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Pelosi and progressives headed for clash over bipartisan infrastructure bill

Biden agenda faces critical votes in Congress
Biden agenda faces critical votes in Congress... 14:40

Washington — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and progressive lawmakers in the House are headed for a face-off with a vote this week on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, as the California Democrat de-linked the narrow measure from the much broader $3.5 trillion social spending package amid party divisions over its price tag.

While Pelosi initially planned to move the two proposals through Congress simultaneously as part of a dual-track strategy endorsed by Democratic leaders and President Biden, the speaker told members of her caucus during a meeting Monday the approach has to change, two sources familiar with the comments told CBS News.

Pelosi said while the House was initially on schedule to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill after the larger package cleared the Senate, the landscape changed 10 days ago when she learned the $3.5 trillion topline figure had to come down, the sources said.

The shift in strategy — to move ahead with the bipartisan infrastructure bill on its own — tees up a showdown between Democratic leaders and progressive lawmakers, who have threatened to tank the infrastructure plan unless the social spending package is passed first.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus, led by Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington, said Tuesday that its position on the infrastructure bill and the broader plan "remains unchanged."

"Progressives will vote for both bills, but a majority of our members will only vote for the infrastructure bill after the president's visionary Build Back Better Act passes," Jayapal said in a statement after a meeting of the 96-member group.

The Washington Democrat told reporters following Monday's meeting that Democrats would fall short of the votes needed to pass the bipartisan bill if either the $3.5 trillion plan failed to pass the Senate first or if a framework on the package couldn't be agreed to.

"Until that happens, there aren't the votes for the infrastructure bill," she said. "So we're all working very hard to make sure we get that reconciliation piece done, pre-conferenced, agreed to, and then we will happily vote for both bills."

As progressives continued to remain firm in their position on the sequencing of the two bills, they received encouragement from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who urged his House colleagues "to vote against the bipartisan infrastructure bill until Congress passes a strong reconciliation bill."

"Let's be crystal clear. If the bipartisan infrastructure bill is passed on its own on Thursday, this will be in violation of an agreement that was reached within the Democratic Caucus in Congress," Sanders, an independent who votes with the Democrats and chairs the Senate Budget Committee, said in a series of tweets. "More importantly, it will end all leverage that we have to pass a major reconciliation bill."

The House is slated to vote Thursday on the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, which aims to provide the biggest investment in the nation's roads, bridges, railways and ports in decades. While former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump vowed to revitalize the country's physical infrastructure, neither were successful, and passage of Mr. Biden's proposal would notch him a crucial victory for his domestic policy agenda.

The Senate approved the infrastructure measure in a bipartisan vote last month, and Pelosi pledged to moderate Democrats the House would take up the legislation by September 27 after they threatened to derail the budget framework that cleared the path for Congress to begin work on the wide-ranging $3.5 trillion package. The sweeping measure encompasses Democrats' plans for universal pre-K, child and elder care, free community college and to combat climate change.

But the details of that package are still being worked out, and two key moderate Democrats in the Senate, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have for weeks expressed their opposition to the $3.5 trillion price tag.

Pelosi told her House Democratic colleagues Monday that Mr. Biden is working on the topline number that would satisfy Manchin and Sinema and noted Congress can't move forward with the larger plan without that figure, the sources said. She also reiterated the need for Democrats in the House and Senate to agree on the package in order for it to pass both chambers.

Despite the fissures within the party, Pelosi expressed confidence to reporters Tuesday following a meeting with House Democrats that Congress "will pass both bills." 

The president is set to huddle with Manchin and Sinema separately at the White House on Tuesday, a source familiar with the plans confirmed to CBS News. He also spoke with Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday to discuss the path forward for the infrastructure plan and $3.5 trillion package, according to the White House.

Sara Cook contributed to this report.

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