Fixes to target date language for infrastructure vote teed up

Moderates negotiate change to secure language scheduling vote on infrastructure no later than Sept. 27

Rep. Henry Cuellar said he was confident the changes will gain votes of enough of the holdouts to adopt the budget later on Tuesday. "I think we'll be fine," the Texas Democrat said. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Henry Cuellar said he was confident the changes will gain votes of enough of the holdouts to adopt the budget later on Tuesday. "I think we'll be fine," the Texas Democrat said. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 24, 2021 at 10:46am, Updated at 1:26pm

House Democrats appear ready to make more concessions to party moderates pushing for a guaranteed, swift vote on Senate-passed infrastructure legislation in order to win their votes for the budget resolution needed to unlock a filibuster-proof $3.5 trillion package of domestic spending and tax breaks next month.

Democratic leaders earlier Tuesday proposed to "deem," or consider adopted, a resolution committing the chamber to vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill by Sept. 27 as part of a separate rule that would also deem the underlying budget blueprint with reconciliation instructions.

But moderates negotiated another change that scrapped the plan for adopting that nonbinding resolution and instead secured language directly in the rule itself scheduling a vote on the infrastructure bill for no later than Sept. 27.

The earlier resolution, offered by Massachusetts Rep. Katherine M. Clark — the fourth-ranking Democrat and assistant speaker — and Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., didn't specifically make it in order for any member to call up the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which passed the Senate earlier this month on a 69-30 vote.

It would have put the chamber on record committing to a target date, something the centrist holdouts have asked for. But that target date wasn't binding, as Rules Chairman Jim McGovern admitted. "Nothing in life is a guarantee," the Massachusetts Democrat said at a Tuesday morning meeting on the rule, which would govern floor debate on both the infrastructure bill and a separate voting rights bill.

After that earlier Rules meeting, McGovern and a leader of the group of 10 centrist holdouts — Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., met with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to continue discussions. Following the meeting, McGovern scheduled a new Rules Committee meeting for 12:30 p.m. to consider further changes.

A Democratic leadership aide said there was a "mix up" on the earlier date certain language, and that a new version would affirm that the House "shall consider" the infrastructure bill on Sept. 27 if the chamber hasn't acted on it by then. That provision would be included in a new rule for floor debate on the infrastructure bill and the voting rights measure; the latter is expected to get a vote later Tuesday.

Gottheimer said after leaving Pelosi's office that they were "incredibly close" to an agreement that would allow the holdouts to vote for the rule. "Inches, inches" apart, Gottheimer told reporters before entering Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer's office for another meeting. 

Two other members of the group of 10, Henry Cuellar of Texas and Jim Costa of California, said they were confident the changes Rules would make will gain the votes of enough of the holdouts to adopt the budget later on Tuesday. "I think we'll be fine," Cuellar said. "We wanted a date certain and we got a date certain."

If the Sept. 27 target date holds, it would mean a vote on the infrastructure bill days before current surface transportation program authorizations are set to expire, as well as government-wide agency funding, on Oct. 1.

It also likely assumes a vote the week of Sept. 20 on the reconciliation bill that House committees are expected to complete by Sept. 15 under the terms of the budget resolution. The revised rule would also deem adoption of the budget blueprint, sidestepping a separate vote on the budget as originally planned earlier in the week.

The rule also would switch off a standing House rule that automatically sends a debt limit suspension measure to the Senate upon adoption of a budget resolution; moderates have been wary of Democrats carrying the debt limit vote on their own without GOP support.

The changes came after talks broke down late Monday because the leadership offer didn't explicitly guarantee a vote on the infrastructure bill by a certain date as part of the rule itself; rather, the language simply said "it shall be in order" at some point to take up the measure.

"I’m sorry that we couldn’t land the plane last night, and that you all had to wait. But that’s just part of the legislative progress," Pelosi told Democrats, according to an aide who heard the comments. "I think we’re close to landing the plane."

Shades of 2010?

Pelosi has committed to progressives that the chamber won't vote on the Senate's infrastructure bill until the reconciliation bill for President Joe Biden's fiscal policy agenda passes.

The $3.5 trillion package is expected to contain funding for assorted programs like paid family leave, two years of free community college, clean energy subsidies, Medicare expansion, a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants and more.

But it wasn't yet clear whether that still-unwritten broader package would have the votes to pass in either chamber, despite the reconciliation process affording Democrats the opportunity for simple majority passage in the Senate, rather than the usual 60-vote threshold. In the Senate, Democrats Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have said the $3.5 trillion price tag is too high and have also expressed concern about some of the tax increase proposals being floated to pay for it.

Cuellar and Costa suggested that some of the House moderates were also looking for assurances from Pelosi that the reconciliation bill their chamber takes up could also get through the Senate.

The two lawmakers recalled the 2010 midterms when House Democrats lost control after taking "certain votes" that the Senate didn't act on. They didn't mention it specifically, but the carbon emissions reduction bill to implement a "cap-and-trade" system, which was expected to raise energy costs for consumers, is often mentioned in that context.

Costa and Cuellar said they also wanted to be sure that whatever the House puts in its reconciliation bill will pass muster under the Senate's "Byrd rule," which governs which provisions qualify for protections from filibuster. Provisions that the House initially included in a reconciliation package earlier this year, including an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, were dropped in the Senate because they were considered to have just "merely incidental" budgetary impact, for example.

House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., said he thinks there will be "a lot" of preliminary negotiation with the Senate over the bill before House committees submit their recommendations in mid-September.

Paul M. Krawzak, Laura Weiss and Jessica Wehrman contributed to this report.