Speed Reads

'they wanted to say yes'

Ex-congressman predicts Democrats will unite to pass spending bills because 'it's popular' and failure would be 'very bad'

House Democrats showed a modicum of unity on Tuesday, passing a budget resolution enabling up to $3.5 trillion in domestic programs to pass with just Democratic votes. But the party-line 220-212 vote came after a tense 24-hour standoff between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and a group of 10 centrist Democrats, ending in a deal that ensures the House will vote on a bipartisan infrastructure deal already passed by the Senate, regardless of what happens with the larger package. 

Pelosi shrugged off the intra-party wrangling, telling her caucus, "That's just part of the legislative process," an aide tells The Associated Press. But the legislative process is just getting started, and the moderate and more progressive wings of the party have some big fights ahead over the price tag for the budget and which parts of the blueprint — paid family leave, free community college, child care, expanded Medicare benefits, green infrastructure — make it into the final legislation. With no votes to spare in the Senate and few in the House, either faction could sink the entire Democratic agenda. 

Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who chaired the House Financial Services Committee, says he doesn't think it will come to that. The moderates and progressives are both working to "increase their leverage," and "you don't practice unilateral disarmament if you want to get ahead in politics," Frank told Politico's Renuka Rayasam on Tuesday. Many of the 10 centrist holdouts didn't vote for Pelosi as speaker, which is "a bigger repudiation than differing over the strategy in legislation," he said, but "they wanted to say yes" and ultimately did.

When push comes to shove, "what we are going to see is the first major set of advances in the role of government that's going to be both effective and popular in a very long time," Frank predicted. "The biggest reason why this is going to go through is that it's popular with the majority. Public opinion counts more than people think, especially on big issues." On the flip side, "politically if this thing blows up, it's very bad for the Democrats," he said. "Looking incompetent is never good for a political party."