Exclusive Drew Clark Column: When Will the House Act on Infrastructure?

Party squabbles to delay infrastructure spending in the House.

Exclusive Drew Clark Column: When Will the House Act on Infrastructure?
Photo of FCC Commissioner Anna Gomez at Thursday's event

WASHINGTON, August 20, 2021 – Investments in infrastructure appear to be universally popular on Capitol Hill. But the $1.2 trillion in federal spending that passed the Senate last week – $65 billion for broadband – is about to get holed up in intra-party squabbling.

Moderate and progressive Democrats are about to go after each other over whether to spend $1.2 trillion, or $1.2 trillion plus an additional estimated $3.5 trillion.

After the Senate passed the infrastructure bill on an overwhelming 69-30 vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared to be jumping on the bipartisan bandwagon. She called the House back from their vacations (in Capitol Hill parlance, it’s called a “district work period”) and into a special legislative session on Monday, August 23 and Tuesday, August 24.

But here’s the truth: Pelosi’s gambit is designed precisely to delay a vote on infrastructure until after a more-than-a-month’s process to add in nearly three times again the amount of government spending on priorities that are decidedly not bipartisan.

A silver lining of this delay: House representatives have potentially more time and more opportunity to recalibrate less attractive portions of the broadband measure.

What’s likely to happen on Monday

Soon after the Senate passed on broadband infrastructure legislation on Tuesday, August 10, in the early morning hours of Wednesday, August 11, the Senate passed a separate measure to advance Democratic-favored priorities addressing health care, child care, family leave, public education and climate change.

This measure – a budget resolution – doesn’t fund this $3.5 trillion in spending directly. Instead, it merely starts the process for the committees in both the Senate and the House to flesh out exactly how they would spend an additional $3.5 trillion.

And unlike the overwhelmingly bipartisan support for infrastructure spending, the budget resolution passed by a razor-sharp and completely partisan margin: 50-49.

But, siding with progressives who don’t want to give up leverage to pass the Democratic wish-list, Pelosi plans to hold infrastructure spending hostage until two other measures pass first: The John Lewis Voting Rights Act, H.R. 4, and the House’s assent to the budget resolution.

Should the House agree to pass their chamber’s companion budget resolution, that will kick off a process of “budget reconciliation.” That means that Congress can pass legislative priorities by a simple majority of both the House and the Senate. Otherwise, spending priorities and programs would be blocked by Senate procedures that require at least 60 senators to agree before a bill can become a law.

On Sunday, Pelosi said she had “requested that the Rules Committee explore the possibility of a rule that advances both the budget resolution and the bipartisan infrastructure package. This will put us on a path to advance the infrastructure bill and the reconciliation bill.”

But it’s hard to see how such a rule could “advance” an infrastructure measure when Pelosi has repeatedly stated that will not allow a vote on infrastructure until the House and Senate committee leaders go through a weeks-or-months-long process of “reconciliation” to spend $3.5 trillion. And that is $3.5 trillion that hasn’t even been written on paper, let alone authorized by either chamber!

Moderates are opposed to a delay on funding infrastructure

Nine moderate Democrats are determinedly opposed to Pelosi’s go-it-slow maneuver. They want a vote on the infrastructure measures – now.

“When you’ve got a bill that will create two million jobs a year, with the support of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and the Chamber of Commerce, all coming together with Democrats and Republicans and, by the way, the president, why would we not bring this to a vote and get it done immediately?” Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., told The New York Times. “Of course we will be pushing hard.”

Gottheimer, a former official at the Federal Communications Commission under then-Chairman Julius Genachowski, and a former Microsoft official, is a prior speaker at the Broadband Breakfast Club.

Because the House is also closely divided between Republicans and Democrats, Pelosi can only afford to lose three of her members or she will fail to secure majority support for the Democratic-supported rule.

And on Friday, the nine moderates – in addition to Gottheimer, they include Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia, Jared Golden of Maine, Ed Case of Hawaii, Jim Costa of California, Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Texans Filemon Vela, Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez — said that if House leadership doesn’t schedule a vote on the infrastructure bill, they will block the budget resolution.

Can Pelosi thread the needle and keep control of the Democrats?

This week, Pelosi supporters leading House committees are asking what’s behind the rush to pass infrastructure funding. In a Washington Post Live discussion on Wednesday, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio said of the infrastructure bill:

  • But if we were to pass this bill as is, I don’t know that we would even see a reconciliation bill come out of the Senate. I think that we have to hold them both. You know, they’re saying, “Why are you in such a hurry for the infrastructure bill? It doesn’t go into effect until October 1st.” If we passed it tomorrow, it goes into effect October 1st. If we pass it September 30th, it goes into effect October 1st.

DeFazio, whose primary interest is in transportation, has been a frequent critic of the Senate’s infrastructure bill. And he has repeatedly stated that he wants to use the reconciliation process to revisit the bipartisan bill’s approach to infrastructure spending.

Others in telecommunications have pointed out that the same could happen to the broadband spending provisions as Congress winds its way through a very long reconciliation process.

Time may be good for some critics of particular broadband or technology provisions: Some criticized the anti-crypto measures that the Senate included in its version of the bill.

An aide to a House Democratic leader said that the chamber will consider and conclude its work on the budget resolution and on H.R. 4, the voting rights measure, by Tuesday evening.

In other words, no votes will be cast on broadband infrastructure – at least anytime soon.

Popular Tags