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Democrats are gearing up for a week of “intensity” on Capitol Hill as they scramble to iron out their differences and salvage Joe Biden’s legislative agenda while staving off a government shutdown.
The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives had been expected to vote on Monday on Biden’s $1.2tn infrastructure bill, which passed the US Senate earlier this year with bipartisan support. The bill needs to pass both chambers of Congress if it is to become law.
But several progressive lawmakers in the House are withholding support for the spending package as they seek to preserve Biden’s bigger $3.5tn budget plan, which would make historic investments in America’s social safety net. Moderate Democrats in both the House and Senate have said the budget plan is too expensive and must be scaled back.
The divisions have piled pressure on Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, who must balance the interests of the competing factions within her party if she is to help the president deliver on his campaign promises. Democrats maintain an eight-vote majority in the House, and control the 50-50 Senate by the narrowest of margins, with vice-president Kamala Harris able to cast a tiebreaking vote. Party activists already fear they are likely to lose ground in next year’s midterm elections.
Pelosi insisted on Sunday that the infrastructure bill would pass “this week”, but conceded that the vote was unlikely to take place on Monday.
“We will bring the bill to the floor [on Monday] for consideration,” Pelosi told ABC News. “But you know I’m never bringing a bill to the floor that doesn’t have the votes.”
Her comments were echoed by Pramila Jayapal, the Democratic congresswoman from Washington state who chairs the House progressive caucus and for weeks demanded assurances that the $3.5tn budget will not be watered down in the Senate by moderates such as West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema.
“The speaker is an incredibly good vote counter, and she knows exactly where her caucus stands and we’ve been really clear on that,” Jayapal told CNN on Sunday. “The votes aren’t there. I don’t think she’s going to bring it up.”
Jayapal’s stalwart opposition sets the stage for a tense couple of days on Capitol Hill. In a letter to colleagues at the weekend, Pelosi said it would be a week of “intensity” and called on all House Democrats to attend crunch talks on Monday evening.
But in comments that are likely to stoke further discontent among progressives, Pelosi acknowledged on Sunday that it was all but certain the $3.5tn budget plan would be scaled back to pass both the House and Senate. Asked if the final number would be smaller, Pelosi replied: “Yes . . . that seems self-evident.”
At the same time, Democrats are under mounting pressure to avoid a federal government shutdown, with a deadline on Thursday midnight to raise the debt ceiling that allows the federal government to continue to borrow money.
The House last week passed a bill to avert a shutdown and extend the US debt limit until December next year. But Democrats have insisted that the bill should pass the Senate with bipartisan support, even as Republican leaders have refused to sign on.
Republicans voted to raise the debt ceiling three times during Donald Trump’s presidency. They now say, however, that Democrats are spending federal funds irresponsibly, and should lift the debt limit on their own.
Pat Toomey, the top Republican on the Senate banking committee, told CNN on Sunday that he would “certainly be voting no” this week to funding the government and raising the debt limit, and argued that markets were unfazed by the Capitol Hill stalemate.
“There is no calamity that is going to happen . . . if that were even a serious risk, don’t you think the equity markets from last week . . . rather than fully recovering as they did, maybe they would have traded off?
“I think that is because millions of investors across America know that no such calamity is going to occur. What is going to happen is after Republicans vote no, [Senate majority leader] Chuck Schumer . . . will amend the budget resolution so that Democrats can pass the debt ceiling all by themselves.”
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