This is even bigger news than Joe Manchin pulling his chin and musing aloud that *maybe* Dems would be better off dealing with infrastructure in 2022. That’s not an ultimatum. It smells like a simple leverage play aimed at getting progressives to bend to his demands on spending, knowing that a mega-spending bill would be even harder to pass in an election year than it is now.
What Sinema allegedly told Joe Biden is a true ultimatum. The word “allegedly” is important there because she hasn’t made this demand public, which would force her to stick to it. It’s possible that she simply wants to see how Pelosi would react to it when told, with the public none the wiser.
But someone has now shared the details with Politico. Hmmmm.
Remember that Pelosi is caught in a jam between the progressives in her caucus and the centrists. Progressives don’t want to pass the bipartisan roads-and-bridges infrastructure bill that’s already passed the Senate until the reconciliation social-welfare bill passes the Senate as well. They’re afraid — not unreasonably — that if they pass the bipartisan bill first, Manchin and Sinema will declare “mission accomplished” and walk away from the reconciliation mega-spending that lefties want. So House progs are holding the bipartisan bill hostage, insisting they won’t vote for it until the reconciliation bill makes it to the House. Dem centrists are nervous about the spending in the reconciliation bill, however, and want to make sure they at least get a legislative win by passing the bipartisan bill. So they made a counter-threat that they won’t vote for the reconciliation bill unless Pelosi holds a standalone vote on the bipartisan bill first. Catch-22.
Caught in the middle, Pelosi mollified the centrists by promising several weeks ago that they’d vote on the bipartisan bill next Monday, September 27. She hoped at the time that the reconciliation bill would be ready by then. But Manchin and Sinema have wrecked that wish, with Manchin first calling for a “pause” on reconciliation due to the bill’s mind-boggling price tag and Sinema more recently telling Biden she’s uncomfortable with the party’s proposals on prescription drug pricing. The Senate will never iron all of that out and get a bill passed in a week.
So now Pelosi’s stuck. If she holds a vote on the bipartisan bill next week as scheduled, it’s possible — even likely — that it’ll fail because progressives won’t vote for it without the reconciliation bill. But if she doesn’t hold a vote and pass the bill, Sinema has allegedly told Biden that reconciliation is dead.
The entire Democratic infrastructure program now hangs by a thread.
Sen. KYRSTEN SINEMA (D-Ariz.) delivered a tough message to President JOE BIDEN at a private meeting Wednesday, we’re told: If the House delays its scheduled Sept. 27 vote on the bipartisan infrastructure plan — or if the vote fails — she won’t be backing a reconciliation bill.
Sinema is not the only moderate taking this stand. Rep. KURT SCHRADER (D-Ore.) — one of approximately 10 moderate Democratic House members playing hardball with leadership — said he and several members of their group are on the same page. Some of the lawmakers have conveyed that message up the chain to leadership and the White House. A senior Democratic aide confirmed the warnings.
“If they delay the vote — or it goes down — then I think you can kiss reconciliation goodbye,” Schrader told Playbook. “Reconciliation would be dead.”
A chilling line for Biden and Pelosi from Politico: “Some moderates privately have decided that no infrastructure bill is better than one that’s paired with $3.5 trillion in spending.” Hoo boy.
Biden himself tried making the sale to Manchin last week on going big on reconciliation, only to have the senator tell him nope. He’s sticking to his guns. Sinema is too if Politico’s story is accurate. In fact, Axios reported a month ago that Manchin and Sinema had been quietly advising their centrist counterparts in the House Dem caucus to play hardball with Pelosi on getting a standalone vote on the bipartisan bill. Sinema’s now using her immense leverage as the 50th vote on reconciliation to twist Pelosi’s arm on their behalf.
Either the bipartisan bill passes next week or Biden’s domestic agenda collapses in a heap. If Sinema means what she says.
Which raises a fascinating strategic dilemma for the House GOP. If Pelosi puts the bipartisan bill on the floor, should they vote yes or no?
What would screw Democrats more? If Republicans vote no and send the bipartisan bill down to defeat, humiliating Biden? Or if Republicans vote yes and pass the bill, potentially igniting a Dem civil war between progressives and centrists? After all, if the bipartisan bill passes, Manchin and Sinema will have gotten what they wanted and would be free to dictate their terms on reconciliation or walk away completely. Progressives would be irate.
Bill Scher makes the case that Republicans would hurt Dems more by joining with Pelosi in this case to pass the bipartisan bill:
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.
Sinema’s alleged ultimatum to Pelosi complicates that reasoning. It’s possible that if the GOP helps tank the bipartisan bill that Sinema will cave completely to her own party and say, “Fine, we’ll pass both bills through reconciliation.” She doesn’t want the bipartisan bill to fail, after all. But if she caves after threatening Pelosi, her ultimatums will never again be taken seriously. She has to show that she means what she says. So if the GOP’s goal is to tank both bills, maybe they’re better off voting no next week and crossing their fingers that Sinema makes good on her threat.
But Scher is right that Manchin and Sinema would be grateful to Republicans for handing them a win on the bipartisan bill, which might make them more willing to prioritize GOP interests going forward. And because the two have driven a hard bargain with Dems thus far, the Republicans might conclude that they can be trusted to negotiate the cost of the reconciliation bill way, way down or to tank it altogether even if the bipartisan bill passes. Voting yes on the bill would also let the GOP take come credit for the improvements to roads-and-bridges infrastructure that’ll follow, which the country needs.
Of course, Biden would get a win too, a major drawback to this option. And Trump, for his own vain reasons, opposes the bipartisan bill adamantly since he was never able to close the deal on infrastructure during his own presidency. Any House Republican who helps Pelosi to pass it would risk earning a grudge from the party’s colossus.
Exit question: Pramila Jayapal, the leader of the Dems’ progressive caucus in the House, claimed this weekend that more than half of her 96 members are prepared to vote no on the bipartisan bill next week if reconciliation isn’t attached, which it won’t be. That means Pelosi would need north of 50 Republicans to get the bill through. Is there any way that happens realistically, especially with Trump jeering from the sidelines?