The most liberal Democrats in the House have a message for President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi concerning their bipartisan infrastructure package: "It will fail."
"We had an agreement that we were going to get these two pieces," Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky said after a closed-door meeting with fellow Democrats, telling reporters infrastructure was a goner without the companion reconciliation bill. "No infrastructure bill should pass without a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill," concurred Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent socialist Democrats tapped to lead the Senate Budget Committee.
More than half the 95-member House Progressive Caucus have said they will not vote for the infrastructure bill without the bigger, Democrats-only reconciliation measure. That would put Pelosi in the position of having to pull the bill or pass it with the help of Republicans. And while 19 GOP senators voted for the infrastructure package, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is poised to whip votes against it.
McCarthy's predecessors as top Republican in the House know something about Pelosi's predicament. Dating back at least to the reign of former House Speaker John Boehner, GOP leaders have often found themselves at the mercy of their party's most ideological wing. From the Republican Study Committee to the Freedom Caucus, the conservative faction has withheld its support from leadership priorities. Some of these revolts date back even further, such as when ambitious conservatives opposed President George H.W. Bush's pledge-breaking tax increase in 1990.
Such rebellions sometimes tanked leadership-backed legislation. Other times, they forced it to pass with Democratic votes. The progressives, who have usually relented in the past on bills of this magnitude, stand ready to defy the White House and Democratic leaders as Biden loyalists give every indication of wanting to cut a deal with the moderates in the Senate on the reconciliation price tag.
Like the Tea Party before them, the progressives dare the party establishment to pass its agenda without their votes, confident that they, not the 78-year-old Biden, represent the future. But will that leave any points on the board for the Democrats' razor-thin majorities before next year's midterm elections? The Democrats' big-government wing is taking a page from the Freedom Caucus playbook. Time will tell if it pays off.