The Democratic-controlled US Congress struggled on Friday to advance President Joe Biden's agenda, with House progressives vowing to block a $1 trillion infrastructure bill without a deal on a larger social spending and climate change bill.
With a narrow majority in the House of Representatives, Biden's party can ill afford to lose too many votes to pass the bill, approved in a bipartisan August Senate vote, that invests in roads, airports and other infrastructure.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the chamber would vote on the bill on Friday, though she had made the same declaration the day before and the House left shortly before midnight without doing so.
Ahead of a meeting of the party to seek an agreement, Representative Pramila Jayapal, the influential chair of the 95-member House Progressive Caucus said the smaller bill could not pass without agreement on the larger, multi-trillion-dollar one.
"I kept telling her that we didn't have the votes and I knew she knew that," Jayapal said of Pelosi. "I don't think she underestimated us, I think she was trying to do as much as she could to get this done, which I greatly appreciate."
Progressives are angry that two Senate moderates - Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema - oppose the sweeping $3.5 trillion plan to boost social spending and fight climate change, Biden's "Build Back Better" agenda. The Senate is split 50-50 with Republicans, all of whom oppose the multi-trillion-dollar bill, so every Democratic vote is needed for passage with Vice President Kamala Harris the tiebreaker.
"We'll vote today," Pelosi told reporters as she left the US Capitol shortly after midnight. She had promised moderates a vote this week.
Democratic Representative Tom Malinowski, a moderate, told Reuters he wanted to see a vote.
"We have to land both of these bills. And my constituents don’t care about the sequencing. They don’t care about the timing. They don’t care about our egos. They don’t care about how anybody’s feelings may be hurt around here," Malinowski said. "All they care about is that we pass these things."
Republicans are unlikely to help, eager to deny Biden a policy victory ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, when history favors their chances to recapture majorities.
Faced with increasingly stiff odds of passing their $3.5 trillion social spending proposal, Biden and his aides are trying to find out what narrower proposal could unite an ideologically fractured Democratic caucus of lawmakers, according to people familiar with the matter.
Manchin has proposed a spending package of about $1.5 trillion. Sinema on Thursday declined to say whether she agreed with Manchin's proposal. She has met with Biden multiple times to discuss the bill.
Congress, which averted a politically damaging government shutdown on Thursday, has little time to focus on the infrastructure fight due to another fast-approaching deadline: The debt ceiling.
A historic US debt default could occur around Oct. 18, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has estimated, if Congress fails to give the government additional borrowing authority beyond the current statutory limit of $28.4 trillion.
Republicans want no part of the debt limit increase, saying it is Democrats' problem since they control Congress and the White House. Democrats note that about $5 trillion of the nation's debt is the result of tax cuts and spending passed during Republican Donald Trump's presidency.
The House approved a bill late on Wednesday suspending the debt limit through December 2022. The Senate could vote on it "as early as next week," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, but Republicans are expected to block it again as they have twice before.