Speaker Nancy Pelosi reiterated Thursday she planned to have the House vote on a Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill before surface transportation programs expire at the end of the day, projecting confidence she could pass it despite significant progressive opposition.
"I'm only envisioning taking it up and winning it," the California Democrat told reporters at her weekly news conference.
Pelosi’s No. 2, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., struck a less optimistic tone, telling reporters he was not confident the infrastructure bill could pass Thursday.
Asked if there was talk of bringing a bill to the floor that will fall short, Hoyer said, “Sure, there’s a lot of talk about that — by everybody.”
Pelosi has previously said she would never bring a bill to the floor if she didn’t have the votes to pass it. But she acknowledged Thursday she has more work to do before she can secure a win on the infrastructure bill.
The speaker said she would need to demonstrate to progressives that the House and Senate were on a path to passing the other piece of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda, a sweeping tax and spending package expected to contain funding for progressive priorities like climate programs, paid leave, child and home health care, affordable housing and more.
Democrats plan to pass that package through the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process to alleviate the need for Republican votes. They can’t afford to lose a single Democratic vote in the Senate or more than three in the House. Progressives are worried centrist Democrats won’t support the multitrillion-dollar reconciliation package if the infrastructure bill passes first.
“It's impossible, though, to persuade people to vote for the [infrastructure bill] without the reassurances that the reconciliation bill will occur, and it will,” Pelosi said.
To provide those reassurances, she said she and Biden are continuing to negotiate with the Senate in hopes of securing some kind of agreement on the path forward for reconciliation that she can present to House Democrats.
“We're on a path to have something that I can say to my colleagues with integrity and certainty is the path we're on,” Pelosi said, omitting specifics of what that “something” might include.
“And in terms of timing and the rest, I wish we had more time, I will say that,” she added. “So we're having to compress a lot of our discussion here. But I can't say anything to them until I have, we have an agreement.”
Pelosi said she plans for that agreement to come together, but there have been plenty of signs to suggest that’s unlikely.
Biden has spent the week negotiating with the party’s main holdouts, centrist Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, in hopes of securing an agreement on the topline spending number and programs they’d support funding in a reconciliation package.
A deal or even the early makings of one has yet to come together. Manchin told reporters Wednesday it would take weeks to negotiate the specifics his colleagues are seeking and he didn’t feel rushed by progressives’ timeline.
Pelosi was undeterred by Manchin’s public comments.
“Let me just tell you about negotiating: At the end, that’s when you really have to weigh in. You cannot tire. You cannot concede,” she said. “This is the fun part.”
On Thursday, Manchin provided one specific Democrats have been seeking, saying the topline spending amount he would support for the reconciliation package is $1.5 trillion.
“I'm willing to sit down and work through that 1.5 to get our broader priorities," he said, adding that Democrats can come back and do more later and run campaigns on the outstanding matters. "I think there's many ways to get to where they want to, just not everything at one time.”
Manchin acknowledged that his position is "far apart" from what progressives want, but he suggested if they were to agree to the $1.5 trillion limit the reconciliation process could proceed.
"I've always been of the inclination that in leadership, you take the wins when you can receive them," he said. "You bring people together the best you can and you move forward, that's all. And we're there now. We can move forward. Hopefully we can, anyway."
Sinema has routinely declined to comment on the negotiations with Biden, but her spokesman John LaBombard put out a statement Thursday disputing assertions she has not detailed her demands on the reconciliation package.
"She shared detailed concerns and priorities, including dollar figures" directly with Schumer and the White House in August, LaBombard said. "While we do not negotiate through the press — because Senator Sinema respects the integrity of those direct negotiations — she continues to engage directly in good-faith discussions with both President Biden and Senator Schumer to find common ground.”
Highway ‘plan B’
One of the reasons Pelosi is pushing to pass the infrastructure bill Thursday is that that is the deadline to prevent the law authorizing federal spending on surface transportation programs from expiring. The bipartisan bill would provide a five-year reauthorization of existing programs plus $550 billion in new spending.
Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., said he hopes “the House will do the right thing” and pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
“In the meantime we've initiated some conversations to have a plan B, if it's needed,” he said, declining to provide details. “My hope is that it won’t be needed.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., the Environment and Public Works ranking member, provided a bit more.
“I think there’s a contingency for a short-term extension of the highway program,” she said. Capito said the duration of the extension has yet to be decided but it’s likely to be a stand-alone measure, not an amendment to the continuing resolution advancing through both chambers Thursday to meet the deadline for funding the government.
Hoyer said House leaders are “considering all options” when asked about a backup plan for reauthorizing surface transportation programs.
But Pelosi said she is not considering such alternative scenarios.
“We’re on a path to win the vote,” she said. “I don’t even want to consider any options other than that.”