Congress passes $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, delivering major win for Biden

Nov 5, 2021, 9:36 PM
$1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill passed congress.(Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)...
$1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill passed congress.(Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Congress has passed a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, delivering on a major pillar of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda after months of internal deliberations and painstaking divisions among Democrats.

The bill now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law, following hours of delayes and internal debating among Democrats on Friday, including calls from Biden to persuade skeptical progressive members of the Democratic caucus.

The legislation passed the Senate in August, but was stalled in the House as Democrats tried to negotiate a deal on a separate $1.9 trillion economic package, another key component of Biden’s agenda that many Democrats had tied to the fate of the infrastructure bill.

Going into Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was her intention to vote on final passage of the infrastructure bill and the economic package known as the Build Back Better Act.

But previously expressing confidence that two bills would pass on Friday, Pelosi indicated in the afternoon that they would solely move the infrastructure bill amid push back from moderates that the separate economic agenda bill needs an official cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, a process that could take about two weeks.

After hours of negotiating, the House finally moved forward to send the infrastructure bill to Biden’s desk, despite opposition from progressives who had warned that they would sink the infrastructure bill if it moved ahead without the separate economic package.

Throughout Friday, progressives made clear that both bills must move in tandem, and they have pushed that if the $1.9 trillion dollar bill is delayed then the infrastructure bill should be voted on at the same time.

The party had been struggling for months to unite its moderate and progressive wings to enact the President’s agenda, but those efforts had repeatedly stalled out, delivering a series of blows to congressional Democrats and the White House. The party had already had to punt on voting on the infrastructure bill twice in two months due to a separate set of demands from progressives. Biden has gotten personally involved, visiting the Hill twice to rally Democrats, and working the phones with moderates this week. That has still not resolved the impasse.

Ahead of the infrastructure vote, a group of moderates that represented key holdouts on the social spending package issued a statement detailing their commitments to vote for the social spending bill, which was aimed at getting progressives on board to support the infrastructure bill.

Shortly after, Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal released a statement saying that the caucus had reached a deal with fellow Democrats to vote on the infrastructure bill Friday night, abandoning a key tenant of their position, which was to only vote for the infrastructure bill when the social spending bill also would receive a final vote.

 

Pelosi’s whip count

As frustration over the holdup intensified, House leadership pressed ahead with a plan to vote on the infrastructure bill and a separate rule governing debate for the social spending bill. But it was not clear at the time that Democrats had the votes.

Pelosi held firm at a news conference that the new plan will go forward and sounded confident about the prospects of passing the infrastructure bill, though she did not explicitly say there is enough support to approve the measure.

Asked if she has 218 votes to pass the infrastructure bill without the social spending bill, Pelosi only said “we’ll see.”

Pelosi said with a smile at one point, “I have the speakers’ secret whip count.”

“I do believe there are a large number of members of the progressive caucus who will vote for the bill,” she said.

After speaking to reporters, Pelosi huddled with senior staff on the floor of the House chamber, carrying a paper with a list of names that she kept referencing.

 

Biden calls progressives

Biden called Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington state Democrat and the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, this afternoon amid the standoff, according to three sources familiar with the matter. She left a CPC meeting early to take the call.

After Jayapal asked for a show of hands of those who would not back the infrastructure bill, roughly 20 progressives raised their hands, according to a source in the room.

The President separately called into a meeting of the Progressive Caucus itself and spoke on speakerphone to the members, according to two sources familiar with the call, pushing a vote on the infrastructure bill. Biden also scrapped his travel to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, on Friday night as initially planned, according to a White House official, as he continues to push for a path forward on advancing his agenda.

Part of Biden’s message to progressives Friday is that he’s willing to work with them to find some kind of solution, so long as they agreed to vote for the infrastructure bill in the coming hours, according to a source familiar with the call. Things moved toward the process of crafting a statement, backed by the moderates and Biden, that would provide explicit and concrete assurances related to the future vote on Biden’s economic and climate agenda bill, known as the Build Back Better Act, the source said.

Multiple sources told CNN that Jayapal and moderate Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey were in direct talks as they tried to finalize a deal that could get the infrastructure bill to the President’s desk Friday with concrete assurances the moderates would back the Build Back Better Act.

The memo issued by five moderate members of the Democratic caucus was aimed at giving those assurances. Gottheimer and fellow moderate Democratic Reps. Ed Case of Hawaii, Stephanie Murphy of Florida, Kathleen Rice of New York and Kurt Schrader of Oregon vowed to vote for the social spending package “in its current form other than technical changes, as expeditiously as we receive fiscal information from the Congressional Budget Office — but in no event later than the week of November 15.”

 

Frustration grows

Some House Democrats were angry at the handful of moderates holding up action over demands that the $1.9 trillion bill get a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, a process that could take weeks.

Rep. Mark Pocan, former chair of the progressive caucus, described today on the Hill colorfully, telling reporters, “Well, the whole day was a clusterf***, right?”

“Not one of my constituents cares about the CBO,” said one member.

“Everyone is anxious to get this done,” another member said. “There’s growing frustration that the Blue Dogs keep moving the goal post. Every time we get close, they come up with a new demand.” The Blue Dog Coalition is a group of centrist House Democrats.

Progressive members were also not happy with the new plan being pushed by leadership of letting infrastructure pass without the social spending bill, multiple sources told CNN.

“They would lose at least 20 votes of Pramila, squad and core progressives for BIF if they chose that route. It won’t pass,” one progressive told CNN, referring to Jayapal, the Congressional Progressive chairwoman, and other members of the caucus and the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which is frequently referred to as BIF.

 

Moderate demands stall push for votes

Five moderates, including Golden, signed onto a letter this week calling for a CBO score, before floor consideration of the Build Back Better Act.

CBO scores of legislation provide an estimate of the effects the policies could have on revenue and spending. Moderates, many of whom have expressed concerns over the overall cost of the bill, argue it is important to have that information and a full picture of the potential impact of the sweeping social safety net plan before holding a vote.

But it could take some time to prepare such a cost estimate. In the meantime, Democratic leadership is relying on a White House analysis saying the bill is fully paid for, based in part on the non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation.

House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth, a Democrat from Kentucky, told CNN he expected a CBO score to take about 10-14 days, and wouldn’t be done until the week before Thanksgiving. Some think it could slip until the week of Thanksgiving, though preliminary estimates could be done earlier.

Schrader, who signed onto the letter calling for a CBO score, left Pelosi’s office earlier on Friday and told CNN “we have no resolution that I know” when asked if he is ready to vote on Build Back Better.

In one sign of progress for leadership, after meeting in Pelosi’s office, Democratic Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia tweeted that she is not against voting for the social spending bill and that the CBO score is not a red line for her.

“There are a lot of rumors swirling. Let me be clear — this bill is paid for and it has a number of my priorities in it. If it comes to the Floor today — I will support the Build Back Better Act,” she said.

 

Some issues resolved

Democratic sources say that negotiations over immigration provisions have been resolved — and the last remaining hurdle to passing a bill is the demand by five moderates that they get a CBO score before a vote.

In a sign that a deal is getting closer, House Democrats have also resolved another sticking point: How to deal with state and local tax deductions, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter. Democrats from the Northeast and West Coast have been pushing to loosen the caps imposed by the 2017 tax law.

Under the new SALT deal, deductions would be capped at $80,000 per year over a nine-year time span, according to Rep. Tom Malinowski, who helped cut the deal.

Before this week, demands from progressives had taken center stage in the push to pass the bills in the House. Progressives have demanded that both the social safety net plan and the infrastructure bill move in tandem.

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Friday.

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Congress passes $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, delivering major win for Biden