s desk. It will add $550 billion in new funding for transportation projects across the country, including $110 billion for new roads and bridges. Together it amounts to the largest infrastructure package ever passed.
Most of the GOP lawmakers voting in favor of the bill said it was non-controversial and provided much-needed updates for public infrastructure. Many cited the $65 billion earmarked for broadband deployment as proof.
“For months, I have expressed my support for the hard infrastructure bill … which will fix our highways, seaports, and locks, and will provide more access to rural broadband,” said Mr. Bacon. “This bill makes our nation stronger and more competitive for years to come.”
GOP support for the bill came despite significant flaws noted by Republican leadership, which whipped members to vote against the bill. Most notably, the Congressional Budget Office found that more than half of the infrastructure package’s $550 billion in new spending is unfunded.
Mr. Biden is expected to sign the bill before the end of the weekend.
“It’s important to get that done for the American public,” said White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
Ahead of the vote, Mr. Biden canceled his weekend trip to Delaware to work the phones in support of the infrastructure bill. The personal intercession failed to avert a rebellion from far-left Democrats.
“Every time I cast a vote, it’s centered on my residents and not corporate interests,” said Ms. Tlaib. “I await the opportunity to vote yes on President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, which will make transformational investments in people and the planet and make life better for so many of our neighbors.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, triggered the revolt by de-linking the infrastructure and Mr. Biden’s multi-trillion-dollar social welfare bills. The move came after moderate Democrats refused to vote for the bigger safety net legislation without an in-depth cost analysis by the Congressional Budget Office.
“Some members want more clarification or validation of numbers that have been put forth … that it is fully paid for,” said Mrs. Pelosi. “We honor that request.”
For months progressives had argued that the infrastructure package and the larger social welfare bill should move together or not at all. The stance stemmed from distrust of moderate Democrats in both the House and Senate.
Given widespread GOP opposition, Mr. Biden’s social welfare bill will pass using a party-line process known as budget reconciliation. The process allows some spending measures to avert the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster threshold and pass via simple majority.
Since Democrats hold a 50-50 split in the Senate and only a three-seat majority in the House, the legislation needs to be acceptable to almost everyone. The feat is proving nearly impossible given the ideological rift between moderate and progressive Democrats.
Complicating matters is that any reconciliation bill that moves past the House will be heavily altered within the Senate, where two moderate Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, hold the balance of power.
“Whatever the House sends will have to be modified at least a little,” said Sen. Brian Schatz, Hawaii Democrat. “It will not be enacted as is. Everybody needs to sit with that and get comfortable with it.”
Progressives fear that, if given the chance, moderates within both the House and Senate will block the reconciliation bill from becoming law. Such fears have only been compounded by Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema’s efforts to limit the size and scope of the measure.
The lawmakers forced Mr. Biden to trim the price tag of the spending bill from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion. In the process, the White House dropped long-favored liberal priorities, like paid family leave and income tax hikes on the wealthy.
To prevent further cuts, progressives attempted to link the reconciliation bill to the infrastructure package, which Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema helped craft.
The effort failed to bring the two moderates in line, however. Earlier this week, Mr. Manchin admitted he held serious reservations about the reconciliation bill that would not change just because progressives were holding the infrastructure deal hostage.
“There are some House Democrats who say they can’t support this infrastructure package until they get my commitment on the reconciliation legislation,” Mr. Manchin said. “Holding this bill hostage won’t work to get my support for the reconciliation bill.”
Despite the rhetoric, Mr. Biden has assured progressives that when the spending bill is finalized, Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema will be on board.
Republicans, with a firsthand understanding of both lawmakers, say they have remained consistent and are unlikely to bend to the White House’s will.
“House Democrats should not expect our senator to support their radical policies over the wishes of West Virginians, no matter what promises President Biden makes,” said Rep. Carol Miller, West Virginia Republican. “I’ve known Joe Manchin for a very long time.”
At least six far-left Democrats appeared to agree and refused to support the infrastructure bill. Even a last-minute pledge by five moderate House Democrats to vote in favor of the bill next week failed to sway progressives.
“The whole day was a clusterf—,” said Rep. Mark Pocan, Wisconsin Democrat and former chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.