The decision to postpone the budget vote, coming after negotiations with moderates fell through, is another loss for the party. Biden’s legislative agenda is now months off schedule, as leadership still cannot rally enough votes behind either bill to advance them individually or together.
But if Democrats manage to pass the infrastructure bill, it will be a much-needed win for the party, still reeling from the disappointing results of the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections.
Divisions in the party have now plagued leadership for months, causing Democrats across the ideological spectrum to grow increasingly frustrated. In the days leading up to the scheduled vote on Friday, it was clear that these divisions persisted.
In a Tuesday letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) moderates said that they had several conditions that must be met before they would support the budget bill. Five moderates—Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Jared Golden (D-Maine), Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), and Ed Case (D-Hawaii)—signed the letter expressing these demands.
“We cannot lend our support to advancing the [Build Back Better] Act until we have had a chance to review these scores which provide the true cost of the legislation,” the moderates wrote. Specifically, they demanded 72 hours to review the text of the bill, confirmation from the Senate that the upper chamber will not make changes to the bill, and “the proper CBO/JCT scoring information.”
The text of the bill, around 2,000 pages long, was released publicly only hours before the vote was set to begin, giving lawmakers practically no time to read and digest the bill.
Confirmation from the Senate that they will not change the bill was also a high threshold to meet by Friday, as swing voters like Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) have not committed to voting for the bill at all, while progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have demanded that the bill be “strengthened.”
In these conditions, a commitment from the Senate not to change the bill was not a guarantee that Democratic leadership could provide to the moderates.
Most importantly, the moderates insisted, Democrats should not consider the bill until the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) releases scores on the bill, analyzing its true cost to American taxpayers.
Still, Pelosi, who has pulled off last-minute negotiations with moderates in the past, insisted on the Friday vote.
Shortly after the session of the House began Friday morning, Republicans called for a vote to have Congress adjourn for the day in a motion put forward by Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) in a last-ditch effort to avoid the vote.
In a break from the norm in the House, the motion lingered on the floor for hours. According to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the vote was dragged out so long because Democrats were trying to work out an eleventh-hour deal with moderates.
Speaking at a press conference while the motion to adjourn lingered on the House floor, McCarthy chuckled about the situation.
“Can you believe the vote is still open?” McCarthy asked as he took the podium. “You know, we made history today,” he continued. “This is the longest vote held open in the history of Congress.”
McCarthy judged that the vote had not been concluded because Democrats “don’t have the votes [for Biden’s agenda] today.”
As the motion to adjourn remained in limbo on the House floor, Pelosi and Biden spent hours with the moderates in frantic closed-door negotiations, as the bill could not pass without their support.
In the House, Democrats hold a thin majority. Pelosi can only spare three votes, meaning that these five moderates were well armed to tank the budget.
The infrastructure bill may fare little better, as a coalition of progressives have long threatened to tank the bill if Biden’s larger package is not passed first.
And with today’s setback, a vote on that larger package could be days or weeks out, leaving the fate of the infrastructure bill in the hands of increasingly frustrated progressives.