Uh oh: Two key progressives say they're willing to pass bipartisan infrastructure bill before reconciliation is done

I can’t tell if this is a play for leverage by the lefties in the caucus or an earnest attempt at compromise.

Pelosi has promised a vote later this week on the bipartisan infrastructure bill backed by moderates to give the Senate more time to pass a reconciliation bill, but she knows there’s no way the other chamber will act that quickly. By postponing the vote on the bipartisan bill from today to Thursday, she’s just trying to buy time for congressional Democrats to come to some informal compromise about that bill.

And now here’s lefty Ro Khanna offering one. He and Jamaal Bowman are willing to vote for the bipartisan bill on Thursday before a reconciliation bill passes — a major concession, as until now progressives have demanded that the two bills pass the House together. But in return for passing the bipartisan bill, they want centrists to publicly commit to passing a reconciliation bill eventually. And they want specifics on what centrists will agree to. Khanna is asking for a “framework” that’s satisfactory to both wings of the party as his price for voting yes on Thursday.

If centrists take him up on that, Dems are on track to pass the bipartisan bill this week (maybe). The Senate might not be able to pass a reconciliation bill in the next three days but Democrats can certainly draw up an informal “framework” among themselves. Whereas if centrists reject his offer, Khanna and the progressives get to say that they’re the reasonable ones in the caucus who are trying to make a deal while the centrists are stubbornly risking the party’s infrastructure agenda by continuing to hold out.

Note Khanna’s emphasis that it’s his wing, not the centrists, that’s fighting for Biden’s agenda. Biden promised big bold spending during his presidential campaign, an obvious bid to win over wary Bernie Sanders voters. House leftists are now holding him to that, presenting the reconciliation mega-bill as the fulfillment of Biden’s pledges. If the centrists end up balking at it and the entire infrastructure package goes down, Khanna’s suggesting, then they’re the ones who stabbed Biden in the back, not the progressives.

Two questions now. Are the centrists willing to agree to a public framework with Khanna? And are other progressives willing to join the deal Khanna is offering? This statement from the centrists released earlier today made no mention of any compromise or “framework” with the left, merely reminding everyone that they expect a vote on the bipartisan bill on Thursday as promised:

The moderates may be gambling that if Pelosi puts the bill on the floor, progressives won’t have the guts to embarrass Biden by tanking it. Meanwhile, is House Progressive Caucus leader Pramila Jayapal okay with Khanna’s olive branch to the centrists? Didn’t sound like it from this quote earlier. She still wants to wait until the Senate has passed a reconciliation bill:

Something like 10-20 Republicans might be willing to vote for the bipartisan bill. If Khanna and Bowman get a public commitment on numbers from the centrists before Thursday on reconciliation, maybe they can bring enough progs with them that Pelosi can get the bill passed with Republican help. But Jayapal claims that 60 lefties or more are currently willing to tank the bipartisan bill if a reconciliation bill doesn’t pass the Senate before then. If that’s true, more than half would need to break that commitment and accept Khanna’s “framework” instead in order to give Pelosi a shot at passage.

I think Khanna’s offer to the moderates is more of a leverage play than a sincere proposal. According to Axios, some of the centrists have said privately that they won’t support a reconciliation bill with a $3.5 trillion price tag. I suspect some of them don’t want to support a reconciliation bill at all, fearing that voters in their district will revolt at any more spending at a moment when the public’s anxious about inflation. Khanna is trying to flush the moderates out with his demand for a “framework.” If they won’t commit publicly to support a reconciliation bill, whether big or small, then they should make that clear. Then progressives will tank the bipartisan bill and blame the total collapse of the Dems’ infrastructure agenda on the centrists for having refused to back the other track of what’s supposed to be a two-track process.

They’re going to need all the centrists to agree to any framework too, needless to say. There’s no point in House Dems getting together on a reconciliation plan if Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema aren’t onboard in the Senate:

Lefties have complained from the start of this process that Manchin and Sinema are forever saying “no” to things without ever getting specific about what they’ll say yes to. If they’re serious about passing a reconciliation package, now’s the time to show their cards. If they’re not serious about it and have simply been grasping at excuses to tank the bill, now’s the time for that to be made clear as well. Khanna’s trying to force them with his “framework” idea.

Meanwhile, you may be wondering: Where’s Joe Biden in all this? Is he twisting progressives’ arms to pass the bipartisan bill on Thursday, as that would hand him a major legislative victory at a moment when he desperately needs one? Uh, not really, according to Politico.

“I don’t understand why the president isn’t whipping his own historic bill,” said one moderate House Democrat…

[W]e’re told by sources in the progressive camp and another senior Democratic aide that the president has neither asked progressives to drop their demand that the reconciliation bill pass in tandem with BIF, nor pressed them to accept a stand-alone vote on BIF this week — at least not yet. This has infuriated moderates.

“The president needs to pick up the phone and call people,” the moderate source close to the talks told us. The person argued that the White House has been in “listening mode” for too long and needs to bang heads to get this vote over the finish line this week.

It’s not just moderates who are dismayed. “There are a lot of mistakes happening here,” the senior Democratic aide said Sunday night, acknowledging the lack of a game plan going into such a critical week. “There is no whip effort on the BIF yet. Everything is hanging by a thread. Biden needs to be more engaged.”

Sounds to me like Biden is on the progressives’ side here in wanting a reconciliation mega-bill and is declining to pressure them so that they have a freer hand to squeeze the centrists. And Khanna’s taking full advantage.

By the way, a new poll from Morning Consult today finds that 56 percent at least “somewhat support” the bipartisan infrastructure bill, including 52 percent of independents and 37 percent of Republicans. Fully 77 percent of Democrats support it. If the infrastructure agenda goes down because Democrats can’t get together, there’ll be a lot of political pain for the party. That’s Pelosi’s best leverage on getting to 218 if she moves forward with a vote on the bill on Thursday.