House passes $1.2T infrastructure bill, sending it to Biden's desk


House Democrats late Friday night clinched a long-sought victory on President Biden’s domestic agenda, passing a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill — while preparing to advance an even larger social spending package — after months of stubborn infighting that’s bedeviled the party and helped deflate Biden’s public standing.

The vote came after progressives caved on a key demand they’d maintained for months: their insistence that the climate and social spending package be passed on the same day as the more popular infrastructure proposal. 

On Friday they shed that stipulation, threw their weight behind the public works bill — which had already passed the Senate — and helped send it along to Biden’s desk. A procedural vote on the social spending bill was scheduled for late Friday instead.

The tally on the infrastructure bill was 228-206, with 13 Republicans crossing the aisle to support the measure, and six progressive Democrats bucking Biden and party leaders to register their opposition to a process that left the fate of the larger bill up in the air.    

To get the bill passed required a long day of tense negotiations, marathon meetings and general chaos that eroded only after the feuding factions — liberals and moderates — huddled in a late-night meeting to hash out a written agreement that broke the progressive blockade on the infrastructure bill. 

“The whole day was a clusterf---, right? But beyond that, you know … I thought everyone was working in a very congenial way,” one of the Congressional Progressive Caucus leaders, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), said after a fruitful closed-door meeting with moderate negotiators. 

“I mean, rank-and-file members figured out how to get shit done."

The result of those talks was a written commitment from five moderate Democrats — Reps. Josh Gottheimer (N.J.), Ed Case (Hawaii), Stephanie Murphy (Fla.), Kathleen Rice (N.Y.) and Kurt Schrader (Ore.) — to support the social spending package if the yet-to-be released cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is consistent with a White House analysis, no later than the week of Nov. 15. 

If the two tallies don’t mesh, the moderates said they "remain committed to working to resolve any discrepancies in order to pass the Build Back Better legislation." 

The Congressional Progressive Caucus leader, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), issued a statement in turn affirming that her members would back the two measures on Friday.

The relative dearth of Republicans backing the public works bill meant that Democratic leaders couldn’t rely on the other party to make up for significant defections among progressives. By contrast, 19 Republicans backed the measure in the Senate, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

Heading into the day, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democratic leaders had hoped to vote quickly not only on the infrastructure proposal, but also the Build Back Better Act. That plan hit a brick wall when a band of moderate Democrats raised concerns about deficit spending and balked at the idea of voting on the larger bill without a score from the CBO. 

A morning meeting between Pelosi, White House officials and the moderate holdouts yielded no breakthrough. The Speaker then tried a different tactic — devised by Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Black Caucus Chairwoman Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) — calling a vote on the infrastructure bill and the rule for the social spending package, and daring liberals to tank the roads-and-bridges bill.

The detente came after Biden himself called into an hours-long meeting of House progressives, desperately seeking a way to break the ugly, intraparty stalemate and urging rank-and-file lawmakers to deliver a win on the infrastructure bill Friday night. 

Biden was put on speakerphone so the dozens of progressives in the room could hear, sources said. One of the ideas discussed during the 15-minute call with Biden was the moderates’ statement, one that would also have Biden’s full-throated support.  

But the fate of the social spending package is still far from sealed. 

Numerous provisions currently in the House bill are likely to be stripped out or amended once it reaches the Senate. 

It’s not yet clear if provisions establishing temporary work permits and protection from deportation for certain immigrants will pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian, who determines whether the bill complies with arcane budget reconciliation rules that will enable Democrats to circumvent a GOP filibuster.

Before Friday’s fight over procedure and process, House Democratic leaders ironed out some final policy provisions late Thursday related to allowing Medicare to negotiate the price of certain prescription drugs and the state and local tax deduction. 

The House measure would raise the cap on the state and local tax deduction from $10,000 to $80,000, and to have that limit be in place at that level through 2030. But some senators have instead called for leaving the cap at $10,000 while exempting taxpayers with incomes under a level between $400,000 and $550,000.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a key centrist, has also expressed opposition to including paid family and medical leave in the social spending package.

Friday’s votes marked the most significant progress House Democrats have made in almost two months on the two bills, which they’ve been trying to advance since late September. 

Democratic leaders have repeatedly pushed for votes on the two measures, only to be forced to delay again and again due to stubborn internal divisions.

But Democrats became desperate to make progress this week after election results in Virginia and New Jersey on Tuesday night delivered flashing red warning signs for prospects in next year’s midterm elections. 

Democrats lost the Virginia governor’s race for the first time since 2009, while New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy only narrowly won reelection — both in states that Biden easily won a year ago.

“At a certain point, we have to trust one another,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

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