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Backed by Sanders and Warren, House Progressives Are Firm on Infrastructure Vote

If the moment holds, the Progressive Caucus is about to teach Speaker Pelosi a lesson on power and keeping promises.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to a reporter outside of the U.S. Capitol on September 28, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Congress is currently working to pass a government spending bill, an infrastructure package and an increase to the debt limit.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, no stranger to making himself clear, has made himself abundantly clear about the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that is tentatively set for a House vote tomorrow.

Let’s be crystal clear,” said Sanders via Twitter. “If the bipartisan infrastructure bill is passed on its own on Thursday, this will be in violation of an agreement that was reached within the Democratic Caucus in Congress. More importantly, it will end all leverage that we have to pass a major reconciliation bill. That means there will be no serious effort to address the long-neglected crises facing the working families of our country, the children, the elderly, the sick and the poor.”

“It also means,” continued Sanders, “that Congress will continue to ignore the existential threat to our country and planet with regard to climate change. I strongly urge my House colleagues to vote against the bipartisan infrastructure bill until Congress passes a strong reconciliation bill.”

Sanders was joined by fellow progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who likewise minced no words. The agreement from the beginning was that all the pieces would move together, she told reporters on Tuesday, and that one piece wouldn’t be broken off and moved ahead of the others. Both Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats in the House and the Senate all said that’s the deal. I want to make sure we hold to that deal. I don’t want to see that deal broken.

Warren and Sanders’s pronouncements came at the end of two wild days in Washington, D.C.

On Monday night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi broke a promise she made to the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) and “decoupled” the pending infrastructure bill — which has already passed in the Senate — from the far larger budget reconciliation bill, called the Build Back Better Act.

Breaking them up puts the budget bill in deep peril, as it has been under venomous attack from corporate lobbyists and their paymasters for weeks. Pelosi knows this, and did it anyway to appease the right flank of her caucus. The Congressional Progressive Caucus has vowed for months to vote down the infrastructure bill if the budget bill was not passed first, and when Pelosi pulled the trigger, the progressives had a decision to make. They have the votes to do it, but will they follow through on their threat?

On Tuesday afternoon, after a meeting of the 96 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, that decision was relayed to the world in unambiguous terms. “We will not allow this process to be dictated by special interests and corporations at the expense of women, working families and our communities. We will not leave anyone behind…. We articulated this position three months ago, and today it is still unchanged: progressives will vote for both bills, but a majority of our members will only vote for the infrastructure bill after the President’s visionary Build Back Better Act passes.” (Emphasis added)

That’s about as clear as clear gets, but there is still 40 miles of bad road between now and passing these bills. The speaker has said it many times: She will not send a bill to the floor for a vote if she knows the votes to pass it aren’t there. If the Congressional Progressive Caucus holds the line, and Republicans continue their pledge to vote “no” en masse as expected, the infrastructure bill will stand no chance.

In such an instance, if history is any guide, we will probably see Pelosi pull back the bill, which would be the best of all current options. It would allow the budget reconciliation bill to be completed, at which point the speaker can hold to the arrangement she made with the Congressional Progressive Caucus months ago: Pass the Build Back Better Act first, then pass the infrastructure act with all progressives voting “Yes,” and everyone can go home and call it a great day’s work.

If the Congressional Progressive Caucus backs down at the 11th hour, however, it is almost certain Pelosi will bring the infrastructure bill to a vote, which will likely pass. A few days from now, when the budget reconciliation bill is completed, it will also be called for a vote. Lacking any leverage, Pelosi and the Congressional Progressive Caucus will have no way to convince conservative House Democrats in the pocket of Big Pharma to vote for it, and with a three-vote margin in play, the budget bill will probably fail.

The infrastructure bill has already passed in the Senate, but a whole different 40 miles of bad road awaits the Build Back Better Act if it survives the bat belfry of the House. Majority Leader Schumer intends to pass this budget bill by way of reconciliation, a process that shelves the filibuster and therefore requires no GOP votes. Every Republican is a hard “no” as the world knows, so the armada of lobbyists seeking to defeat the bill have trained their fire on conservative Democrats like Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin.

Judd Legum for Popular Information explains:

Many eyes are on Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who has publicly said she believes the bill is too large and privately ‘told Senate Democratic colleagues that she is averse to the corporate and individual tax rate increases that both the House and Senate tax-writing committees had planned to use to help pay for the measure.’ On Tuesday, five corporate lobbying groups are hosting a fundraiser for Sinema in DC. For a ticket price of $1,000 to $5,800, the event provides an opportunity to schmooze with Sinema for 45 minutes.

In August, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) received $5,000 each from the PACs of International Paper Co. and Marathon Petroleum. Manchin has been a key Democratic voice objecting to the size and scope of the reconciliation bill. The paper company’s chair and CEO, Mark Sutton, is a member of the Business Roundtable. Suzanne Gagle, Marathon’s general counsel and senior vice president for government affairs, is a board member of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), Sludge reports. Both the Business Roundtable and NAM are lobbying against the legislation.

The Build Back Better Act could very well emerge from the House, only to get shot down by “no” votes from Manchin, Sinema and possibly other conservative Democrats like Jon Tester. President Biden is leaning hard into his own lobbying effort with these two, canceling a vaccine-oriented trip to Chicago today in order to stay in town and work the phones.

It will prove to be a hard sell: Manchin and Sinema are clearly enjoying their muscular position in the process, and have given no sign that they will knuckle under to presidential pressure. Neither have they made specifically clear what will satisfy their “concerns,” a fact that is increasingly annoying their Democratic colleagues in both chambers.

We just need to get a number, right?” progressive Rep. Ro Khanna growled to CNN on Tuesday. “The House is going to be unified. We need to get one number from one senator, and I think we got to make it very clear that that’s holding everything back.” Meanwhile, business and corporate campaign donations to the two Democratic holdouts continue to roll in. Fancy that.

Manchin and Sinema are next week’s big problem. The next 48 hours in the House will have quite a bit to say about the standing of the president, the speaker and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Pelosi gave a quick-hit presser to a gaggle of reporters on Wednesday morning, and was asked for updates on the infrastructure bill. “The president is negotiating,” she replied. “We’re not a lock-step rubber stamp party.”

When asked if there will be an infrastructure vote tomorrow, Pelosi replied, “We take this one step at a time.”

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