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Why moderate Democrats opposed Pelosi’s plans for two major spending bills

The U.S. House of Representatives is back in Washington for a rare August session. Their agenda is to move forward on potentially trillions of dollars of spending. With a narrow majority, Democrats need every vote. And 10 moderates have been throwing up roadblocks for Speaker Nancy Pelosi's timeline. Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins discusses with Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, the U.S. House of Representatives is back in Washington for a rare August session. The agenda? Moving forward on potentially trillions of dollars of spending.

    With a narrow majority, Democrats need every vote, and 10 moderates have been throwing up roadblocks for Speaker Pelosi's timeline.

    Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins is here to walk us through it.

    Lisa, good to see you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Good to see you.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    There's a lot happening on Capitol Hill, clearly a contentious day last 24 hours just for the Democrats with these two big bills.

    Just walk us through what happened.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    All right, this is another one. Take a deep breath.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We're going to try and keep this simple, but it was a very dramatic day of action on two of the biggest bills in the Democratic agenda and two of the biggest bills, honestly, in U.S. history.

    So, first, I want to remind people what we're talking about here. All right, first, there is that infrastructure bill. If you look at that, the infrastructure bill is something that we know has the votes to pass. It's a bipartisan bill, already passed the Senate.

    Now, the other bill we're talking about, of course, is that $3.5 trillion, somewhere around there maybe, Biden bill. It's called Build Back Better sometimes. That is not clear yet if it has the votes to pass, not even clear exactly what it is quite yet.

    Speaker Pelosi, trying to get both of these bills passed, tied the one, the infrastructure bill, it has the votes, to the one that doesn't, that Build Back Better vote. This was her plan. She said only when the infrastructure — only when the large Biden bill passes will I give that bipartisan one a chance.

    Today, that changed. That is because of those 10 Democrats that you reported on, the moderates, who said, no, we will not support a first step, a critical step for that huge multitrillion-dollar bill. We won't support it. Unless you decouple these bills, unless you guarantee us that infrastructure can pass on its own.

    Then Speaker Pelosi changed what she's trying to do. And she said, OK, by the end of September, I will give the infrastructure bill its own vote.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Twenty-four hours of negotiations, machinations condensed down to a couple of minutes. Only Lisa can do that.

    But, Lisa, neither of these bills is facing final passage this week, right? So, why does this moment matter so much?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It's a critical moment. It's a very, very big win for that infrastructure bill.

    It was tangled up in that larger, more contentious bill. Now the idea that it could be separated is very big news for its supporters and for Americans all around the country who need more infrastructure and other issues in that bill.

    Now, on the other hand, it also adds a lot of pressure, though to the Senate to try and act quickly. And it ups the timeline across the board on all of this.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So the question everyone wants to know, right, what happens next?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    September is going to be something. It's going to be intense.

    These bills are now poised to potentially have major action in September. I want to go over what else could happen in September, a quick look at the calendar for what Congress has to do by October. That $3.5 trillion dollar Biden bill that we're talking about, the so-called reconciliation bill, sometimes, that's number one.

    Then something else that they have to do, oh, they have to pass government funding by the end of September, keep government running. What else? Raise the debt ceiling. That is due probably by the end of September.

    And then, finally, to bring this whole thing full circle, they must pass that infrastructure bill.

    Now, to understand these dynamics more, I spoke earlier to one of the congressman who's closely involved in this, Kurt Schrader of Oregon.

    Congressman, thank you for joining us.

    For the past two days, your group of 10 members froze action ON one of the president's top priorities, that $3.5 trillion Build Back Better bill. It has ideas for universal pre-K, other things in it, climate change, that your group says is critical.

    So, I'm wondering, why take this dramatic action to stall it for a few days?

  • Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR):

    Well, actually, that's not what we did.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Rep. Kurt Schrader:

    We actually voted today on a rule that allows the infrastructure bill, bipartisan infrastructure bill, worked out by my Problem Solvers Group in the House and senators on both sides of the aisle and the president of the United States, to actually come to the floor by a date certain, and allows the budget resolution to go into effect.

    They can figure out if they want to do reconciliation and at what number at a later date.

    The big win today for America is the infrastructure bill stands on its own two feet, has a date certain by which we're going to vote for it, raise two million new jobs, really biggest investment in decades — or decades, actually, for public transit, water and sewer, connects families with broadband across the country, hopefully no more holes, energy resiliency to deal with the climate issues out there, basically, the biggest infrastructure package we have had in the last century.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Nonetheless, this was a pretty intense stare-down between your group of moderates and Speaker Pelosi, who wanted things to happen more quickly this week.

    I'm wondering why you took this move and if you think this is something you all might do in the future. There are close margins in the House. Just a few members have a lot of power.

  • Rep. Kurt Schrader:

    Well, not — hopefully not.

    I mean, this is something we work out. Legislation is a difficult business. You never get everything you want in exactly the way you want it. But you look at, what was your overall goal? And our overall goal was to make sure we had a stand-alone, unlinked vote on this infrastructure bill that is wildly popular around the country supported by the Chamber of Commerce, supported by AFL-CIO, and the American people.

    So that was a big push on our part to see. Some people tried to link it to other issues that were very partisan and would be confusing, and, frankly, unproductive in our discussions. Since it was such a bipartisan effort, we wanted to have a clear stand-alone vote. And we got that.

    Now, hopefully, we don't have to go through that again in the future.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So let's talk about the other piece, the part that you now see as unlinked, the Build Back Better bill.

    Right now, it's about $3.5 trillion. Could you ever support a bill that size? Or what do you think is right?

  • Rep. Kurt Schrader:

    Well, actually, the House will not vote on anything that the Senate can't pass. The speaker has made a commitment to that effect. She issued a written statement. It has to at least get 51 — it has to be able to get 51 votes and pass the Senate.

    As I understand it, Senator Sinema said she's not voting for 3.5. I don't think Joe Manchin is either. It will be something less than that. We have no idea what's in it, what's not in it at this point. Now, it's a pretty amorphous shell that gets to be filled in hopefully over the next several months. And then we will know whether or not we want to vote for that and bring that along at the same time or different — excuse me — not at the same time, at a different point in time.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Overriding all of this are sort of the different viewpoints within the Democratic Caucus. And there are groups like yours, the Problem Solvers, that are really pushing for bipartisanship. The infrastructure deal was part of that.

    But Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York said this week that she felt moderates were not helpful. And she said just because something is bipartisan doesn't mean it's good.

    How do you respond to that?

  • Rep. Kurt Schrader:

    Well, she represents her district. I represent mine. That's the way it should be in the United States Congress.

    This bill has overwhelming support by Democrats, independents and Republicans, the president of the United States of America, Democrats overwhelmingly supportive of this. The secretary of transportation has gone on the stump to really tout the advantages that we have here.

    The senators had an overwhelming popular vote in the Senate, 69 senators; 19 Republicans crossed out the aisle to vote for this. My Problem Solvers group made up of 29 Democrats, 29 Republicans met a 75 percent threshold to endorse this proposal way back when.

    So I guess I would answer, it's very popular. Let's go ahead, let's vote on it, get a big win for the American people. Desperately, we need that right now with COVID and Afghanistan, some of the other issues out there. Let's show America that Congress, despite all the differences we have, can actually work together on the meat and potato issues that matter most of them.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    A lot to talk about.

    Congressman Kurt Schrader of Oregon, thank you for joining us.

  • Rep. Kurt Schrader:

    Thanks so much, Lisa, for having me. Appreciate it.

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