WASHINGTON — Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday muscled through a $3.5 trillion budget framework, overcoming a standoff with a handful of centrists who had demanded the House first approve the bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed by the Senate.
That position by 10 House Democrats — including Reps. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia, Jared Golden of Maine, and Stephanie Murphy of Florida — prompted a late-night negotiating session Monday between the centrists and top House Democrats.
The move risked upending the president’s domestic policy agenda, due to the razor-thin majority that Democrats have in the chamber.
Ultimately, all 10 voted to approve the budget framework in Tuesday’s party-line 220-212 vote, in which every House Republican voted in opposition.
The procedural vote included a commitment that the House will vote on the Senate-approved infrastructure bill by Sept. 27 — just days ahead of the Oct. 1 deadline that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had set for approving both the infrastructure bill and the budget package.
Pelosi said during her floor remarks Tuesday that she “salutes” the bipartisan nature of the infrastructure deal, but said that measure alone is “not inclusive of all of the values we need to build back at a time when we have a climate crisis.”
“Not only are we building the physical infrastructure of America, we are building the human infrastructure of America to enable many more people to participate in the success of our economy and the growth of our society,” Pelosi said.
Tuesday’s budget vote kicks off a fast-paced process that must be completed by Sept. 15 to draft the budget measure, which is expected to create and expand a broad range of domestic policy programs on child care, climate change, community college, immigration and health care.
Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse, who led the floor debate for Democrats, said domestic policy proposals that will be drafted in the budget reconciliation process would be “transformational” through a series of critical policy investments.
“This plan will create good paying jobs, put money in the pockets of American families, lower health care and childcare costs, and invest in our nation’s infrastructure, paid for by ensuring that the wealthiest Americans are paying their fair share in taxes,” Neguse said.
Republicans vehemently opposed the budget resolution, blasting it as recklessly increasing government spending at a time when inflation is increasing costs for American families. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) quipped that the bill should be dubbed the “Mountains of Debt for Our Children Act.”
“Democrats know their proposals are unpopular. They can’t even get their own conference to agree,” said Rep. Michelle Fischbach (R-Minn.), referring to the objections from the handful of centrist Democrats.
That group of 10 centrist Democrats also included Filemon Vela, Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez of Texas; Ed Case of Hawaii; Jim Costa of California; and Kurt Schrader of Oregon.
Murphy, of Florida, was not among the initial nine pushing for an infrastructure vote before the budget debate. Instead, she added her name on Monday, writing in an op-ed published in the Orlando Sentinel that linking the two efforts would result in much-needed money for road and bridge projects sitting “stagnant” while Democrats attempt to untangle the most controversial parts of the domestic policy package.
“I’m bewildered by my party’s misguided strategy to make passage of the popular, already-written, bipartisan infrastructure bill contingent upon passage of the contentious, yet-to-be-written, partisan reconciliation bill,” Murphy wrote in the op-ed. “It’s bad policy and, yes, bad politics.”
Murphy’s office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
In a statement after the vote, Gottheimer and eight Democrats who had threatened to withhold their support touted the approach that cleared the House as one that guarantees an infrastructure vote next month that is separate from the domestic budget reconciliation package.
“This is a big win for America and will help get people to work and shovels in the ground,” they said in the statement. “We have established a path forward that ensures we can pass this once-in-a-century infrastructure investment by September 27th, allowing us to create millions of jobs and bring our nation into the 21st century.”
While the centrists framed the outcome as a win, the strategy came with political risks, and some of those involved already have seen blowback from supporters of the domestic policy package that they endangered.
Bourdeaux, who narrowly flipped a congressional district in the northern Atlanta suburbs last year, has faced increased pressure back home since joining the moderate call for an infrastructure vote before the budget vote.
Progressive advocacy groups — as well as one of Bourdeaux’s former Democratic rivals — have publicly challenged the first-term congresswoman’s position and called on her to devote the same energy to the Democratic social spending plan.
“The families we represent literally cannot afford for you to block or pare back these critical priorities,” more than two dozen Georgia-based advocacy groups, such as 9to5 and Georgians for a Healthy Future, wrote in a letter to Bourdeaux.
The coalition said the funding in the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill only represented “a fraction of what our communities need” and argued the sweeping Democratic budget bill would be a “game changer.”
Democratic leaders in the House also will be watching those centrists closely.
Pelosi said in a statement after the vote that she thanks Gottheimer and the others “for their enthusiastic support for the infrastructure bill and know that they also share in the Build Back Better vision of President Biden.”
Georgia Recorder Deputy Editor Jill Nolin contributed to this report.