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Decision Week for Infrastructure Arrives
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Decision Week for Infrastructure Arrives

Democrats hope to keep a fractious coalition together to pass a major piece of the Biden agenda this week, and keep the government from shutting down to boot.

Good morning from Washington, D.C., where we’re on the lookout for flotillas of kayaks.

Moderates and progressives in the Democratic Party are on a collision course over President Joe Biden’s agenda this week. There’s a government shutdown deadline Thursday at midnight. And Congress faces a hugely important debt ceiling deadline in a few weeks. All in all, it’s the perfect moment for [airhorn noise] Haley to ease back into work after her maternity leave. 

House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern put it rather optimistically during a hearing yesterday: “As you all know, this is an interesting week,” he said. “Lots to do. Not sure how or when. But it will all work out. It will all be great.”

Once Again, It’s Infrastructure Week

Rep. Ilhan Omar and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is preparing to bring forward a bipartisan infrastructure package for floor consideration on Thursday, over the angst of progressives who fear it will undermine the odds of passing President Joe Biden’s not-yet-complete $3.5 trillion social investments bill. 

The infrastructure package, which passed the Senate earlier this year, includes hundreds of billions of dollars in new funding for physical infrastructure items like roads, bridges, airports, and broadband improvement.

With a razor-thin Democratic majority in the House and Republican leaders pushing their members hard to oppose the infrastructure bill, Pelosi can’t afford to lose support from more than a handful of members without endangering the legislation’s passage. 

She and her whip team have a difficult task ahead this week to secure enough support for the bill. Progressive members have repeatedly said they will not support the bipartisan infrastructure measure until the Democratic-only $3.5 trillion package is finalized. 

Over the weekend, the House Budget Committee passed the more than 2,400-page budget reconciliation bill out of committee on a party line vote. As it’s written now, the bill calls for $3.5 trillion in spending over the next decade. But the details are far from firm. Pelosi said in an interview on ABC News over the weekend that it seems “self-evident” the final number will be lower than $3.5 trillion.

Expect several days of intense negotiations between various factions and leadership: Progressive Democrat Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York told reporters after votes Monday that there are “a lot more conversations to be had to figure out what it is we’re going to do.”

Over the summer, Pelosi reached a tenuous balance between moderates and progressives in which she said she would bring the two bills forward about the same time with the goal of passing both by October 1. During a caucus meeting Monday night, though, Pelosi announced she no longer plans to advance the traditional infrastructure measure in tandem with the sweeping $3.5 trillion package, as Democratic leaders are still negotiating with moderate Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema over what, exactly, they will be willing to support in the larger bill.

Manchin and Sinema have both said they oppose the prospect of a $3.5 trillion plan, with Manchin writing an op-ed earlier this month saying he will not support that amount and Sinema making the same clear through a spokesperson.

Regardless of the state of talks with Manchin and Sinema, Pelosi said, the House will proceed with the bipartisan infrastructure framework (also known as the BIF). 

“We had to accommodate the changes that were being necessitated,” Pelosi told members, according to a source familiar with her comments. “And we cannot be ready to say until the Senate passed the bill, we can’t do BIF.”

Still, progressives emerged from the meeting publicly doubling down on their demands. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, insisted that Democrats “are going to vote for both bills after the reconciliation bill is done.”

All of this jockeying over timing can seem somewhat silly from the outside, but it is how members have been trying (sometimes messily) to secure passage of their priorities, like raising taxes on wealthy Americans, enacting climate change provisions, and making two years of community college tuition-free.

In an op-ed earlier on Monday, Jayapal, along with Reps. Ilhan Omar and Katie Porter, wrote that they “remain committed to voting for the infrastructure bill only after the Build Back Better Act is passed.” 

“Congress now faces a choice: advance the entirety of an agenda that gets American families the help they need, or deliver only a fraction of it,” they said. Jayapal has estimated there are 60 Democrats who hold the same position and are willing to keep their votes from the bipartisan infrastructure package until the budget reconciliation package is complete. 

“It was a very passionate meeting,” Omar told The Dispatch afterward. She said progressives are “going to continue to push” and are hoping that conversations with moderate Democratic senators will “produce a more tangible position for us to at least engage with.”

Deadlines Do What Deadlines Do Best: Loom 

Senate Republicans blocked a bill to suspend the debt ceiling last night, saying Democrats will have to address it on their own.

The legislation, which passed the House last week, would have also funded the government through December 3 ahead of a shutdown deadline Thursday at midnight. It included relief for those impacted by recent natural disasters as well as money to accommodate Afghan refugees. The bill failed with a vote of 48-50—no Republicans supported it.

There is no clear path yet to fund the government before Thursday’s deadline, although options are available. Democratic leaders may now consider a standalone funding measure to avert a shutdown.

“Keeping the government open and preventing a default is vital to our country’s future, and we’ll be taking further action to prevent this from happening this week,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday night.

A separate funding bill that does not address the debt ceiling would have enough backing from Republicans to pass. “We will support a clean continuing resolution that will prevent a government shutdown, get disaster relief to Louisiana, help properly vetted Afghan refugees who put themselves on the line for America, and support the Iron Dome assistance for our ally Israel,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday. “We will not provide Republican votes for raising the debt limit.”

The Treasury Department has been using so-called extraordinary measures to pay its debts since August, but those measures are expected to run out sometime in October. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned lawmakers earlier this month that a debt default would trigger an economic crisis that would directly harm millions of Americans. 

Experts at the Bipartisan Policy Center projected last week that without action by Congress, the United States will be unable to meet its payments sometime between October 15 and November 4. 

Republicans say they largely acknowledge the need to raise the debt limit, but they argue Democrats should have to do it alone through the special budget reconciliation process because of Democratic plans to approve a massive social spending bill in the coming weeks through reconciliation. Hiking the debt ceiling is feasible through budget reconciliation, and Republican leaders have been unequivocal that they will not support suspending the limit for months. But as the first item in this newsletter indicated, the reconciliation bill is far from a done deal, and it’s not clear when it might pass.

“They are in the midst of an absolutely unprecedented, very damaging spending spree on a scale that we have never seen, and they want us to come along and authorize the borrowing to help pay for it when we are totally opposed to what they’re doing,” Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey said on CNN over the weekend.

Even if Democrats were to abandon their $3.5 trillion plan altogether, the debt ceiling would still have to be addressed. Much of the debt in question stems from legislation passed under former President Donald Trump with support from most congressional Republicans, such as the GOP tax cuts approved in 2017.

“Some kind of understanding has got to be reached, because we’re not about to have a government shutdown or defaulting on our debts,” Hawaii Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono told reporters yesterday. “It’s not enough for Mitch McConnell to sit on his ass and say, ‘We have nothing to do with this.’ That’s total bullshit.”

On the Floor

The House is expected to consider the bipartisan infrastructure plan that passed the Senate earlier this year. House members may also vote this week on legislation that would expand requirements for employers to provide break times and private lactation areas that are separate from restrooms for employees who are nursing. The bill would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to make more companies responsible and more workers eligible for the provisions. It would also extend the amount of time workers are to be given breaks and access to lactation rooms from the current one year after the birth of a child to two years after the birth of a child. 

A full list with legislative text of bills that are expected to reach the House floor this week is available here.

Key Hearings

  • Afghanistan: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, and U.S. Central Command Commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie will testify this morning on the military’s departure from Afghanistan before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Information and livestream here. Thomas Joscelyn, senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies—and the author of The Dispatch’s own Vital Interests—will testify before the committee in another hearing on Afghanistan Thursday morning. Information and livestream here

  • #FreeBritney: The Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution will hold a hearing about toxic conservatorships today at 2:30 p.m. Information and livestream here

  • Abortion: The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold what’s sure to be a contentious hearing on Texas’s abortion law Wednesday at 10 a.m. Information and livestream here. The House oversight panel will hold a similar hearing on abortion Thursday morning. Information and livestream here.

  • White supremacists: Several counterterrorism officials will appear before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday at 10 a.m. to discuss the Biden administration’s approach to confronting violent white supremacy. Information and livestream here

  • TSA and DHS: The House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday morning on the state of the Transportation Security Administration 20 years after the attacks of 9/11. Members of the committee will hold a similar hearing Thursday on the Department of Homeland Security. Information and livestreams here and here

  • NCAA: A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hold a hearing Thursday morning on compensation for college athletes. Information and livestream here. You can read our prior coverage of this issue here.

  • And finally, the dweeby hearing with the most potential to be surprisingly interesting: “Examining the Role of Ferries in Improving Mobility,” happening this morning in the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on highways and transit. Livestream and information here.

Of Note

In Case You Missed It


Haley Wilt is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.

Ryan Brown is a community manager for The Dispatch. He previously served as a researcher and production assistant for Meet the Press.

Harvest Prude is a former reporter at The Dispatch.