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WASHINGTON — In scheduling a House vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has given Democrats a true high-wire challenge: Pass the bill or risk expiration of the law it extends that authorizes federal spending on highway and transit programs.
The current highway bill, a one-year extension of the 2015 surface transportation authorization law, expires Sept. 30. Pelosi has vowed to hold a vote that same day on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill, which contains a five-year reauthorization of the law and $550 billion in new spending on roads, bridges, transit, broadband and more.
As of early Monday, the speaker did not have the votes to pass the infrastructure bill, with progressives threatening to oppose it until the House and Senate have agreed on the size and scope of a larger partisan budget reconciliation package that some moderates are holding up. Pelosi has scheduled a House Democratic Caucus meeting for 5:30 p.m. Monday to try to unite her party around both bills.
“The speaker is an incredibly good vote counter, and she knows exactly where her caucus stands. And we’ve been really clear on that,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. “The votes aren’t there.”
Jayapal, who said last week that more than half of her 95-member caucus was prepared to vote against the bipartisan bill, insisted there has to be an “ironclad” agreement between the House and Senate on reconciliation in order for progressives to back the infrastructure bill.
But after showing some wiggle room there on how far Democrats need to get on the reconciliation package, Jayapal published a CNN op-ed Monday with fellow Progressive Caucus leaders Katie Porter, D-Calif., and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., returning to the group’s original demand.
“Congress now faces a choice: advance the entirety of an agenda that gets American families the help they need, or deliver only a fraction of it. That’s why we, as leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, remain committed to voting for the infrastructure bill only after the [reconciliation package] is passed,” they wrote.
Moderates, meanwhile, have pushed for the bipartisan bill’s passage, arguing Democrats need a win.
Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., led a group of moderates last month in securing a deal for leadership to bring the infrastructure bill to the House floor Monday. But he said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday that he was fine if the vote slipped to later in the week so long as debate began Monday.
“We’re all reasonable people,” he said.
Gottheimer, who co-chairs the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus that may provide some GOP support for the bill, said he remained confident about passing the infrastructure bill this week despite progressive threats.
“I don’t believe any Democrat or a small fraction of Democrats is going to come for a vote on infrastructure, on two million jobs a year for hardworking men and women of labor, and to make sure to fight climate change, and vote against it,” he said.
Gottheimer said it’s fair for progressives to want to know he and other moderates are committed to passing the reconciliation package, promising he’s “completely committed to getting both done.”
Texas Reps. Vicente Gonzalez and Filemon Vela, two of the moderates who negotiated the infrastructure deadline with Gottheimer, even put out a statement Sunday saying they “support swift passage of the President’s $3.5 trillion reconciliation package.”
But the Texans warned progressives that their plan to deny passage of the infrastructure bill in order to secure leverage over more fiscally conservative Democrats who oppose spending $3.5 trillion “is wholly misguided.”
“Failing to pass [the infrastructure bill] before expiration of the surface transportation reauthorization deadline would amount to a colossal failure on the part of our Democratic majority,” Gonzalez and Vela said in the statement, which was reported earlier by Axios.
Pelosi announced her plans for the Thursday vote in a letter to her caucus Sunday night, indicating she was confident she could secure enough votes to pass the measure by then.
Hours earlier, she had kept her options open, telling ABC’s “This Week” program: “You cannot choose the date. You have to go when you have the votes in a reasonable time, and we will.”
In her letter, Pelosi said her goal was to “conclude negotiations” on the reconciliation package this week. She and other House leaders have said they hope to bring the measure to the floor this week as well, but on ABC she stopped short of promising that.
“Let me just say we’re prepared. We’re ready,” Pelosi said, citing the House Budget Committee markup Saturday to assemble the 13 committee-reported pieces into a single 2,465-page bill.
The reconciliation package as written faces resistance from moderates, who have pushed for a smaller price tag and balked at some of its proposed tax increases on corporations and upper-income households.
Pelosi acknowledged Sunday that “there will have to be some changes” and that a final compromise package would cost less than the previously agreed to $3.5 trillion topline. “That seems self-evident,” she said.
Despite the challenges, most Democrats believe Pelosi will be able to get the votes for both the infrastructure and reconciliation bills.
“You have several hundred people right now all rowing together, including Democrats in the House and Senate, to get this done,” progressive Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., said Sunday on MSNBC. “There’s a couple handfuls that are still picking what kind of wood they want their oar to be made out of, but we’ll get there. I am as confident as Speaker Pelosi that we’re going to get both of these big bills done, and really provide some help to American families.”
(David Lerman contributed to this report.)
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