Democratic Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi withdrew the promised vote on a $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure bill Thursday night after failing to gain sufficient support from her own lawmakers, in a clear illustration of the deep internal divisions that threaten President Joe Biden’s agenda.
The California congresswoman had promised to introduce the legislation in the lower house after it advanced from the Senate with the support of all parties, with moderates eager to score an easy victory for Biden in what would be one of the largest spending packages. of history.
But progressives insisted they would sink the proposals after failing to get a clear signal from the centrist faction that they would commit to an even broader $ 3.5 trillion social spending package that Biden is touting as the cornerstone of his plan to transform. the US economy
The threat left Pelosi with a dilemma: take the infrastructure bill to the ground, where it has very little Republican support and would likely be sunk by Liberal Democrats, or risk the ire of moderates by announcing a delay.
Pelosi did not immediately comment, but the White House promised to bring warring groups to the table on Biden’s two-front strategy early Friday.
“Much progress has been made this week and we are closer than ever to an agreement,” Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
“But we are not there yet, so we will need some additional time to finish the job, starting first thing tomorrow morning.”
The prospect of the infrastructure bill becoming law seemed out of reach during a day of intense negotiations in Congress and the White House, with no agreement on the content or the proposed ticket price for the mammoth bill. social welfare law, known as “Build”. Come back better “.
A group of Republicans who backed the infrastructure deal in the Senate, including former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, released a statement saying they were “disappointed” with the setback, but hoping the bill would eventually succeed.
‘More to do’
A long day in Washington had started on a brighter note when Congress sent a two-sided interim bill for Biden’s signature to prevent a damaging government shutdown at midnight when the fiscal year ends.
It was a rare display of cross-party unity that only highlighted the Democratic leaders’ struggle to overcome fierce infighting among their rank and file.
“There is much more to do,” the president said in a statement after signing the measure into law.
“But passing this bill reminds us that bipartisan work is possible and gives us time to pass longer-term funding to keep our government running and delivering for the American people.”
Despite some behind-the-scenes advances, progressive and moderate Democrats remain entrenched in a public war of words over massive twin spending programs, while Republicans enjoy mess from the sidelines with an eye on the midterm elections of the United States. next year.
Progressives don’t trust that centrists, who are opposed to the size and scope of the larger Build Back Better package, will honor an agreement to pass legislation once infrastructure is on the other side of the line.
West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin ignited tensions Wednesday with a statement arguing that trillions of dollars in additional spending was “fiscal insanity,” solidifying opposition to the smaller infrastructure bill.
He told reporters Thursday that he was unwilling to exceed $ 1.5 trillion.
‘Working to win’
Pelosi, who maintains that she will not introduce any bills that do not have the support, had initially planned to go ahead with the infrastructure vote, but the necessary support never seemed to materialize.
That finally forced her and she now faces the option of trying again on Friday or putting the infrastructure package on ice and coming back to it when the plan for the larger proposal is more fully formed.
The latest events weren’t a fatal blow to Biden’s agenda, though the delay will be a frustration for White House advisers who risk losing momentum after spending the week gathering lawmakers.
A delay would also allow tempers to cool as Congress concentrates on other daunting challenges, such as raising the debt ceiling.
The United States is nervously close to defaulting on its $ 28 trillion debt, with 19 days for the Treasury Department to exhaust its ability to obtain new loans.
No one in the leadership of either party has explained a clear way to avoid the crisis, which would sink the US economy and shake up world markets.
Republicans are demanding that Democrats, whom they consider wasteful spenders, bear the political burden of piling up debt on their own while controlling Congress and the White House.
But Democrats are against using the arcane budget process known as “reconciliation” to pass the extension without Republican support. It would take three to four weeks, they argue, so it’s not a start.
The House approved an increase in the debt limit on Wednesday in a party line vote, but it has been rejected by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.