Democrats Turn Back To Infrastructure, And Moderates Are Upset

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Michael Ginsberg Congressional Correspondent
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Democrats will resume negotiations on both the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and Build Back Better Act, following a two-week period in which Congress temporarily averted a government shutdown and began avoiding a Treasury default.

Although President Joe Biden sided with the left-wing Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) in calling for the House of Representatives to pass the IIJA and Build Back Better Act simultaneously, moderates may not cooperate.

Even as moderates and left-wing members stuck together to fund the federal government and raise the debt ceiling, the sides remain far apart on the size and scope of the Build Back Better Act, which will be passed through the budget reconciliation process. Furthermore, a wave of insults between members and protests by left-wing activist groups have left the two sides mistrustful of each other.

Democrats hold a three vote margin in the House, and public criticism of the reconciliation bill’s key provisions, as well as its legislative process, imperil their ability to pass it.

“The House should not hold the completed bill hostage while we continue working on other important legislation,” Democratic Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger wrote in a Sunday op-ed for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “Over the past week, Americans have witnessed stalling, grandstanding media appearances and political posturing that have done nothing to move [the IIJA] forward, and have instead conflated this standalone physical infrastructure bill with the proposed Build Back Better Act, a separate piece of legislation that still is being negotiated and written.”

“Good policy requires time and hard choices, and we should take the time to match the lofty rhetoric around these proposals with the durability of their construction,” Democratic Maine Rep. Jared Golden wrote Thursday in a similar op-ed for the Portland Press-Herald. “The bipartisan infrastructure bill has already gone through this process. I continue to support getting it to the president’s desk as soon as possible, and I won’t trade my vote for that bill for any reconciliation proposal.”

Spanberger and Golden are taking a similar position to Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who said on Oct. 2 that she “would never agree to any bargain that would hold one piece of legislation hostage to another.”

Sinema has been frequently targeted by both the Biden administration and left-wing activists for her perceived unwillingness to negotiate on the reconciliation package. Sinema has expressed concern about a drug pricing scheme that CPC members have said is necessary for their support. After she was followed into an Arizona State University bathroom by left-wing activists, CPC ally and Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders reportedly refused to sign onto a statement condemning their tactics, demanding that the statement include a condemnation of Sinema’s stance on the drug price controls. (RELATED: Activists Plan To ‘Birddog’ Reconciliation Holdout Kyrsten Sinema—While She’s Running The Boston Marathon)

During a Wednesday press conference, Sanders repeatedly bashed Sinema and Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin while accusing them of “sabotag[ing] what 48 want, what the president of the United States wants.”

“Is protecting working families and cutting childhood poverty an ‘entitlement?’” he asked.

Sanders also demanded that Manchin clarify whether or not he believes “that we face an existential threat regarding climate change.”

In an effort to sell the reconciliation package, Biden dispatched Vice President Kamala Harris, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, and House and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge to key swing districts on Oct. 6-8. Harris appeared in Montclair, New Jersey, while Cardona visited south Texas.

Recent data from the American Action Network (AAN) suggests that the Build Back Better Act is less popular in some of the swing districts that will decide control of the House of Representatives in the 2022 midterms. The AAN poll, conducted in late September, found the legislation holds more than 50% disapproval in Iowa’s 3rd District, Virginia’s 2nd District, and New Jersey’s 7th District.