Amid Afghanistan mess, Biden spending agenda faces key test as moderate Dems, Pelosi face off
Moderate Dems say they won't vote for budget resolution until infrastructure passes, but Pelosi refuses to hold infrastructure vote
As an international crisis rages in Afghanistan – stemming from President Biden's disjointed Afghanistan pullout that's left many Americans stranded in Taliban territory – back home the House is set to vote on Democrats' $3.5 trillion budget resolution.
The vote is planned for Tuesday. But the major piece of Biden's domestic agenda also faces a somewhat easier procedural hurdle Monday. The budget resolution will allow Senate Democrats to bypass a GOP filibuster and advance a massive spending bill later this fall.
But there's just one problem: Democrats as of Monday morning don't appear to have the votes to pass it.
The group of nine moderate Democrats who said earlier this month they won't support a budget resolution until the House passes the Senate's bipartisan infrastructure bill appeared to double down in a Washington Post op-ed Sunday. Now with just hours left until the House is set to take the critical procedural vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is forced to find a way to get the moderates on board or face a major setback at the hands of members of her own party.
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"Time kills deals," the moderates, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., said in the op-ed. "This is an old business saying and the essence of why we 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."
Among the other members of the moderate group are Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, Jared Golden, D-Maine, Ed Case, D-Hawaii, and Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Ga. They blamed Pelosi and House progressives for putting the chamber in its current jam, accusing them of holding the bipartisan infrastructure plan "hostage."
"The challenge we face right now is that there is a standoff with some of our colleagues who have decided to hold the infrastructure bill hostage for months, or kill it altogether, if they don’t get what they want in the next bill — a largely undefined $3.5 trillion reconciliation package," the moderates said.
Pelosi and House progressives are indeed promising to block the infrastructure bill entirely until the Senate produces a reconciliation bill – something it can only do if the House passes a budget resolution first. They made that move even before the moderates took the exact opposite stance, promising to block the budget resolution until the infrastructure bill passes.
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A senior Democratic aide told Fox News earlier this month that there are "dozens upon dozens" of Democrats who will block infrastructure until they get reconciliation. Moderate House Republicans claim they have more members who support infrastructure than there are Democrats who would block it. But it's not clear that's true.
Pelosi, meanwhile, doubled down on her position over the weekend.
"Any delay to passing the budget resolution threatens the timetable for delivering the historic progress and the transformative vision that Democrats share," she said in a letter to Democrats.
"We can cling to the myth of ‘bipartisanship’ or we can pass a $3.5 trillion investment in cleaner schools for kids, greater support for parents, and transform living, learning and working environments for the American people," Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., tweeted last week. Bowman is a firebrand progressive who's expressed his distaste for the moderates in his party before.
Pelosi over the weekend also hardened her stance on the $3.5 trillion topline number for the eventual reconciliation bill, a massive level of spending that moderate Democrats are likely to hesitate to vote for. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have already said they won't vote for such a large plan.
This leaves the House at an impasse that unless one side caves will stall the final two major pieces of Biden's economic agenda just as the Afghanistan crisis has hobbled his credibility and approval ratings.
It's unclear if Biden will involve himself in the situation Monday. The White House has made sure to stay out of battles over exactly how to pass the president's economic plan – leaving those details up to Congress. But Biden's agenda has never appeared as at risk as it does Monday.
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The first hurdle the House will have to navigate Monday is a vote on a "rule" that will bring the budget resolution to the floor. The House Rules Committee is set to meet at 11 a.m. to prepare the rule, which will also bring the infrastructure bill and a Democrat-backed voting bill to the floor.
The full House is expected to vote on the rule Monday evening. It's unclear whether the moderates will try to block this rule, which is one procedural step away from final passage. Gottheimer in an interview with Punchbowl News last week indicated that he does not plan to block it.
If the rule passes, the real test will be the vote on the budget resolution itself, which is expected to happen Tuesday.
If the House moderates buck Pelosi on that vote – as they are threatening – it will be a remarkable rebuke of the speaker, who is known for her ability to corral members on key votes.
Fox News' Chad Pergram and Jacqui Heinrich contributed to this report.