One week from today, the House is scheduled to bring the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure bill (BIB) to the floor. The date was set last month in an agreement between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a band of 10 Democratic moderates who want to keep that bill separate from the party’s much more expensive and wide-ranging Build Back Better (BBB) package, which Democratic leaders plan to pass on a party-line vote through the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process.
However, some House progressives are still demanding the two pieces of legislation be linked, because they will lose leverage over the content of BBB if the moderates have already pocketed BIB. At least 16 House Democrats are on record pledging to block BIB if it comes to a vote before BBB clears the House, and several of them have also said BBB must also clear the Senate. With so many intra-party disagreements still unresolved, the chances of BBB passing the House by the 27th appear very slim, setting up a high-stakes vote on BIB.
To win a party-line vote in a House that currently has 220 Democrats and 212 Republicans, House Democrats can’t lose more than three of their members. Although the precise math can shift if any House members vote “present” or skip the vote, generally speaking, if more than three Democrats vote “no” on BIB, the bill will only pass if enough House Republicans offset the Democratic dissidents and vote “yes.”
We don’t know how many Republicans are prepared to do that. Earlier this month, the Republican co-chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (pictured), told Roll Call that in August “potentially” more than 40 Republicans were prepared to support BIB, but now some may be backing away. “Their support was contingent upon it not being in any way, shape or form tied to reconciliation,” said Fitzpatrick. “Now, many of them are going to view this as being tied.”
At this point, Republicans should see the flaw in such logic. BIB and BBB will only be linked if Republicans join Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the other progressive Democratic holdouts in rejecting passage of the bipartisan bill first. If enough Republicans vote “yes,” then and only then will BIB will not “in any way, shape or form [be] tied to reconciliation.”
The political argument for voting “no” is that Republicans shouldn’t help President Biden shake out of his poll slump and give him a political win. While Democrats are in disarray, Republicans should stand aside, grab some popcorn, and enjoy the circular firing squad.
The counter to that argument is that voting to sink BIB could put Democrats back in array. If House Republicans reject a genuine bipartisan bill that has already earned 19 Senate Republican votes, doing so would signal to Democratic moderates that they have been wasting their time straining to achieve bipartisanship, validating longstanding progressive arguments. Concluding that a partisan reconciliation bill is the only way to make Biden’s presidency successful, the moderates could wash their hands of the Republicans, resolve their outstanding intra-party disagreements (with progressives wielding enhanced leverage), incorporate the elements of BIB into BBB, and pass it all in partisan fashion. Biden would still get his win, while congressional Republicans would lose the opportunity to get any hometown credit for the roads, bridges, water service and broadband funded in BIB.
The argument for House Republicans voting “yes” tracks with the reasoning behind Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and 18 other Senate Republicans voting “yes” — Republicans not only get some credit for building and repairing physical infrastructure, they also scrub off their reputation for being obstructionist forces of governmental dysfunction. They also bolster the leverage of Democratic moderates, helping to constrain the desires of the progressives.
While being obstructionist may bring squabbling Democrats together, being bipartisan may instigate more Democratic infighting, as frustrated progressives bemoan their inability to outmuscle the moderates.
At minimum, the 29 Republicans in the House Problem Solvers Caucus have absolutely no rationale for voting “no.” In July, the caucus issued a statement in support of the Senate bill, which read: “The bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus strongly supports the Senate infrastructure framework, which is closely aligned with our own ‘Building Bridges’ proposal released last month. In light of the bipartisan, bicameral genesis of the framework, we encourage an expeditious, stand-alone vote in the House.”
The Problems Solvers got what they asked for: a stand-alone vote in the House on the 27th. If they don’t live up to their own words, they won’t be solving any problems.