The nine conservative Democrats who are trying to undermine their party’s plans to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill alongside the reconciliation bill are having trouble finding a sympathetic ear in their party — but they’re still holding fast to their convictions.
In a contentious meeting Monday night with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California), the group was determined to get Pelosi to cave in on her promise to not pass the infrastructure bill without the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package. Pelosi has promised to pass the infrastructure bill by September 27, but the two parties have not reached agreement on much else.
But the battle that the centrists are fighting so fiercely may be a battle in which they stand alone in their mission — with only, perhaps, the support of Senate conservative Democrats Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona).
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For the past couple of weeks, the nine centrists, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-New Jersey) have threatened to vote against the $3.5 trillion package if the bipartisan infrastructure bill isn’t passed soon. They argue that “Time kills deals” — despite the fact that it is conservative Democrats and Republicans who have dragged out the infrastructure talks from spring through the summer.
Pelosi, however, typically sympathetic to the more conservative voices in her party, has been surprisingly insistent in defending the reconciliation bill. Other House Democrats are livid and progressive Democrats have been panning the group in the media. One representative, Susan Wild (D-Pennsylvania), who formerly agreed with the centrists’ plan has flipped, telling The Washington Post that their strategy is “stupid” and it’s “time to fold.”
They stand, too, against the wills of their constituents. In a poll released Tuesday, Data for Progress found that 63 percent of likely voters living in the nine Democrats’ districts support the reconciliation bill that they’re threatening to tank, including 94 percent of Democrats polled.
The centrist group claimed in an op-ed this week that President Joe Biden, at least, is on their side. “[W]e are pushing to get the bipartisan infrastructure bill through Congress and immediately to President Biden’s desk — as the president himself requested the day after it passed the Senate,” they wrote in The Washington Post.
But even this isn’t true. Though the president has celebrated the bipartisan infrastructure package that has been widely criticized by progressives and Democrats, he does not have the nine centrists’ backs on their latest obstruction agenda. “[W]hen asked by NBC News on Monday if Biden is calling for that, White House spokesman Andrew Bates responded: ‘No,’” the outlet reported.
This makes sense: the centrists are, after all, obstructing the president’s agenda. The $3.5 trillion bill contains a wide swath of Democratic priorities like expanding Medicare and increasing taxes on the rich. It has the support of progressives and moderate Democrats alike and builds on Biden’s infrastructure plan from the spring. If passed, it could be consequential and far-reaching in helping the country recover from the impacts of COVID on the economy by providing a safety net for more Americans.
As Rep. Cori Bush (D-Missouri) pointed out in a statement on Monday, the reconciliation bill isn’t just about politics.
“The budget resolution isn’t a political pawn. It’s an opportunity to deliver on our agenda by making long-overdue and life-changing investments into the health, safety, and education of the people who need it most,” she said. “We are not here to play politics with people’s lives — we are here to pass transformative policies.”
“We must pass the budget resolution immediately,” Bush continued. “St. Louis sent me to Congress to tangibly improve the lives of regular, everyday people. Why are you here?” she asked, addressing the group directly.
Though the Democrats are standing at odds with their own party, they have gained the praise of the conservative lobby group of the Chamber of Commerce, which is running ads thanking the Democrats for their current agenda. This is a familiar tune: Manchin, an advisor to the group, has become an expert on obstructing Democrats in recent months. He also has the support of right-wing dark money groups with ties to the Koch family.