President Biden’s sweeping domestic agenda is floundering as Democrats struggle to hold competing factions of their party together. House Republicans should not come to the rescue.
Democrats are in a bind because they have grand ambitions of transforming the United States by dramatically expanding the social safety net, but the American people only gave them slim majorities. They are attempting to forge a path forward by more or less simultaneously passing two pieces of legislation — a $550 billion infrastructure bill that passed with Republican support in the Senate, and a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill (into which they are trying to cram Biden’s entire domestic agenda). More moderate Democrats are becoming increasingly alarmed at the price tag of the massive social-welfare bill, while progressives have been insistent that they would not support the smaller infrastructure bill if the larger one doesn’t also pass. This conflict, which has been building for months, is about to reach an inflection point.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi promised moderate House Democrats that the chamber would consider the smaller bipartisan bill by next Monday, September 27. Progressives claim they have the votes to block it, absent agreement on the massive $3.5 trillion package, which does not appear to be close to final. But now moderates are flexing their muscles, too — arguing that if Pelosi reneges on holding the vote, they will bail on the bigger bill. Meanwhile, according to Politico, Senator Kyrsten Sinema privately told Biden that “if the House delays its scheduled Sept. 27 vote on the bipartisan infrastructure plan — or if the vote fails — she won’t be backing a reconciliation bill.”
In a 50–50 Senate, Sinema has the ability to tank any piece of legislation. And Pelosi can lose no more than three votes, which means less than a handful of moderates or progressives could tank any legislation. But there is one group of people that could make it much easier for Pelosi to get out of this jam — and that is House Republicans. If a critical mass of House Republicans end up voting for the smaller infrastructure bill, then it would allow Pelosi to pass the bill even while losing progressives, and it would pave the way for Democrats to strike a bargain among themselves on the larger reconciliation bill.
We repeatedly warned Senate Republicans that it was a bad idea to negotiate with Democrats on an infrastructure bill, which was not only reckless at a time of historic debt, but obviously tied to the even-worse $3.5 trillion bill. Yet 19 of them voted for it anyway, and a number of House Republicans have indicated a desire to do the same. But the argument for Republicans to vote for the bill has become even weaker. Beyond the policy considerations, for House Republicans to save Pelosi from navigating the difficult dynamics of a divided caucus by providing her the votes she needs would be political malpractice. The back and forth between progressives and moderate Democrats over the past few weeks has underscored the fact that the two bills are inextricably linked. Any Republican who votes for the smaller infrastructure bill is making the passage of the larger reconciliation bill more likely.
In the reconciliation bill, Democrats want the government to pay for child care, universal pre-K, and community college. At a time when the current system is going broke, they want to add dental and vision coverage to Medicare. And they want to use it as a vehicle to advance their destructive Green New Deal environmental policies. They have proposed more than $2 trillion in taxes, but even that won’t cover all their spending, likely meaning more debt.
With Biden’s approval ratings tumbling and the nation reeling from his botched handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal, the border crisis, and the vaccine-booster rollout, on top of his daily miscues, it is understandable why he is desperate for a win. But there is no reason for House Republicans to help him get it.