- Sen. Bernie Sanders threw a rhetorical grenade into the infrastructure bill saga on Tuesday.
- The House should “vote against the bipartisan infrastructure bill until Congress passes a strong reconciliation bill,” he tweeted.
- Bernie’s move came after Nancy Pelosi decoupled the two bills – something she and Biden said months ago wouldn’t happen.
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Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont threw a wrench into congressional infrastructure negotiations on Tuesday – after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi threw a wrench into progressives’ voting strategy.
Since late June, when President Joe Biden reached a bipartisan deal in the Senate on a $US1 ($AU1) trillion roads-and-bridges bill, he and Pelosi have vowed to bring it to a vote in the House at the same time as a $US3.5 ($AU5) trillion party-line reconciliation bill. Pelosi’s move on Tuesday blows up that strategy, and progressives are furious.
“I strongly urge my House colleagues to vote against the bipartisan infrastructure bill until Congress passes a strong reconciliation bill,” the independent senator from Vermont wrote on Twitter.
-Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) September 28, 2021
By calling on House progressives to vote against the basic package until the Human Infrastructure Plan passes the Senate through budget reconciliation, Sanders took the lead among progressive senators in urging Democrats’ left wing in the House to hold firm and play hardball with the speaker. The stakes are huge, because if Democrats only succeed in passing one, they will leave much of Biden’s agenda unpassed, with midterm elections looming in a little over a year.
For months, progressives have said that they would torpedo any movement on the bipartisan package that comes without the reconciliation bill. Now that Democratic leaders seem to be doing just that, progressives are digging in.
Sanders is one of several to throw cold water on a standalone bipartisan infrastructure bill. Other progressives are also upset at Pelosi’s move. Sen. Elizabeth Warren told reporters that “we had a deal,” implying that Pelosi was backtracking on an agreement to hold joint votes.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said earlier on Tuesday that she would vote no unless she gets “new information.”
And Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the House Progressive Caucus, said in a statement: “We articulated this position more than three months ago, and today it is still unchanged: progressives will vote for both bills, but a majority of our members will only vote for the infrastructure bill after the President’s visionary Build Back Better Act passes.”
Not every Senate Democrat was upset with Pelosi. “I trust Speaker Pelosi, she’s the best speaker in my lifetime and I don’t give her advice,” Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, chair of the Senate Banking Committee, told Insider.
Others were still in favor of linking the bills together. “We need to make sure and have confidence that both measures” are traveling in tandem, Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland told Insider.
The Democratic disarray over a decoupled vote
Pelosi is reversing herself from a position she laid out in June linking the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill to the Senate approving a larger social spending bill in the fall. Now Pelosi plans to hold a vote on the former with the latter far from materializing into a piece of legislation.
The debate over the decoupling is the latest entry in the increasingly messy ongoing intra-Democrat debate about how to move forward on infrastructure. Prominent moderates like Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema want the proposed $US3.5 ($AU5) trillion in reconciliation spending to be pared down. Manchin has said he wants a “pause” on that larger package.
Meanwhile, in the background looms a potential government shutdown and a debt default, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rejecting Democrats’ request to raise the debt ceiling on their own.
Sanders reiterated that a deal had been struck between House and Senate Democrats on how the basic package would pass the lower chamber as long as senators pushed the more comprehensive version through by using filibuster-proof budget reconciliation.
“Let’s be crystal clear,” Sanders tweeted, using one of his signature phrases. “If the bipartisan infrastructure bill is passed on its own on Thursday, this will be in violation of an agreement that was reached within the Democratic Caucus in Congress.”
“More importantly, it will end all leverage that we have to pass a major reconciliation bill,” he continued. “That means there will be no serious effort to address the long-neglected crises facing the working families of our country, the children, the elderly, the sick and the poor.”
Pelosi responded to Sanders’ comments on Tuesday. “Everybody has to do what they have to do and I respect that,” she told reporters.