House begins debate on infrastructure bill Monday, but unclear if it can pass amid deep Democratic divides

Sen. Tuberville on reconciliation package: Dems think it’s ‘play money’

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., on ongoing spending negotiations on Capitol Hill. 

House Democrats will officially begin debate on the bipartisan infrastructure bill Monday, taking a major step toward passing all of President Biden's economic agenda even as it remains uncertain whether any of it can pass.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sent a letter to fellow Democrats Sunday announcing the plan. She said Democrats aim to vote on the infrastructure bill Thursday. 

"Let me just say we're going to pass the bill this week," Pelosi said of the infrastructure bill on ABC's "This Week." "But you know I'm never bringing a bill to the floor that doesn't have the votes."

Pelosi's confident tone comes despite the fact she does not have the votes for the bill as of Monday morning. Progressives say they won't vote for the infrastructure bill until they have assurances that Democrats' massive reconciliation spending bill will pass. 

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gestures as she speaks at Goodwin University Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021, in East Hartford, Conn. Pelosi says she’s confident that (AP Photo/Jessica Hill) (AP Photo/Jessica Hill / AP Newsroom)

MODERATES AND PROGRESSIVES SOFTEN NEGOTIATING STANCES AS PELOSI PREDICTS MAJOR PROGRESS ON DEMS' AGENDA

The speaker's move to delay the infrastructure vote from Monday to Thursday could buy her time to strike a deal on reconciliation and get those votes. But progressives want something locked down even on the fine details, which could complicate things. 

"Everything should be agreed upon… exactly what's in there, the language needs to be worked out," Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday. "And everyone's gonna vote for it, and if Republicans offer amendments in a vote-a-rama that we're not gonna have Democratic senators suddenly vote with Republicans."

"The next few days will be a time of intensity," Pelosi said Saturday

But Sunday statements from Jayapal and her moderate foil, Problem Solvers Caucus Chairman Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., appeared to leave an opening for the kind of grand bargain Pelosi seeks after a week of Democrats digging into their stances. 

"The way these things work if you start debating it and it rolls over to Tuesday, I don't think – I think we're all reasonable people," Gottheimer said on CNN's "State of the Union." That was a significant departure from his previous demand that the House vote on infrastructure Monday, when Pelosi initially said she would bring up the bill in a deal with moderates last month. 

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. speaks during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. Jayapal is a key player in whether Congress will be able to pass all of Democrats’ economic agenda. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (AP Newsroom)

DEMS' RECONCILIATION BILL HAS $6B TRANSPORTATION ‘SLUSH FUND’ THAT GOP AIDE WARNS COULD FUND BACKDOOR EARMARKS

Jayapal's comment, meanwhile, was softer than progressives' demand that the reconciliation bill pass first before the infrastructure bill could advance. 

Progressives and moderates may no longer be taking antithetical stances on these bills. But they're still massively far apart on what exactly the reconciliation bill should look like and it will be an extremely difficult task to come to an agreement by Thursday. 

There are granular policy disagreements on everything from prescription drug prices to Medicaid expansion to state and local tax deductions to immigration and more. And there's the most fundamental disagreement between the two sides, which is about the topline price. 

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., will be the key votes on reconciliation in the Senate and they've made clear they won't support a bill at $3.5 trillion. They say they'd prefer something closer to $1.5 trillion. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, told FOX Business last week that he "wasn't in the room" when the $3.5 trillion reconciliation price tag was agreed upon, and therefore feels no obligation to vote for a bill at that level.

Jayapal said she's open to the possibility of making some cuts from the first draft of the bill, which was written to hit the $3.5 trillion number. But in an interview later Sunday on CBS, Jayapal challenged moderates to name which parts of the bill they think should be jettisoned. 

"Yeah, you know what we’ve said is we are happy to hear what it is that somebody wants to cut," she said on CBS. "The key thing is not the topline number, it's what is it that you actually want to fund… Do you want to cut the child care, do you want to cut paid leave, what is it you want to cut?"

A handful of Republicans are expected to vote for the infrastructure bill, but they are unlikely to outnumber the potentially dozens of progressives that have said they'll vote against it without a reconciliation deal. 

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This legislative fight is happening against the backdrop of two critical deadlines that Congress must address: A potential government shutdown on Thursday night and a potential U.S. default on its debt sometime in October. 

The Senate Monday will take a procedural vote on a House-passed bill to fund the government and avert a shutdown, while also suspending the debt ceiling. The bill will likely fail as Republicans have promised to filibuster any legislation to raise the debt ceiling. They say Democrats should raise it themselves because they are going it alone on their massive spending bills. 

After that vote fails, it's unclear what congressional leaders will do next. One option is to strip the debt ceiling provision from the government funding bill, which would pass the Senate with bipartisan support. But that still leaves the looming debt ceiling problem unaddressed. 

With Biden's economic agenda – and the state of the U.S. economy – on the line, this week will indeed be "a time of intensity."

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