Pelosi backs two-bill infrastructure strategy amid progressives’ push for one

House to act on legislation before August recess, if not before July 4, speaker says

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday said she thinks the House will take up physical and social infrastructure legislation in two parts.  (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday said she thinks the House will take up physical and social infrastructure legislation in two parts. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 8, 2021 at 4:41pm

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday backed the White House’s pitch to split its infrastructure plans into two packages — one emphasizing tangible assets like roads, bridges and broadband and another focused on “human” infrastructure — despite progressives’ push for a bundled approach.

President Joe Biden last week unveiled his proposal for spending more than $2 trillion on physical infrastructure and workforce development over eight years, as well as a slate of corporate and international tax changes aimed at paying it off over 15 years.

In the coming weeks, Biden is planning to release a second plan for education, health, and child and elder care funding that is expected to cost more than $1 trillion.

Releasing the proposals in two parts suggests the White House believes breaking them up might make them easier to swallow politically. But the administration has ultimately deferred to congressional leaders to make decisions about legislative strategy.

During her weekly news conference on Thursday, Pelosi offered her first indication that she plans to keep the proposals separate when it comes time to bring them to the House floor.

“I think we will have two bills,” the California Democrat said.

Pelosi said the goal is to get bipartisan support for both bills, but “especially the infrastructure bill” that invests in highways, mass transit, water, schools, broadband, housing and more.

“If we have to go to reconciliation, that’s a lever, but I hope it’s not something that we need to do,” she said.

The speaker did not identify at what point Democrats would decide whether they have the Republican support needed to proceed without reconciliation and whether that would occur before or after committees of jurisdiction mark up the legislation. She would only say that Democrats are hoping for bipartisan support “every step of the way.”

Using the budget reconciliation process would allow Democrats to avoid the Senate filibuster and pass the bill with a simple-majority vote. But that would require total party unity and potentially force Democrats to drop some provisions that may not be allowed under the reconciliation rules that require every provision to have more than an incidental budget impact.

The reconciliation process also requires Democrats to adhere to a strict topline spending number, which would be provided in a budget resolution containing reconciliation instructions for specific committees.

Progressives like Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have said they don’t expect Republicans to agree to spending anything close to what’s needed and thus they expect reconciliation to be deployed.

In the House, the Congressional Progressive Caucus is pushing for the physical and social infrastructure proposals to be combined into one bill.

“Our preference is for a single, ambitious package that would include both physical infrastructure and care infrastructure — these investments go hand-in-hand, and we need both to restore our economy and empower families,” Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal said in a statement last week.

“People — especially women and people of color who have suffered disproportionate job losses during this recession — can’t get back to work without child care, or long-term care, or investments in education and job retraining,” the Washington Democrat added. “This human infrastructure cannot be secondary to the physical infrastructure needs we have as a country.”

Pelosi taking a different position from progressives is risky since she’ll need virtually all of them to vote for whatever bills Democrats put together if they can’t get Republican support. Given tight margins in the House, which are expected to fluctuate slightly with special elections in the coming months, Pelosi can lose only two to three Democratic votes on any measure that Republicans are unified against.

Progressives also argue that moving one bill instead of two is more practical from a timing perspective.

“We have a limited window to get this done — we must seize our chance to build back better with economy-wide investments that work for working families and communities of color,” Jayapal said.

Time-intensive process

The budget reconciliation process is particularly time-intensive because of the need for both chambers to adopt a budget resolution providing for reconciliation instructions before bringing the actual legislation to the floor. Both steps require a lengthy “vote-a-rama” in which senators can offer amendments until they grow tired or run out of proposals.

The timing in the House is largely the same for either strategy, other than adopting the budget resolution for reconciliation. Key House committees are hoping to hold infrastructure markups before Memorial Day, and Pelosi has signaled that floor action could come before Independence Day.

Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., “thinks we can do our part in the House probably in the month of May. At least his committee would be ready at that time,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday.

“I would hope that our part in the House would be largely done before the Fourth of July," she added. "Whether the whole package would be done then, we just don’t know. But as some have suggested, we want to do it before the August break.”