House Democrats Of All Stripes Are Mad At The Disruptive Centrists

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 03: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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August 24, 2021 1:49 p.m.

House Democrats from both sides of the political spectrum are finding it hard to contain their annoyance at their 10 colleagues threatening to topple President Joe Biden’s entire agenda — for no real reason. 

The centrist group claims that Americans can’t wait a moment longer for the hard infrastructure upgrades, and that the bipartisan bill shouldn’t be used as a “political football.” 

In reality, the intertwining of the bipartisan deal and reconciliation package is a strategy put forward in June by Democratic leadership and the President, meant to keep the entire Democratic caucus on board for both pieces of legislation. And as for the mad rush to pass the bipartisan bill, the money it allocates to infrastructure improvements can’t be spent until October 1 anyway. 

“I think a lot of members of our caucus are pretty bewildered, it’s kind of a last minute — it feels impulsive,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) told reporters. “And I don’t understand why we would have members of our caucus just try to derail the President’s agenda.”

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“The motivation behind this is, I think, quite cloudy,” she added.

For most Democrats and President Joe Biden, the hostage-taking by the centrists has enormous stakes. If the 2022 midterms go poorly for Democrats, the reconciliation package could be their last chance to meaningfully legislate for years. 

“The vast majority of the caucus understands that we have probably a once in a generation opportunity to pass transformational legislation, that we can do that and pass the the infrastructure bill and that there’s absolutely no reason not to at least take the first step toward reconciliation,” House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY) told reporters.

The centrists are endangering that plan by insisting that the bipartisan deal, which the Senate passed earlier this month, be passed through the House first. That would give them leeway to abandon the reconciliation bill, which will likely cost more than many of them would prefer.

The centrists are reportedly nearing a deal with House leadership where they’ll trade their votes for the budget resolution — the topline that governs the reconciliation package — for a guarantee that the House will pass the bipartisan bill by September 27. That leaves a very small window for the reconciliation package to be completed, if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) intends to stick to her guns about not bringing the bipartisan plan to the House floor until the Senate passes reconciliation. 

While some in the small group of centrists represent competitive districts, not all who are up for a difficult reelection battle are keen to share in the high-stakes game of political chicken. 

Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA), who represents a purple district outside of Philadelphia, told the Washington Post that the centrists’ strategy had become “stupid” and that it’s “time to fold.”  

Much of that anger bubbled over in a Monday night meeting, with one Democratic member calling the holdouts “fucking assholes,” per Politico.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), one of those holdouts, indicated to reporters Tuesday afternoon that the dealmaking is almost complete. 

“When the Rules come back, I think we’ll be fine,” he said, meaning that his group will likely support the “rule” — knitting together the budget resolution, a promise that the House “shall consider” the bipartisan bill on September 27 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — when it came back from the House Rules Committee. The committee dispatched the rule to the floor Tuesday afternoon, setting up a possible vote. 

“When we bring up the bill, we will have the votes,” Pelosi assured reporters earlier Tuesday.

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