House Democrats on Monday hurtled toward a train wreck for President Biden‘s agenda as far-left lawmakers dug in with opposition to a bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.
The rift between progressives and moderates threatens to bring down both the infrastructure bill and a $3.5 trillion social welfare and climate change bill that are the heart of Mr. Biden‘s plan for America.
Mr. Biden acknowledged the uncertain fate of his agenda.
“I’ve got meetings tonight, tomorrow and the next little bit,” he told reporters after getting a COVID-19 booster shot. “It may not be by the end of the week. I hope it’s by the end of the week.”
House Democrats huddled in a caucus meeting for more than an hour Monday evening but emerged without breaking the impasse.
The leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus — Democratic Reps. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Katie Porter of California and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota — threw down an all-or-nothing gauntlet.
Mrs. Jayapal, chair of the Progressive Caucus, said there won’t be the Democratic votes to pass the infrastructure bill until the Senate agrees to pass the liberals’ mammoth bill.
She said a framework of a deal or a promise from moderate senators won’t be enough. “A pinky swear isn’t enough,” she told reporters after the meeting.
The progressives have made the threat before, but coming just days before a scheduled vote Thursday on the infrastructure bill, their steely resolve cast doubt on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s ability to pull the Democrats together in time.
House Democrats on Monday missed the first deadline for a vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure package. Mrs. Pelosi had set the deadline in August as a promise to moderate Democrats to get their support in a test vote on the bigger liberal bill.
Instead of a vote, Mrs. Pelosi had the House begin the debate on the infrastructure bill Monday night with the vote set for Thursday.
Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, was still scrambling to line up Democratic votes for the Senate-passed infrastructure bill that would fund road, bridge, broadband Internet and public transportation projects. Several rifts between far-left and moderate Democrats remained to be ironed out, and neither side was backing down in a game of legislative chicken.
Mrs. Pelosi put off Monday’s vote because 50 far-left House Democrats — far more than enough to scuttle the bill — pledged to vote against the infrastructure bill unless the moderates in both chambers agree to pass the liberal spending spree.
That $3.5 trillion bill includes raising the child tax credit, creating a new child-care subsidy, expanding Obamacare, adding benefits to Medicare, making community colleges tuition-free and launching climate change programs.
The odds for Mrs. Pelosi striking a deal to unite her caucus by Thursday remained long at best.
Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, has dug in against a price tag as big as $3.5 trillion. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona has insisted she won’t back tax increases Mr. Biden proposed to pay for the largest expansion of the welfare state since the Great Society of the 1960s.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, can’t suffer a single defection to push the $3.5 trillion bill through the upper chamber in a party-line vote.
In the House, moderate Democrats from swing districts fear that voting for Mr. Biden‘s tax-and-spend agenda would be the same as walking the plank in next year’s midterm elections.
Mrs. Pelosi will have to strong-arm the party’s left into backing down and helping pass the infrastructure, even if it eliminates any leverage they have to get moderate votes to pass the social welfare bill.
Regardless of how Democrats get to the bigger bill, Mrs. Pelosi has acknowledged that it likely will be a trimmed down version, which has been the consensus in Washington for weeks.
That will outrage the far left.
Ms. Jayapal, chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said they already backed down from the $6 trillion price tag they wanted for a bigger welfare state.
At the same time, members on the far left have said they need a win after failing to make good on their promises to change policing, raise the federal minimum wage and rewrite the country’s election laws.
“There is disappointment from people who believed Democratic control would lead to progressive changes more radically to the left,” said Nadia Brown, a political scientist at Georgetown University.
Nick Rathod, former deputy director of intergovernmental affairs in the Obama White House, said the stakes couldn’t be higher for Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats.
“Biden, Schumer and Pelosi need to go into the midterms having achieved some big legislative win,” he said. “They can’t go to the base and say we had control and we didn’t do anything.”
Indeed, all the disarray is giving Republicans ammunition to paint Democrats as incompetent.
“Speaker Pelosi says the House will vote on the Democrats’ $5 trillion in new spending this week. What exactly is in the legislation and how is it paid for?” tweeted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican.
• Kerry Picket contributed to this report.