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Why complaints from centrist and conservative Dems ring hollow

Pelosi delayed the Senate's infrastructure bill because it didn't have the votes. The complaints from centrists and conservatives ring hollow for a reason.


It was nearly 15 weeks ago when President Joe Biden reached an agreement with centrist and conservative senators on a bipartisan infrastructure framework. But even at the time, the White House's broader legislative strategy was not a secret.

After striking the deal in June, Biden told reporters in no uncertain terms that this bill was only part of a two-bill package. "If this is the only thing that comes to me, I'm not signing it," the president said. "It's in tandem."

More than three months later, Democratic leaders tried to strike a compromise last week on the companion measure that would clear the way for the Senate bill to advance. Centrist and conservative Democrats weren't quite ready to finalize an agreement, so the bipartisan measure was delayed. In fact, Biden traveled to Capitol Hill on Friday afternoon to endorse the legislative strategy and express optimism that the plan would come together.

Some of the less progressive members of the Democratic conference were displeased in unexpected ways.

One frustrated Democratic lawmaker told Politico, for example, "The fact that the president came to the Hill and whipped against his own bill is the strangest thing I've ever seen." It was a quote that was sure to be published, but it wasn't correct: Biden endorsed the exact same plan he touted nearly 15 weeks ago, with the goal of getting both bills. Passing the Senate bill first puts the reconciliation bill in jeopardy, so the president urged House members to stick to the blueprint that will deliver both.

And yet, the complaining continued. Politico also reported:

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema skewered Democratic leadership on Saturday for delaying a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package, calling the decision "inexcusable" and "deeply disappointing." ... "What Americans have seen instead is an ineffective stunt to gain leverage over a separate proposal," Sinema said.

There's nothing "inexcusable" about any of this: The Senate bill didn't have the votes because Sinema and a handful of her colleagues didn't reach an agreement on the more ambitious legislation. If she didn't want a delay, the Arizonan could've stuck around, struck a deal, and secured the votes needed to pass the bill she supports.

As for trying to "gain leverage," this is an ironic line of criticism: Centrist and conservative Democrats are trying to get the upper hand by passing the Senate bill, at which point they'd be in a position to derail the reconciliation package.

In the other chamber, meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey went even further, suggesting in a written statement that he'd been betrayed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

"It's deeply regrettable that Speaker Pelosi breached her firm, public commitment to Members of Congress and the American people to hold a vote and to pass the once-in-a-century bipartisan infrastructure bill on or before September 27.... We cannot let this small faction on the far left — who employ Freedom Caucus tactics, as described by the New York Times today — destroy the President's agenda...."

First, Pelosi couldn't pass the Senate's infrastructure bill because it didn't have the votes. If Gottheimer finds that disappointing, he should blame the centrist and conservative Democrats who wouldn't reach a compromise agreement.

Second, Pelosi still wants to pass the Senate bill, but simply delayed the floor vote. If Gottheimer's worried about its future, I have good news for him: The bill remains very much alive.

Third, comparing the House Progressive Caucus to the House Freedom Caucus is deeply foolish.

Fourth, Gottheimer may want to dismiss the House Progressive Caucus as a "small faction," but the caucus has 95 members. Gottheimer, on the other hand, is part of a group of 10 — and while the New Jersey congressman reportedly tried to get his allies to sign onto his statement criticizing Pelosi, it's notable that they declined.

And finally, the Senate's infrastructure bill does not represent the totality of "the president's agenda." If anything, the reconciliation bill constitutes the bulk of the White House's domestic plans, which is why the president has spent months calling for them to be passed "in tandem."

If Gottheimer has any doubts about this, I'd refer him to Biden's remarks from June — or from his Friday visit to Capitol Hill.

I'm mindful of the bigger picture: Gottheimer held up his party's budget resolution in August as part of a larger power play. He apparently thought he could manufacture an arbitrary deadline — Sept. 27 — advance the modest Senate bill, and strip his progressive colleagues of their leverage on the reconciliation bill.

That plan was flawed; it clearly didn't work; and so now Gottheimer is complaining. If he expects others to take these complaints seriously, he may be disappointed.