Biden told House Democrats 'we badly need a vote' on his infrastructure bill, but progressives stood firm

Biden told House Democrats 'we badly need a vote' on his infrastructure bill, but progressives stood firm
President Joe Biden. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
  • President Biden urged Democrats to vote on his two spending plans on Thursday, but the effort fell short.
  • Progressives have long demanded the plans be voted on together, but negotiations with Sens. Manchin and Sinema have delayed a vote.

For the second time in a month, differences within the Democratic party squandered an opportunity described by President Joe Biden as "once in a generation."

Biden visited the Capitol on Thursday to drum up support for his Build Back Better framework. The president urged lawmakers to meet in the middle after weeks of squabbling and approve his new $1.75 trillion social spending plan along with his $550 billion roads-and-bridges infrastructure proposal. With a critical election looming in Virginia and midterms roughly one year away, passing the packages is key to the party's political future, Biden said.

"We badly need a vote on both of these measures," Biden privately told House Democrats, a person familiar with his remarks told Insider. "I don't think it's hyperbole to say that the House and Senate majorities and my presidency will be determined by what happens in the next week."

The updated plan is a product of long negotiations between the party's most ideologically opposed members. Centrist Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema demanded Biden shrink the original $3.5 trillion price tag and pay for the entire package with new taxes. While it still includes an extension to the child tax credit and funds for clean-energy projects, paid leave and tuition-free community college were stripped out.

Meanwhile, progressives also maintain they won't vote for the infrastructure plan until it's packaged with the social-spending package. The demand isn't new. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in July that the two plans would be voted on together, appealing to progressives' requirements. Yet the lack of a bundled deal delayed a vote on the infrastructure package at the end of September.


That same hurdle kept Democrats from crossing the finish line on Thursday. With progressives still calling for a two-plan package, Pelosi canceled a vote on the infrastructure bill, all but guaranteeing Democrats won't pass the measure before their October 31 deadline.

For House progressives, the moment is too critical to let one measure pass without the other.

"There is too much at stake for working families and our communities to settle for something that can be later misunderstood, amended, or abandoned altogether," Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement. "That is why dozens of our members insist on keeping both bills linked and cannot vote only for one without until they can be voted on altogether."

Progressives also fear the two centrist senators could still tank the social-spending proposal. The latest version is far less ambitious than many progressives wanted and much closer to the price tags sought by Manchin and Sinema. Yet neither of the senators have formally supported the smaller framework. If either withholds their support, the $1.75 trillion package is doomed in the 50-50 split Senate.

"Everything those two do is alarming," Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota told Insider, referring to Manchin and Sinema's actions.


Moderate Democrats aren't happy either. The group has been pushing for the infrastructure measure to be approved sooner, as it boasts bipartisan support and, therefore, a much better chance of approval. Progressives' blocking of a vote has left centrist members of the party "frustrated right now," Rep. Jim Costa of California told Insider.

"There's a lack of trust and you got a lot of members that have been here four years or less and they don't seem to understand how you get things done," he added.