House Democrats advanced an agreement Tuesday to move forward with infrastructure and budget bills on separate tracks, solving an impasse with centrists including Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District who rebelled against a plan to link votes on the two measures.
The 220-212 vote was a first step toward setting President Joe Biden’s sweeping $3.5 trillion budget plan up for a fall vote, though the debate about the timing of that bill and a smaller bipartisan infrastructure bill highlighted lingering divisions between moderates and progressives. Democrats need to unite both camps given razor-thin majorities in the Senate and House.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, initially said she would bring up the bills simultaneously, which was supported by progressives who argued the bipartisan infrastructure bill was inadequate. But nine moderate Democrats, including Golden, pushed back, saying the two bills should not be linked and calling on the House to vote on the infrastructure bill, which includes roughly $1 trillion in funding for road, power grid, broadband and projects, immediately.
The compromise, finalized by members of the House Rules Committee and approved by the House on Tuesday, guarantees a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill by Sept. 27, ahead of Oct. 1 due date for the reauthorization of transportation funds included in the bill. But the timing of passage for the budget bill, which has yet to be drafted in full, is not yet clear.
“We feel like this is a good agreement that we’ve reached,” Golden told reporters on Tuesday. “We’ve had to take some tough positions in order to get here, but we’re pleased with the outcome, having ensured that the infrastructure bill will have that vote and will be considered separate from the rest of the proposal.”
Golden said the moderates also secured a commitment from Pelosi that the reconciliation package would be negotiated with Democratic senators before it would come up for a vote in the House, ensuring a budget voted upon in either chamber would be likely to pass both.
He said he had not decided how he would ultimately vote on the Democratic budget bill since it has not yet been drafted. But he said he expected the topline figure to ultimately be less than the initially floated $3.5 trillion, citing opposition from moderate senators.
The agreement reached Tuesday does not completely resolve Democrats’ conflict about the two bills, as each will still need a majority vote to pass the House later this fall, but it allows the party to move forward with the budget reconciliation process in the short-term. Pelosi said in a statement after the vote Tuesday that she was committed to passing the bill by the late September deadline.
Progressives signaled early on they wanted the Biden budget priorities first before they agree to the smaller Senate package, worried it would be an insufficient down-payment on his goals. The Congressional Progressive Caucus reiterated that position Tuesday afternoon, with members saying they still only planned to vote for the reconciliation bill after the infrastructure bill.
But the moderates want the opposite, insisting Congress quickly send the smaller, bipartisan infrastructure measure they helped shape with the senators to Biden so he can sign it before the political winds shift.
Golden said Tuesday that progressive colleagues were wrong to assume that waiting on the infrastructure bill would produce a better outcome in the reconciliation process, saying separating the two would lead to “more genuine” discussions on the latter bill.
“They are wrong in their assumptions that somehow holding the infrastructure bill was going to give them leverage,” he said. “It’s also just not the right process.”
The House Republicans’ campaign arm — which has made Golden one of its top targets this year — was critical of the vote Tuesday, saying the congressman “caved” to Pelosi. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, praised the group of moderates earlier in the day for their efforts to separate the two bills.
“I’m pulling for them,” he told Fox News.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.