Moderate Dems' op-ed: Let's take the win on the infrastructure bill

Charles Dharapak

I seem to be getting a lot of mileage out of this post from last Monday where we looked at Speaker Pelosi’s balancing act between centrist members of her party who want to pass the infrastructure bill now and the House Progressive Caucus who want to hold it hostage for the $3.5 trillion “reconciliation” bill. Pelosi seemed to be angling away from the centrists from the beginning and she recently appeared to receive the endorsement of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee when they subtly threatened to withhold campaign funds from anyone not supporting the spending spree. So did the pressure campaign work?

It certainly doesn’t appear that way. The nine centrists in question published an op-ed in the Washington Post this week with a rather unsubtle headline. “Let’s take the win. Let’s do infrastructure first.” It was penned by House Democrats Carolyn Bourdeaux, Ed Case, Jim Costa, Henry Cuellar, Jared Golden, Vicente Gonzalez, Josh Gottheimer, Kurt Schrader and Filemon Vela. It’s mostly phrased politely enough from beginning to end and doesn’t mention any efforts to hold up their campaign funds. But it also employes some rather blunt wording that I’ve used here myself and it shows up right in the first couple of paragraphs.

Time kills deals. This is an old business saying and the essence of why we are pushing to get the bipartisan infrastructure bill through Congress and immediately to President Biden’s desk — as the president himself requested the day after it passed the Senate.

The challenge we face right now is that there is a standoff with some of our colleagues who have decided to hold the infrastructure bill hostage for months, or kill it altogether, if they don’t get what they want in the next bill — a largely undefined $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. While we have concerns about the level of spending and potential revenue raisers, we are open to immediate consideration of that package.

But we are firmly opposed to holding the president’s infrastructure legislation hostage to reconciliation, risking its passage and the bipartisan support behind it.

You’ll note that they use the word “hostage” twice in the first three paragraphs. They’re not calling anyone out by name or even identifying the House Progressive Caucus, but it’s obvious who is being discussed here.

A bit later in the piece, they provide yet another clear signal to the would-be hostage-takers about how not everyone is as secure in their reelection prospects as those in heavily blue districts. This is a subject that we covered here last week. All of the authors of the op-ed took or held their seats by slender margins in 2020 and the winners of their primaries are not assured another term like the members of “the squad” are. But even there they phrase it in terms of promises they made to their constituents, not threats.

When we ran in our districts, we promised our constituents that we would work across the aisle to solve their problems responsibly; that we would focus on bringing back jobs, building our economy, investing in infrastructure and tackling existential threats such as climate change. The bipartisan infrastructure bill delivers just that — thoughtful policy that will make historic investments in transit, rail, roads, bridges and tunnels — and water and wastewater. It will overhaul our electric grid and invest in broadband, electric vehicles and climate resilience. This bill represents a trillion-dollar investment for America’s physical infrastructure, and will create 2 million new jobs a year for the next decade.

There’s a lot packed into that one paragraph if you have any experience in congressional politicking. They speak of promising to “work across the aisle” and solving the voters’ problems “responsibly.” They also talk about bread and butter issues that voters everywhere relate to, such as potholes and sketchy bridges, a dicey power grid that causes blackouts, and broadband access

They don’t ignore all of the liberal wishlist items in the reconciliation bill. In fact, they express support for many of the concepts being featured in those spending items. But they also express misgivings about the amount of money and suggest it will need more work and the time to get it right. But the piece serves as a reminder that if they don’t get the infrastructure bill to Biden’s desk now, it may never arrive. They blame this on the fact that “time kills deals,” but it’s not hard to read their own threat into that part of it. All nine of them said from the beginning that support for the infrastructure bill (potentially including their own along with all the Republicans who agreed to sign off on it) could crumble if it was lashed to the reconciliation scheme.

If Nancy Pelosi and the DCCC thought that their recent series of threats and insinuations were going to push them over the line, this op-ed was clearly written with that specific audience in mind. This fight isn’t over and the Democrats could still come away with nothing when they could have easily put the infrastructure package in the bag.