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Buoyed by Biden, progressives optimistic after forcing delay on infrastructure vote

The president's agenda has stalled in Congress as moderates and progressives clash over the size of a separate social safety proposal.
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WASHINGTON — Progressive members of Congress insisted Sunday that two key parts of President Joe Biden's legislative agenda would advance in tandem as negotiations with the moderate wing of the Democratic Party continue.

House progressives stood firm Friday in refusing to advance the Senate-passed $550 billion infrastructure bill without movement on a separate measure to strengthen the social safety net and after Biden appeared to conclude that slim Democratic majorities in both chambers had intertwined their fates.

"Oh, we're going to get it all done," Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said on MSNBC's "The Sunday Show with Jonathan Capehart."

She added: "Every single member of my caucus has said we're going to vote for that bill as long as we get the reconciliation bill that has the rest of the very important priorities that the president laid out."

Jayapal had promised that more than half of her group's 95 members would vote against the infrastructure bill if it came up before the safety net bill, the size of which has been the subject of intense disagreement between the Democratic Party's factions. Moderates have pushed for a pared-down version, while progressives insist that the plan's $3.5 trillion price tag would boost an economy upended by the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite weeks of haggling and a last-minute visit by Biden to the Capitol to try to soothe tensions, Democratic leaders delayed the infrastructure vote Friday after it became clear that it wouldn't pass. Moderates were unhappy that an agreement couldn't come together.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who along with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has objected to a $3.5 trillion measure, blasted House Democrats for their "failure" to vote on the bipartisan infrastructure plan, an effort she led in the Senate.

"Arizonans, and all everyday Americans, expect their lawmakers to consider legislation on the merits — rather than obstruct new jobs and critical infrastructure investments for no substantive reason," Sinema said in a statement Saturday. "What Americans have seen instead is an ineffective stunt to gain leverage over a separate proposal."

Both measures, which have the support of Democrats, remain likely to pass in some form. But the size of the safety net bill, which Democrats are trying to pass on a party-line basis, remains a sticking point. Biden told Democratic lawmakers at the meeting Friday that negotiations have already lowered the topline price tag to $1.9 trillion to $2.3 trillion, according to multiple sources who attended the meeting.

Biden told reporters Saturday that "there is no reason why both these bills couldn't pass independently except that there are not the votes to do it that way."

"It's a simple proposition. And so I think it makes sense I support both of them, and I think we can get them both done," he said.

Progressive Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., said on "Fox News Sunday" that he is confident that Biden will be able to negotiate a compromise that would allow both measures to succeed.

"What I have said consistently, what most progressives have said, is that we want to do what the president wants," Khanna said. "And I think the House moderates thought, 'Joe Biden is a moderate; he agrees with us.' Actually, this time he didn't. He agreed that we want both bills."

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Budget Committee, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the measures need to stay linked and that the timeline doesn't matter.

"There is a strong feeling on the part of many of us that if you just pass the infrastructure bill — which is a good bill; I voted for it — then we will not get to the bill that working families really want, that finally demands that the wealthiest people of this country start paying their fair share of taxes," he said.

Sanders, like Jayapal, struck an optimistic tone about the talks with moderates.

"Our job right now is to rally the American people to continue the negotiations, and I think at the end of the day we're going to pass both pieces of legislation," he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meanwhile, has set a new deadline of Oct. 31 to pass the infrastructure bill.

The House is in a committee work period for the next two weeks, and members have been advised that they will be given 72 hours' notice if they need to return to Washington for significant legislation.