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House Democrats Delay Infrastructure Vote After Talks Stall, Left-Wing Dems Reaffirm Vow To Sink It

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Andrew Trunsky Political Reporter
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Democrats scrapped a long-awaited vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill late Thursday after talks between left-wing Democrats, congressional leadership and top White House officials stalled.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced the delay around 10:45 p.m., and said the chamber will convene Friday morning to complete consideration of the bill. Democratic leadership said earlier in the day that no votes would come before 9 p.m., then pushed back the deadline by an hour before announcing the delay.

Democratic leadership had negotiated with the party’s feuding factions for weeks, but intensified their efforts this week ahead of the vote, originally planned for Monday. Those opposed, collectively making up a significant block of the House Progressive Caucus, had insisted for weeks that they would not support the package, which would invest $1.2 trillion over 10 years into America’s roads, bridges, waterways and broadband infrastructure, unless Congress first passed Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget that remains unfinished but as proposed contains most of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda.

“We won’t let massive corporations, billionaires, and a few conservative Democrats stand in the way of delivering transformational progress for millions of working people,” Washington State Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Progressive Caucus, said earlier Thursday. “Stick to the plan. Pass both bills, together.”

Democrats’ moderate and left wings have been at odds over the two bills for months, with moderates insisting that the House first send the infrastructure package to the president and their counterparts demanding the opposite. Leadership sought to bring the bill to the floor this week to fulfill an agreement with moderates adopted in August, when the House advanced the budget framework. (RELATED: Democrats Are All-In On The Largest Budget In History. It’s Passage Is Far From Certain)

Rep. Pramila Jayapal has said that as much as half of the 95-member House Progressive Caucus could vote against the bill. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

As more Democrats announced they would still vote against the bill this week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pledged to move forward with Thursday’s vote, scheduled the day before federal surface transportation payments expire.

“We’re on a path to win the vote,” she said during her weekly press conference. “I don’t want to even consider any options other than that.”

Pelosi did acknowledge that the bill would fail without support from her party’s left wing, but suggested that Democrats were closer to an agreement than many think.

“We have to have an agreement together,” she said. “I think the path we are on is leading to that agreement.”

And while the party’s factions in the House vie for one, divisions among Democrats exist in the House and Senate as well. (RELATED: 11 Democratic Senators Back House Progressives Caucus’ Vow To Tank Infrastructure Bill If $3.5T Budget Doesn’t Pass First)

Moderate Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have already objected to the budget’s price tag, scope and pay-fors, with the West Virginia Democrat confirming Thursday that his ideal number was $1.5 trillion, less than half of what progressives have already billed as a compromise.

“I’ve never been a liberal in any way, shape, or form,” Manchin told reporters, adding that those pushing for a bigger package should “elect more liberals.”

Sen. Joe Manchin speaks to reporters outside of the Capitol on Thursday. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

The House avoided a government shutdown set to begin Friday at midnight, passing a short-term funding bill on a bipartisan basis hours after the Senate did the same. Unlike an earlier version of the bill, the passed legislation omitted a debt ceiling increase in order to attain the Republican support needed to pass. GOP senators filibustered the previous bill coupling the provisions Monday, but the current version now heads to Biden’s desk, and he is expected to sign it Thursday. (RELATED: Congress Sends Funding Bill To Biden’s Desk, Clearing Path To Stop A Shutdown With Hours To Spare)

Though lawmakers agreed on a funding plan ahead of a shutdown, Democrats and Republicans remain miles apart on raising the debt ceiling. Republicans have insisted that Democrats attach it to their budget, which can pass on party-line votes, but leadership, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, have called that option a “non-starter.”

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that without an increase before Oct. 18, the entire nation could default on its debt, risking economic collapse, social security benefits and jobs for millions of Americans.

Though the infrastructure package did not pass, the bipartisan bill is not necessarily doomed.

Leadership can bring it up for a vote again, a process already seen in the Senate, though it would likely face the same fate unless the Democratic Party’s feuding factions reach an agreement.

And such compromise, as eager as Democrats are to reach it, could be weeks or months away.

“We have a lot of good things we can do,” Manchin said Thursday. “I’m willing to sit down and work through $1.5 [trillion] and get at my priorities … I think there’s many ways to get to where [progressives] want to, just not everything at one time.”

Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee and the only senator in the progressive caucus, echoed Manchin hours later.

“You cannot, in my view, have an agreement with two o’clock in the morning that nobody has seen,” he told reporters, adding that he would be “okay” if continued for weeks or months.

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