It feels a bit incongruous to be writing about something as prosaic as Democratic divisions over enormous spending proposals, given the gravity of the horrors playing out in real time in Afghanistan -- but domestic politics chug forward, even in the face of a generational humiliation abroad. Plus, the President of the United States has at times hardly seemed to view the abject, chaotic defeat over which he's presiding as a top priority (he was finally shamed into saying something yesterday), so it's a cinch that Democratic leadership on the Hill will continue to press ahead on other matters. On Friday, we summarized the cross-currents within her caucus that have made Nancy Pelosi's task quite a bit trickier, given emerging divisions and an incredibly thin margin for error.
A group of her 'moderates' insist they won't even consider voting for the mammoth, Democrat-only "reconciliation" bill (packed with ridiculous budget gimmicks) addressing so-called "human infrastructure" unless and until the bipartisan, Senate-passed (real) infrastructure bill has been approved by the lower chamber and signed into law. Progressives have demanded that the bipartisan legislation go second, which was Pelosi's plan until enough vulnerable members issued a formal threat to tank the whole process if the sequencing wasn't adjusted. The hard leftists are deeply suspicious, if not contemptuous, of their more moderate colleagues. The Speaker has now announced a new maneuver designed to at least partially mollify both sides for the time being -- per the Associated Press:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has proposed a procedural vote this month that would set up future passage of two economic measures crucial to President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda, a move Democratic leaders hope will win must-have votes from unhappy party moderates. In a letter Sunday to Democratic lawmakers, Pelosi, D-Calif., suggested that the House will take a single vote that would clear an initial hurdle for both a budget resolution and a separate infrastructure bill. The budget blueprint would open the gate for Congress to later consider a separate, $3.5 trillion, 10-year bill for health, education and environment programs. Nine centrist Democrats said Friday they would oppose the budget resolution until the House first approves their top priority: a $1 trillion package of road, railway and other infrastructure projects. In the face of solid Republican opposition, Democrats can lose no more than three defectors to pass legislation through the closely split chamber. Late Sunday, the moderates issued a statement saying they still wanted a vote on final approval of the infrastructure bill to come ahead of the budget. They stopped short of saying they’d oppose Pelosi’s plan to initially move both measures forward together, suggesting the speaker’s move had bought some time yet left the battle unresolved.
That's exactly what this is: A time-buying move that has the added benefit of overcoming a requisite procedural hurdle. The 'moderates' haven't abandoned their bottom-line demand, but they didn't reject Pelosi's play. We'll see where it goes from here. As I've written before, I rarely bet against this Speaker on a floor vote. She's a ruthless vote-counter, and she's demonstrated that she's more than willing to lose a majority, as a trade-off for ensuring major, inexorable growth of government. Her career is nearly over this time around, so her willingness to sacrifice seats for a statist legacy is probably more powerful than ever. Part of the issue, though, is that her endangered members surely know this, too; they may not be as keen to have their own seats sacrificed to the political legacy gods. Pelosi got many of her members to walk the plank on Obamacare in 2009 and 2010. Will she repeat that feat in the coming weeks? More Democrats are starting to realize that the clock may well be ticking on their majority anyway:
New: The same early indicators that showed Dems were poised to make big gains in 2018 are now pointing the other direction, suggesting the Dem House majority is in danger in 2022. https://t.co/udLWzwLHIF— Alex Seitz-Wald (@aseitzwald) August 16, 2021
Democrats with proven track records of winning tough districts aren't running for re-election. Republicans are enjoying early fundraising windfalls. And, as Donald Trump and Barack Obama both learned the hard way, midterm elections almost always break against the president's party. The early indicators that showed Democrats poised to make big gains in Congress four years ago now point the other direction, suggesting that the narrow 220-212 Democratic House majority is in serious danger...the challenges Democrats face are real and numerous. They knew they would face a tough 2022 immediately after 2020, when massive, unexpected GOP gains whittled the Democratic majority to just a handful of seats. "House Republicans are in a great position to retake the majority," said Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, "but we are taking nothing for granted." Emmer and other Republicans say they think they can continue to press their advantage on divisive issues supported by the "far left" and make hay of rising inflation and crime rates. "We are going to continue to relentlessly hold House Democrats accountable for their socialist agenda," Emmer said.
One early tea leaf was the recently-announced retirement of a 13-term House Democrat who's managed to cling on in a Wisconsin district carried twice by Donald Trump. He's assessing the political winds and exiting on his own accord. I'll leave you with these insightful observations about House Democrats' calculations if they're seeing the proverbial writing on the wall. A widespread belief that the majority is in serious peril could break different ways:
In a nutshell this captures the tension (and mistrust) Ds are navigating. The mods are the vulnerable ones, and if the caucus slips below 218 it will come at their expense. Progs are secure, but utterly powerless in the minority. They need each other to get what either desire.— Liam Donovan (@LPDonovan) August 16, 2021
And if Pelosi thought her time-buying exercise would shift the fundamental disagreement, it's not looking like it's headed that way at the moment -- and she is again taking the side of the leftists, clearly believing that she'll eventually get the 'centrists' to knuckle under. When the chips are down, they usually do:
NEW: In leadership call tonight, Speaker Pelosi is undeterred by threats from the Gottheimer gang to vote against budget resolution— Heather Caygle (@heatherscope) August 17, 2021
"This is no time for amateur hour," she said, according to multiple sources familiar w/ the call
"There is no way we can pass those bills unless we do so in the order that we originally planned," Pelosi said tonight.— Heather Caygle (@heatherscope) August 17, 2021
"For the first time America’s children have leverage. I will not surrender that leverage.”
They must sequence the bipartisan bill after the reconciliation bill -- it's for the children, you see.