Nine centrist House Democrats threaten to oppose budget without infrastructure

Members want bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law first

Clockwise from left: Democratic Reps. Josh Gottheimer, Ed Case, Carolyn Bourdeaux, Jared Golden, Jim Costa, Kurt Schrader, Filemon Vela, Vicente Gonzalez and Henry Cuellar wrote a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi threatening to vote against the fiscal 2022 budget resolution. (Photos by Bill Clark, Tom Williams and Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call; composition by Chris Hale/CQ Roll Call)
Clockwise from left: Democratic Reps. Josh Gottheimer, Ed Case, Carolyn Bourdeaux, Jared Golden, Jim Costa, Kurt Schrader, Filemon Vela, Vicente Gonzalez and Henry Cuellar wrote a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi threatening to vote against the fiscal 2022 budget resolution. (Photos by Bill Clark, Tom Williams and Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call; composition by Chris Hale/CQ Roll Call)
Posted August 13, 2021 at 11:06am

Nine Democrats, led by New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer, are threatening to vote against the fiscal 2022 budget resolution until the House passes and President Joe Biden signs the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill.

“We will not consider voting for a budget resolution until the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passes the House and is signed into law,” the Democrats wrote in a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi released publicly Friday.

Besides Gottheimer, the members who signed the letter include Georgia’s Carolyn Bourdeaux, Maine’s Jared Golden, Hawaii’s Ed Case, California’s Jim Costa, Oregon’s Kurt Schrader and Texans Filemon VelaHenry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez

Together, they’ve got more than enough support to stall the budget in the narrowly divided House where Democrats can lose no more than three members on party-line votes. No Republicans are expected to vote for the budget resolution, which is needed to begin the process on a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package chock full of Democratic priorities.

[Democrats about to walk budget tightrope in House]

All nine members except for Bourdeaux had signed a letter sent to Pelosi on Tuesday with a less threatening request for a standalone vote on the infrastructure bill, “without regard to other legislation.” Nevada Rep. Susie Lee had signed that letter but did not sign onto the latest missive.

Pelosi has repeatedly said she would not bring the bipartisan infrastructure bill to the House floor until the Senate passes the implementing reconciliation bill, which would follow the instructions laid out in the budget and is not expected to be ready for floor action until late September at the earliest.

“I am not freelancing. This is the consensus,” Pelosi said on a Democratic Caucus call Wednesday, after the group's initial letter pushing for a vote on the infrastructure bill. “The votes in the House and Senate depend on us having both bills.”

The Senate adopted the budget resolution early Wednesday on a 50-49, party-line vote, but the House also needs to adopt it to formally start the reconciliation process that allows the Senate to pass economic legislation with 51 votes instead of the usual 60 needed to cut off debate.

The budget vote in the Senate came after the chamber passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill on Tuesday on a 69-30 vote.

The nine Democrats who signed the most recent letter suggested the House should follow the same sequencing.

“We urge our House colleagues to follow the same path as the Senate: vote first on the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and then consider the budget resolution,” they wrote, touting the benefits of the infrastructure bill. “The country is clamoring for infrastructure investment and commonsense, bipartisan solutions. This legislation does both, and will help us compete with China and others in the global economy.”

The measure would provide $550 billion in new spending on roads, bridges, broadband, water projects and more. It also contains a reauthorization of surface transportation programs set to expire Sept. 30.

The House is scheduled to return the week of Aug. 23 to vote on the budget, and leaders have offered no signal they intend to change course.

A senior Democratic aide said there are not sufficient votes to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill this month, as “there are dozens upon dozens” of Democrats who will vote against the bipartisan infrastructure bill unless it comes after the Senate passes the reconciliation bill.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus made that clear in their own letter to Pelosi on Tuesday. The group’s top three leaders — chair Pramila Jayapal of Washington, first vice chair Katie Porter of California and whip Ilhan Omar of Minnesota — said a survey of the 96 caucus members revealed that a majority are willing to withhold their votes for the infrastructure bill until the Senate passes “a robust reconciliation package” acceptable to progressives. 

That means at least 49, potentially more, progressives won’t vote for the infrastructure bill, which is likely far more votes than could be offset by Republicans supporting the bill.

Republicans in the House Problem Solvers Caucus that Gottheimer co-chairs have been supportive of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, but they provide a maximum of 29 GOP votes. And there have been few positive remarks about the measure coming from Republicans outside that group. Former President Donald Trump’s opposition to the bill is likely to influence many in the House GOP typically afraid to vote against him.

Gottheimer and his eight letter co-signers said they disagree with those calling to hold the infrastructure bill until reconciliation is done.

“With the livelihoods of hardworking American families at stake, we simply can’t afford months of unnecessary delays and risk squandering this once-in- a-century, bipartisan infrastructure package,” they said. “It’s time to get shovels in the ground and people to work.”

All of those dynamics leave House Democratic leaders in a pickle. Unless they convince either the moderates or the progressives to reverse course, both measures stall and Biden’s entire economic agenda collapses.