House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday upped the pressure on a cadre of moderate House Democrats who refuse to back an initial vote on President Biden’s $3.5 trillion social welfare bill.
Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, called an early meeting of her conference on Tuesday in hopes of bringing the moderate rebels to heel. At the moment, she is utilizing a two-pronged strategy: private negotiations with the moderates and publicly exposing the group to the ire of the entire caucus.
“It’s like shock and awe,” said one Democratic staffer. “These meetings are tense, especially when you have a small minority being stared down by a majority that is clamoring to wrap this up and leave town.”
The goal, according to the staffer, is to ”isolate” the moderates and inundate them with pressure from the caucus in hopes that will be enough to broker a deal.
The moderates forced Mrs. Pelosi to retreat Monday from holding an initial vote on the $3.5 trillion package of anti-poverty, education and health care spending. She can only afford three defections to pass the bill in a party-line vote.
The massive bill is the centerpiece of Mr. Biden’s domestic agenda.
“When we bring up the bill, we will have the votes,” said Mrs. Pelosi.
To help assure that happens, the speaker is ratcheting up the pressure by scheduling another caucus this afternoon.
Mrs. Pelosi 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.
Rather than suffer defeat, Mrs. Pelosi opted to delay the vote. 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 such items 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.
At the moment, 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 argued that 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.
Those divisions dominated the Democratic conference throughout Monday. At one point, during a late evening conference, moderate and progressives Democrats accused one another of sabotage.
“I’m urging you as a single mother … as someone who has worked low-wage jobs and struggled to afford child care,” said Rep. Cori Bush, a Missouri Democrat and progressive firebrand. “We must pass the budget resolution immediately.”
“Like in any family, people have different views until the family comes together so that’s what we’re doing today,” said Rep. Joyce Beaty, an Ohio Democrat who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus. “We’re not that far apart … it is more procedural than the actual legislative process.”
• Kery Murakami contributed to this report.
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