The House approved a $1 trillion package of road and other infrastructure projects late Friday after Democrats resolved a months-long standoff between progressives and moderates, notching a victory that President Joe Biden and his party had become increasingly anxious to claim.
The House passed the measure 228-206. About a dozen Republicans supported it, while about half as many Democrats opposed it.
Approval of the legislation, which would create legions of jobs and improve broadband, water supplies and other public works, whisked it to the desk of a president whose approval ratings have dropped and whose nervous party got a cold shoulder from voters in this week’s off-year elections.
Democratic gubernatorial candidates were defeated in Virginia and squeaked through in New Jersey, two blue-leaning states. Those setbacks made party leaders — and moderates and progressives alike — impatient to produce impactful legislation and demonstrate they know how to govern. Democrats can also ill afford to seem in disarray a year before midterm elections that could result in Republicans regaining congressional control.
Simply freeing up the infrastructure measure for final congressional approval was a like a burst of adrenaline for Democrats. Yet despite the win, Democrats endured a setback when they postponed a vote on a second, even larger measure until later this month.
That 10-year, $1.85 trillion measure bolstering health, family and climate change programs was sidetracked after moderates demanded a cost estimate on the sprawling measure from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The postponement dashed hopes that the day would produce a double-barreled win for Biden with passage of both bills.
But in an evening breakthrough brokered by Biden and House leaders, the moderates later agreed to back that bill if CBO's estimates are consistent with preliminary numbers that White House and congressional tax analysts have provided. The agreement, in which lawmakers promised to vote on the social and environment bill by the week of Nov. 15, stood as a significant step toward a House vote that could ultimately ship it to the Senate.
In exchange, progressives agreed to back the infrastructure measure, which they'd spent months holding hostage in an effort to pressure moderates to back the social and environment measure.
“As part of this agreement, at the request of the President, and to ensure we pass both bills through the House, progressives will advance" both bills Friday night, said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, in a statement.
The White House issued a statement from Biden on Friday night aimed at reinforcing the accord. “I am urging all members to vote for both the rule for consideration of the Build Back Better Act and final passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill tonight,” he said, using the administration’s name for the two measures. “I am confident that during the week of November 15, the House will pass the Build Back Better Act.”
When party leaders announced earlier in the day that the social and environment measure would be delayed, the scrambled plans cast a fresh pall over the party.
Democrats have struggled for months to take advantage of their control of the White House and Congress by advancing their top priorities. That’s been hard, in part because of Democrats’ slender majorities, with bitter internal divisions forcing House leaders to miss several self-imposed deadlines for votes.
“Welcome to my world,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters, adding, “We are not a lockstep party.”
The president and first lady Jill Biden delayed plans to travel Friday evening to their house in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Instead, Biden spoke to House leaders, moderates and progressives, said a White House official who described the conversations on condition of anonymity.
Among those Biden reached was Jayapal, whose caucus has been at the forefront of delaying the infrastructure measure for leverage. Biden asked her and her 95-member group to back the bill, said a person who recounted the conversation only on condition of anonymity.
Progressives have long demanded that the two massive bills be voted on together to pressure moderates to support the larger, more expansive social measure.
Democrats’ day fell apart when after hours of talks, a half-dozen moderates insisted they would vote against the sprawling package of health, education, family and climate change initiatives unless the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office first provided its cost estimate for the measure.
Democratic leaders have said that would take days or more. With Friday’s delay and lawmakers’ plans to leave town for a week’s break, those budget estimates could well be ready by the time a vote is held.
When the infrastructure measure cleared the Senate, its GOP supporters even included Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. The package would provide huge sums for highway, mass transit, broadband, airport, drinking and waste water, power grids and other projects.
But it became a pawn in the long struggle for power between progressives and moderates. Earlier Friday, Jayapal said the White House and Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation had provided all the fiscal information lawmakers needed for the broad bill.
“If our six colleagues still want to wait for a CBO score, we would agree to give them that time — after which point we can vote on both bills together,” she wrote. That strongly suggested that some progressives were ready to vote against the infrastructure bill.
But that changed after the two Democratic factions reached their agreement.
House passage of the social and environment package would send it to the Senate, where it faces certain changes and more Democratic drama. That’s chiefly because of demands by Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to contain the measure’s costs and curb or drop some of its initiatives.
Moderates have forced leaders to slash the roughly 2,100-page measure to around half its original $3.5 trillion size. Republicans oppose it as too expensive and damaging to the economy.
The package would provide large numbers of Americans with assistance to pay for health care, raising children and caring for elderly people at home. The package would provide $555 billion in tax breaks encouraging cleaner energy and electric vehicles. Democrats added provisions in recent days restoring a new paid family leave program and work permits for millions of immigrants.
Much of the package’s cost would be covered with higher taxes on wealthier Americans and large corporations.
Moderate opposition and strict Senate rules about what can be included in the massive bill suggest that the family leave program and the immigration provisions may be dropped in that chamber.
Additional reporting from The Associated Press.