Washington — Democratic lawmakers are facing a critical week on Capitol Hill as they seek to navigate internal divisions that could endanger President Biden’s domestic policy agenda, all while staring down a fast-approaching deadline to avoid a lapse in government funding before the month’s end.
In a letter to her Democratic colleagues on Saturday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi laid the groundwork for the consequential week in Congress, writing that “the next few days will be a time of intensity” as Democrats seek to usher through a short-term funding bill to avert a partial government shutdown in the Senate, as well as two key pillars of Mr. Biden’s economic agenda in the House: the sweeping $3.5 trillion social spending package and a more narrow $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.
The House is set to convene Monday and take up the infrastructure measure, with Pelosi hoping to follow through on ato moderate Democrats last month that the lower chamber would consider the infrastructure bill by September 27. The bipartisan plan, which aims to revitalize the nation’s roads, bridges, ports and rails, has already passed the Senate.
But disagreements between the moderate and progressive wings of the Democratic caucus, which have been festering for weeks, threaten to derail both legislative efforts, leaving Mr. Biden’s economic agenda on shaky ground as his administration navigates multiple crises.
“Overwhelmingly, the entirety of our caucus, except for a few whose judgment I respect, support the vision of Joe Biden,” Pelosi said in an interview with ABC’s “This Week” of the challenges facing the Democrat-led Congress. “And we will make progress on it this week.”
Pelosi told ABC she believes the House will pass the infrastructure bill “this week,” but also conceded that she would never bring “a bill to the floor that doesn’t have the votes.”
House Republican leaders are pushing their members to oppose the infrastructure package, even though it cleared the Senate with bipartisan backing, further underscoring the need for Democrats to remain united if they want to send the legislation to Mr. Biden’s desk.
While the California Democrat promised moderate Democrats the House would begin consideration of the bipartisan infrastructure bill by Monday, progressives have balked at the timing, arguing they want Congress to pass the $3.5 trillion package first.
That proposal includes Democrats’ plans for free community college, universal pre-K, an expansion of Medicare and combating climate change, and would be paid for through tax increases on corporations and the wealthiest Americans.
But two key moderate Democrats, Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, object to the $3.5 trillion price tag and want to see the package trimmed. Opposition from either of the two senators would tank the plan in the Senate, and even Pelosi acknowledged Sunday that it’s “self-evident” the measure will be scaled down.
Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said she and her fellow progressives would be “happy to hear” what should be cut from the package, but have yet to receive suggestions from the Senate.
“If somebody wants less than $3.5 trillion, tell us what you want to cut,” she said in an interview with “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “Do you want to cut the childcare? Do you want to cut paid leave? What is it you want to cut? And then let’s figure it out from there.”
Jayapal said Democrats should be “universal” in the programs included in the $3.5 trillion package, which would ensure assistance gets to those who need it.
“If you have a 25-page document that somebody has to go through to figure out whether or not they qualified, the most vulnerable are not going to get the assistance they need,” she said.
The House has continued to make progress on the sweeping social spending plan, with the House Budget Committee advancing the package on Saturday. But the legislation is far from final, as Pelosi has said it must be able to clear both chambers of Congress and comply with the rules governing the process Democrats are using to pass the bill without Republican support in the Senate.
Even Mr. Biden acknowledged the “stalemate” between Democrats at the White House on Friday, and suggested the legislative back-and-forth could take time.
“I think this is a process. That’s why I said at the front end that, although we got off to a very fast start with the first piece of legislation, I don’t expect this to be done and us being in a position where we can look back and say, ‘OK, did we get it done?’ until basically the end of the year,” he said, adding “it’s just going to take some time.”