The House passed a historic $1-trillion infrastructure package Friday night and voted to allow formal debate on a larger social spending and climate bill, a show of progress on President Biden’s agenda after months of division between centrists and progressives. A planned final vote on the larger social expenditure bill was postponed after a group moderates, enough to oppose it, refused to support the measure until they had received an economic cost estimate.
The bipartisan vote on the infrastructure bill, which was approved 228 to 206, marks a badly needed show of momentum for Biden’s agenda, which has suffered setbacks because of a deep level of mistrust between centrists and progressives on Capitol Hill.
The vote was held on Friday, after a difficult week for Democrats that saw their candidate for governor in Virginia lose and frustrations over slow negotiations at Capitol Hill boiling over.
There was a growing sense among rank-and-file members that they needed to move forward on the bills after two prior attempts to schedule the votes failed.
Progressives have blocked a vote for the infrastructure bill for weeks to give leverage and ensure that the Senate takes strong action on the spending bill. Progressives agreed to pass only the infrastructure bill on Friday, aware of the risks if they waited too long.
“What am I going to do, you know — continue to drag this out?” said Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.). “The risk of doing nothing to me is greater than the sequence of votes.”
The $1-trillion infrastructure bill that the Senate passed in August ,, will be sent to Biden for his signature. According to a White House spokesperson, Biden will sign the bill.
Infrastructure work began in March when Biden made plans to push for a major package ,, something that was not possible with many of his predecessors. For months, Biden, Senate Republicans, and the President negotiated a road-and-bridges program, which allowed the president to show the bipartisan spirit he displayed on the campaign trail. The bill passed overwhelmingly, 69 to 30, in the Senate.
Thirteen House Republicans joined Democrats on Friday in supporting the infrastructure bill. Six House Democrats voted against the bill.
While the infrastructure bill makes up only a portion of Biden’s agenda, it marks a huge new infusion of money. In the next five-years, infrastructure spending will make up about 1.5% of gross domestic product. This is a significant increase from 1. 36% during the New Deal years, according to a Brookings Institution analysis of Office of Management and Budget data.
The bill addresses a wide range of infrastructure deficiencies and will expand the availability of broadband internet throughout the country.
About $110 billion will go to roads, bridges and other major surface transportation projects. Passenger rail will get $66 billion, public transit will get $39 billion, and safety programs for highways and pedestrian walkways will get $11 billion. About $55 billion will go to expanding access to clean drinking water.
While Democrats hailed the successful infrastructure vote, the achievement is largely overshadowed by the long and messy process of writing the social spending measure.
Congressional Democrats and Biden said Friday that they would move the bill through the House the week of Nov. 15. As the bill moves to Senate, there will be disagreements on key issues such as immigration and paid leave.
While most major pieces of legislation suffer fits and starts during the legislative sausage-making, the frenetic negotiation over these bills has been particularly fraught, a reflection of the slim three-vote margin House Democrats hold.
The Senate may not get the social spending bill through until December due to the delay in the House’s vote.
With fear of a year-end negotiation in mind, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who hold significant political sway, urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday to hold the two votes as a show of progress. According to Democratic sources, moderates will only accept that if the infrastructure vote is first.
Though progressives allowed the infrastructure bill to pass before the social spending bill was done, they remain worried that moderate Democrats won’t support the current $1. 85-trillion package.
With Biden helping over the phone, the centrist and progressive camps hatched a deal in which centrists agreed in writing to support the social spending bill in a floor vote the week of Nov. 15 as long as the official cost estimate matches expectations.
While the requirement that the cost must match the White House’s estimate leaves some wiggle room to not vote for the bill, the five centrists, including Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), said they would work to resolve any differences.
This statement is meant to assure progressives the House will pass the social spending bill.
Biden telephoned into a multi-hour meeting of the Congressional Progressive Caucus on Friday and asked for its support, “subject to some assurances and commitments [from moderates] that he was working to get,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) said before the deal was agreed to. “He’s working very hard to get everybody there.”
Biden has repeatedly promised progressives that he will deliver the votes in the Senate.
There is plenty of reason for progressives to be nervous. Centrist Democratic Senators. The Centrist Democratic Sens.
Times staff writer Nolan D. McCaskill contributed to this report.