Nancy Pelosi bails on a vote for Biden's bipartisan infrastructure bill as House progressives revolt

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Nancy Pelosi speaking and holding up both hands at a press conference.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. AP Photo/Scott J. Applewhite
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday pulled a planned vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

  • It deals a major setback to President Joe Biden's domestic agenda with Democratic rifts deepening.

  • Progressives launched a revolt as moderates held up the separate social-spending plan.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday pulled a vote on President Joe Biden's $550 billion infrastructure bill. It's a major setback for Democrats as moderate and progressive feuds deepened over Biden's domestic agenda.

The vote was yanked after it became obvious that House Democratic leaders didn't have enough support to clear the bill and send it to Biden's desk. With a three-vote margin for error in the 220-212 chamber, Pelosi had predicted success and tried brushing aside the sizable hurdles before her.

"I'm only envisioning taking it up and winning it," she said at a Thursday press conference, adding: "You cannot tire, you cannot concede. This is the fun part."

House Democrats were advised that a vote could still take place Friday. The White House said congressional Democrats would continue trying to resolve their differences as they negotiated a larger social-spending bill capable of drawing support across the party.

"A great deal of progress has been made this week, and we are closer to an agreement than ever," the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said in a statement. "But we are not there yet, and so we will need some additional time to finish the work starting tomorrow morning first thing."

House progressives revolted this week after Pelosi decoupled the bipartisan infrastructure bill from passage of the $3.5 trillion social-spending plan. The larger plan addresses tuition-free community college, affordable childcare, Medicare and Medicaid expansion, and a renewal of the child allowance, among climate initiatives and other measures.

Pelosi initially linked the two bills and insisted they needed to move in tandem. But on Monday, she told House Democrats that the lack of progress on the social-spending package meant they had to approve the bipartisan infrastructure bill. She had also previously promised House moderates she'd put it to a House vote this week.

The past few days of infighting underscore deep divides among Democrats on their spending priorities and the taxes they hope to levy on the wealthiest Americans and large corporations. Their slim majorities in both chambers of Congress afford Biden and Democratic leaders little room to maneuver.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont had encouraged the brewing resistance in the House. "If there is a vote, I hope it loses," Sanders told Insider on Thursday.

Progressive anger escalated after moderate Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia issued a statement Thursday assailing the $3.5 trillion social-spending plan as "the definition of fiscal insanity." Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the House Progressive Caucus, told reporters soon after that progressives in turn were digging in and about half of her 96-member caucus were prepared to derail the bill.

Still, House moderates chiefly led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey insisted the bill would prevail with "1,000% certainty." After the vote was pulled, he tweeted, "It ain't over yet!"

-Rep Josh Gottheimer (@RepJoshG) October 1, 2021

Other moderates were pressing for it to go ahead earlier in the day, even in the face of staunch liberal opposition. "If we let a big piece of the Biden agenda fall down, we can't blame the Republicans," Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas told Insider. "We control everything, so it's important that we have that vote."

Progressive lawmakers said they held their ground after months of saying they would do so. "In Congress, we don't make predictions like this until we know we have the votes," Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota wrote on Twitter. "Some of us get this, others bluff & fall on their face."

'They should close this deal'

On Thursday, Manchin said he was seeking a $1.5 trillion social-spending plan, less than half the amount that Democrats approved in a budget plan in August. He said any sum higher than that could cause the US to slip into an "entitlement-based society."

Many Democrats are fed up with Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. The two are pivotal votes in the 50-50 Senate, where Democrats cannot afford a single defection under the budget process known as reconciliation. It requires only a simple-majority vote for Democrats to skirt united GOP opposition, but that means all 50 Democratic senators must stick together.

Manchin and Sinema attended back-to-back meetings at the White House this week with Biden and his senior aides to discuss the size and scope of the plan. But there's little sign of a breakthrough.

"They've had their chance, they've made their case," Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, told reporters on Thursday. "They should close this deal. Too much is at stake."

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