President Biden, who won the White House boasting that he was a sophisticated negotiator in Washington, was failing Thursday to overcome a legislative impasse within his Democratic Party over his $3.5 trillion social welfare package and his $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.
The infrastructure legislation, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi planned to bring to the floor on Monday but moved to Thursday, still isn’t enough for House liberals to support unless Democrats pair it with Mr. Biden’s more extensive spending measure.
Frantic negotiations were continuing late Thursday, and House Democratic leaders insisted there would be a floor vote. But dozens of far-left lawmakers were signaling that they wouldn’t vote for the measure.
Shortly before 10 p.m., Mrs. Pelosi conceded there would be no vote.
“Discussions continue with the House, Senate and White House to reach a bicameral framework agreement to Build Back Better through a reconciliation bill,” she told Democrats in a letter.
The outcome of the infrastructure package’s passage ultimately depended on whether House and Senate Democrats could reach an agreement on a separate, more significant $3.5 trillion social spending “reconciliation” bill that liberals wanted to tie to the infrastructure bill.
Despite repeated visits to the White House to allay their concerns, Senate moderates took issue with the larger spending measure.
“We will have a reconciliation bill. That is for sure,” Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, told reporters at a press conference Thursday afternoon. “We cannot convince people to vote for the infrastructure bill without a clear path for reconciliation.”
But Mrs. Pelosi promised centrist Democrats, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, that a vote on the stand-alone infrastructure bill vote would happen by Thursday, after delaying the bill on Monday.
Mr. Gottheimer, a co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus, HAD said Democrats are “coming together.”
“There’s no one better [at] getting votes than Nancy Pelosi, plus with the White House pushing … this is critical to the president’s agenda [and] critical to the country,” he told reporters before the evening delay. “I just believe everyone’s going to go in there and hit the ‘yes’ button. She’s working that Pelosi magic.”
But with slim majorities in both chambers, liberal Democrats in the House left Mrs. Pelosi little room for error when it came to finding enough support to pass the infrastructure bill.
House progressives, a caucus of 95 Democratic lawmakers and led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, said at least 60 of their members stood against the infrastructure bill unless it was paired with the $3.5 trillion spending package.
Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona stood against the price tag of the $3.5 trillion spending measure and left their party without a top-line number to work from until Thursday afternoon.
Mr. Manchin told reporters he was willing to support a $1.5 trillion spending deal back in July, putting it in writing to Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer.
“At the time we signed that agreement on July 28, I was at that time asked to go to a budget resolution. I didn’t think any of this was needed at this time,” Mr. Manchin said. “I thought that the infrastructure bill was really what was needed.”
In the document, Mr. Manchin proposed raising the corporate tax rate to 25% from 21% and the top tax rate on income to 39.6%. He said any revenue from the bill beyond $1.5 trillion must go to deficit reduction.
“Senator Manchin does not guarantee that he will vote for the final reconciliation legislation if it exceeds the conditions outlined in this agreement,” the paper reads in bold text.
Still, House liberals, including Ms. Jayapal, have said they were unsure how high Mr. Manchin was willing to go and called on him to give a number.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, told reporters that in a sense Mr. Manchin’s remarks represent movement toward a deal.
“You know, the good news is that it’s a definite number,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “The bad news is that it’s a definite number. It seems low.”
The figure is less than half of the $3.5 trillion that Mr. Biden and most congressional Democrats had been envisioning and would mean the left will have to dramatically scale back their hopes for creating a slew of new subsidies.
Members of the far-left “Squad” quickly condemned Mr. Manchin’s figure as insufficient.
“For one year,” quipped Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat, when asked if $1.5 trillion is enough.
Rep. Cori Bush, Missouri Democrat, said the lower number would strike low-income people as telling them “you all don’t deserve the investment in climate. You all don’t deserve two years of college. Who is he taking the money from?”
Asked about Mr. Manchin’s argument that $3.5 trillion in new spending is “insanity,” Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota retorted, “Inaction is insanity. Not [being] willing to negotiate in good faith is insanity. Not fighting to have the critical investments that are needed is insanity. Trying to kill your party’s agenda is insanity. Not trying to make sure the president we all worked so hard to elect [for] this agenda pass is insanity. Losing the majority in the House, in the Senate is insanity.”
Mr. Gottheimer said it was important that House Democrats saw and heard Mr. Manchin voicing his support for social welfare spending programs, even though his top-line number is far lower than what liberals are seeking.
“I think it was very helpful to see Sen. Manchin out there today talking about child care, talking about universal pre-K, talking about home health care, and seeing him actually talking about those issues, and saying that he’s for reconciliation,” he said. “It gives me faith that we’re actually going to get reconciliation done.”