WASHINGTON – With President Joe Biden's broad domestic agenda at risk of collapse, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday vowed that Democrats will pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill this week and push ahead on the bigger $3.5 trillion social safety net and climate change bill while acknowledging the total amount will drop.
Biden spoke with lawmakers over the weekend on the path forward, according to a White House official who requested anonymity to discuss the private conversations. Extensive work was being done behind the scenes to shore up support.
When asked Sunday if Pelosi had the votes to pass the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, Biden told reporters at the White House, “It's going to take the better part of this week.”
Pelosi had originally pledged to House moderates a vote on the infrastructure legislation by today, but she said Sunday in a letter to colleagues that vote will now be Thursday. With Democratic divisions, the extra time allowed space for negotiations on the broader bill, so both bills could advance. The $1 trillion infrastructure plan passed the Senate last month.
“Let me just say that we're going to pass the bill this week,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said earlier Sunday on ABC's “This Week.” She added: “I'm never bringing a bill to the floor that doesn't have the votes. You cannot choose the date. You have to go when you have the votes in a reasonable time, and we will.”
Still, in a delicate balancing act aimed at achieving the near Democratic unanimity needed to push the sprawling package through, Pelosi made clear that Biden's proposed $3.5 trillion for social spending and climate initiatives will need to be trimmed.
Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have said they won't support a bill of that size. Manchin has previously proposed spending of $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion, an amount that progressives have called unacceptable for a bill they originally envisioned at $6 trillion.
Asked on ABC if she agrees the final number on the so-called reconciliation bill will be “somewhat smaller” than $3.5 trillion, Pelosi responded: “That seems self-evident.”
“We'll see how the number comes down and what we need,” she added. “Again, the Senate and the House, those who are not in full agreement with the president, right, let's see what our values – let's not talk about numbers and dollars. Let's talk about values.”
“I think even those who want a smaller number, support the vision of the president, and this is really transformative.”
Her comments reflected the enormous stakes for the coming week, one that could define the Biden presidency and shape the political contours of next year's midterm elections.
Along with personal phone calls from the president, several Cabinet officials, senior staff and others were reaching out to lawmakers over the weekend, the White House official said.
Democrats have few votes to spare in the House and no votes to spare in the 50-50 Senate if there is no Republican support to enact Biden's massive “Build Back Better” agenda. Republicans are lockstep against the larger measure.
Biden, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., have led a behind-the-scenes hunt for compromises to resolve internal divisions and, they hope, allow approval of the mammoth bill soon.
The House Budget Committee on Saturday advanced a $3.5 trillion, 10-year bill strengthening social safety net and climate programs, though one Democrat voted “no,” illustrating the challenges party leaders face. The bill, which is certain to be revised before House voting, would be paid for with taxes on corporations and the wealthy.