Biden's push for bipartisan infrastructure bill puts Democratic divisions on display
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Fault lines in the Democratic Party are becoming increasingly evident as President Biden pushes forward with a bipartisan infrastructure deal, drawing the ire of some progressive lawmakers who want the White House to pursue a far more ambitious spending package.
The president last week announced a $973 billion infrastructure plan with the support of centrist Republicans and Democrats, but the measure falls far short of the left-wing faction's demands for trillions in new funding to combat climate change, expand health care, establish free community college and bolster child care.
Biden initially suggested that he would veto the pared-down spending bill if Democrats in Congress didn't simultaneously pass a larger reconciliation bill; but facing an uproar from Republicans, he almost immediately recanted that statement and clarified on Saturday that he would sign the agreement if passed on its own.
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Although Biden has pledged to continue fighting for additional spending on so-called "human" infrastructure, his retraction raised concerns among some progressives who questioned the legitimacy of that commitment. With their incredibly slim majorities in the House and Senate, Democrats face a delicate balancing act in pursuing their so-called "two-track" agenda – approving both a bipartisan deal and a reconciliation package that could cost several trillion dollars – or they risk losing the support of either moderate or progressive members.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading progressive voice, has urged Biden to avoid "being limited" by Republicans on his economic agenda.
"In those areas where there is agreement, Republicans are more than welcome to join so that we can get this work on infrastructure done," Ocasio-Cortez said Sunday during an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press." "But that doesn’t mean the president should be limited by Republicans, particularly when we have a House majority, we have 50 Democratic senators and we have the White House."
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Because Democrats have an unusually narrow advantage in the House, it's possible that progressives could torpedo the bipartisan deal – which Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., threatened to do on Monday.
"The president can say he’s bipartisan, he can go out and support the deal, but at the end of the day, if he wants it, he’s going to have to support our priorities," Jayapal, chairwoman of the House Progressive Caucus, told The New York Times.
Asked whether progressives would tank the bipartisan package if it didn't come in tandem with a reconciliation bill, Jayapal said they would.
"There aren't the votes to pass just the bipartisan plan without the reconciliation plan," she said during an interview with CNN. "We've been clear about that."
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have indicated their support for making the passage of the smaller bill contingent on the success of a larger bill that would be passed using the procedural tool known as budget reconciliation, allowing Democrats to circumvent a Republican filibuster.
But the Democratic leaders are facing pressure from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to abandon the strategy.
"The president has appropriately delinked a potential bipartisan infrastructure bill from the massive, unrelated tax-and-spend plans that Democrats want to pursue on a partisan basis," McConnell, R-Ky., said Monday. "Now I am calling on President Biden to engage Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi and make sure they follow his lead."
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