Nancy Pelosi announces that she's caving to conservative Democrats' demands

Nancy Pelosi announces that she's caving to conservative Democrats' demands
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi // CBS
Frontpage news and politics

On Monday night, multiple outlets reported that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her caucus that she is giving in to the demands of conservative Democrats in the ongoing negotiations over two separate spending bills.

Throughout the months-long negotiation process, it has been the position of President Joe Biden, Pelosi, and progressive Democrats in Congress that the two bills could only be passed together, not one at a time. This was crucial because while a limited but pivotal number of more conservative Democrats in Congress are passionate about passing the smaller, bipartisan bill focused on funding the nation's physical infrastructure, progressives are more committed to passing the larger package focused on climate policy and social spending programs. By tying the two packages together, all sides of the caucus could be satisfied, and Biden could make significant progress in carrying out his agenda.

But those plans have come crashing down. After the Senate passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill this summer, some conservative Democratic lawmakers started demanding that the House pass the legislation and the president sign it into law as soon as possible. But members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, said they would vote down the bipartisan bill if it came before the House alone. They fear that if the bipartisan bill becomes law first, the conservative Democrats will have little incentive to work on the larger package, known as the reconciliation bill. Democratic lawmakers like Arizona's Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia's Joe Manchin will be able to dramatically curtail the reconciliation bill's provisions and undermine its goals or even block it altogether, and the progressives will have no way to force their hand.

On Monday, though, as CNN's Manu Raju reported, Pelosi told her members that they will be moving forward to a vote on the bipartisan bill on Thursday without the reconciliation bill.

Pelosi's explanation makes no sense — it's just a way for her to save face while caving. The whole point of passing the bills together was to keep everyone on board and united. But the conservative Democrats have undermined that plan by making demands that the reconciliation bill be scaled back and that the infrastructure bill be passed immediately — which is exactly what the progressives feared all along.

It's possible Pelosi thinks this is her best bet. Manchin, Sinema, and their allies may be so furious if the infrastructure bill doesn't pass first that they'll tank both bills. But if that's the case, it's not clear why Pelosi made the two-track plan in the first place. By caving on it now, she just exposes the weakness of her own position.

And it may end up costing all of them. Jayapal has said repeatedly that she had enough votes to block the infrastructure bill if it's brought to the floor before the reconciliation package. It's possible she's misguided or bluffing, but if not, a failed vote would be a humiliating loss for Pelosi on the House floor and a major obstacle for the Democrats' legislative agenda.

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