Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed off a planned vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill late Thursday after top Democrats in the House, Senate and the White House failed to reach a deal to pass the legislation.
Pelosi and other top Democrats engaged in hours of frenetic negotiations, hoping to produce a bicameral deal on President Joe Biden’s broader social spending package, which progressives had demanded in exchange for their votes on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill.
But after the daylong frenzy, in which senior aides for Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the White House failed to convince centrist Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to agree to a public framework, Democratic leaders punted the issue to Friday. The move also means at least a temporary lapse in funding for surface transportation programs, which needed to be renewed at midnight.
“I don’t see a deal tonight,” Manchin (D-W.Va.) told reporters as he left the Capitol around 10 p.m. after meeting with senior congressional and White House staff on the broader bill.
Democrats with knowledge of the discussions said party leaders had hoped to convince Manchin and Sinema to agree to a $2.1 trillion topline target for the broader package, without success. Earlier in the day, Manchin declared he wouldn’t support a bill that cost more than $1.5 trillion.
The delay marks the second time this week that Pelosi and her leadership team have been forced to call off a planned vote on infrastructure as they continue negotiations with the Senate and White House in order to stem a massive number of liberal defections on the floor. While moderate Democrats insist it won’t dull the momentum, it ratchets up the pressure on Pelosi, Schumer and the Senate centrists to come to an agreement on Friday.
Pelosi agreed to send lawmakers home shortly after 10 p.m., but party leaders will use a procedural maneuver to avoid starting a new legislative day — a nod to moderates who had insisted on a vote Thursday.
Missing the Thursday deadline, however, does mean that the authorization for several transportation programs expires. While little funding would be at risk in the short-term, it means that 4,000 Department of Transportation employees could be furloughed.
Lawmakers were discussing a temporary extension of highway and transit programs that the House could quickly pass Friday and send to the Senate.
In several meetings Thursday, Pelosi clambered to nail down a deal on legislative framework for the broader spending deal between the party’s two factions, according to Democrats with knowledge of her thinking. By late Thursday night, those talks evolved into in-person discussions among Manchin, Sinema, Schumer and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as they scrambled to reach a deal on a total price tag for the broader bill.
White House officials, including National Economic Council Director Brian Deese and Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice, also took part in talks on both sides of the Capitol.
“A great deal of progress has been made this week, and we are closer to an agreement than ever,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki in a statement Thursday night. “But we are not there yet, and so, we will need some additional time to finish the work, starting tomorrow morning first thing.”
The framework they’re seeking wouldn’t be legislative text, but would be more in depth than an outline. The goal is to include agreement on the bill’s total cost and major policy provisions in three areas: family issues like child care and paid leave; health care; and climate change.
Pelosi has also called in outside reinforcements to encourage members to vote for the infrastructure bill, including influential labor groups who are sending letters to members of Congress.
The herculean push by Pelosi and her leadership team carries enormous stakes: some Democrats warn that a high-profile failure on infrastructure would deal a lasting blow to Biden’s agenda, further inflaming tensions across the party. Moderates like Sinema have threatened to ditch the broader spending talks if the infrastructure vote fails.
But even as Democrats remain uncertain about a vote Friday, they acknowledged that this kind of high stakes, all-consuming whip operation is precisely Speaker Pelosi’s wheelhouse.
“We’re on a path to win the votes. I don’t want to even consider any options but that,” she told a packed room of reporters early Thursday. “Think positively.”
When the bill does come to the floor, multiple Democrats said part of the plan would be to hold the vote open until Pelosi can corral enough members for passage, whether that be from the progressive wing of the caucus or from Republicans who support the infrastructure bill. One member described it as a “staredown” strategy.
But as those bicameral talks slid later into the night Thursday, progressives held a private call where Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) reiterated to her members that she was still demanding a Senate vote on the broader social spending plan — not just a framework.
Liberal Democrats expressed solid opposition to voting, with member after member speaking up to say they would oppose the bill, according to a person on the call.
Across the Capitol, Democratic leaders attempted to convince both Manchin and Sinema to commit to a higher topline number, hours after POLITICO reported Manchin had proposed a price tag of $1.5 trillion over the summer.
But progressives, including Sanders, have pushed hard for House Democrats to delay the vote and instead stick with the commitment to pass both of Biden’s priorities at once.
“[Negotiations] can take place tomorrow, they can take place next week. We should not get hung up on a date,” Sanders said as he left a meeting with Schumer and other top Democrats, adding that he hoped the House bill “would be defeated” if it received a vote Thursday night.
Pelosi and her leadership team worked at a furious pace to secure the votes of various factions across the caucus, sitting down with members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the centrist Blue Dog Coalition and the moderate New Democrat Coalition.
“It’s happening today, we’re moving forward,” Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) told reporters after the Blue Dog meeting.
Meanwhile, House GOP leaders fiercely whipped against the bipartisan infrastructure bill, working to limit defections on a vote that could deliver a key legislative win to the Biden administration.
In recent weeks, Republicans have hammered the message that they view the Senate-approved plan as tethered to Democrats’ larger social spending package, which they argue is ample reason to oppose it.
“I think the majority… of our members are going to vote ‘no’ because they don’t view it as an infrastructure bill,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said during a Thursday press conference.
Despite the intense pressure campaign, some centrist Republican members have already publicly announced their support of the plan — though these GOP votes are not expected to save the bill from dozens of House progressives who have vowed to oppose the bipartisan bill.
Roughly 10 to 15 Republicans are expected to back the vote as of Thursday evening, according to GOP sources. That wouldn’t be enough to make up for liberal defections, however, with Jayapal reiterating that at least 60 Democrats are prepared to vote against the bill.
If Pelosi does yank the bill, senior Democrats predicted she would wait until the final possible moment, keeping pressure on the Senate centrists, Manchin and Sinema, to negotiate.
But Manchin signaled to reporters Thursday night — after hours of negotiation with party leaders and White House aides — that he wasn’t budging.
“I’m still on $1.5 [trillion] guys, I’ve been on 1.5 and I’m going to make sure that people understand there’s an awful lot of good,” Manchin said. “We can help a lot of people, children on the front end seniors on the back end, a lot of good things.”
Olivia Beavers, Burgess Everett and Tanya Snyder contributed to this report.