President Biden’s trillion-dollar bipartisan infrastructure plan suffered a significant setback late Thursday night when House Democratic leaders, short of support amid a liberal revolt, put off a planned vote on a crucial piece of their domestic agenda.
Democratic leaders and supporters of the bill insisted the postponement was only a temporary setback. The infrastructure vote was rescheduled for Friday, giving them more time to reach agreement on an expansive climate change and social safety net bill that would bring liberals along.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said in a statement: “A great deal of progress has been made this week, and we are closer to an agreement than ever. But we are not there yet, and so, we will need some additional time to finish the work, starting tomorrow morning first thing.”
The postponement was a humiliating blow to Mr. Biden and Democrats, who had spent days toiling to broker a deal between their party’s feuding factions and corral the votes needed to pass the infrastructure bill. Mr. Biden has staked his reputation as a deal-maker on the success of both the public works package and a far more ambitious social policy bill, whose fates are now uncertain in a Congress buffeted by partisan divides and internal Democratic strife.
Given the distance between the Democrats’ left flank and a few centrists on that larger bill, it was not clear when or even whether either would have the votes — and whether Mr. Biden’s economic agenda could be revived.
The House and Senate did pass legislation on Thursday to fund the government until Dec. 3, with more than $28 billion in disaster relief and $6.3 billion to help relocate refugees from Afghanistan. Mr. Biden quickly signed it, averting the immediate fiscal threat of a government shutdown and clearing away one item on the Democrats’ must-do list, at least for two months.
But that small accomplishment was overwhelmed by the acrimony on display within the president’s party.
The infrastructure measure, which would provide $550 billion in new funding, was supposed to burnish Mr. Biden’s bipartisan bona fides. It would devote $65 billion to expand high-speed internet access; $110 billion for roads, bridges and other projects; $25 billion for airports; and the most funding for Amtrak since the passenger rail service was founded in 1971. It would also begin the shift toward electric vehicles with new charging stations and fortifications of the electricity grid that will be necessary to power those cars.
But progressive leaders had said for weeks that they would oppose the measure until they saw action on the legislation they really wanted — a far-reaching bill that funded paid family leave, universal prekindergarten, Medicare expansion and strong measures to combat climate change.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top members of Mr. Biden’s team worked feverishly into the night to strike a deal that could allow for passage of the infrastructure measure, which passed the Senate in August with great fanfare. But amid cajoling, pleading and arm-twisting, the House’s most liberal members would not budge, while Republicans stayed largely in lock step behind their leaders’ efforts to kill the bill.
“Nobody should be surprised that we are where we are, because we’ve been telling you that for three and a half months,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington and the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Racing to avoid a government shutdown at midnight, President Biden signed a spending bill on Thursday evening that extends federal funding through early December and provides emergency aid to support both the resettlement of Afghan refugees and disaster recovery efforts across the country.
The president’s signature came after lawmakers hastily cleared the measure in both chambers earlier in the day. The Senate’s vote was 65 to 35; the House’s was 254 to 175.
“This is a good outcome — one I am happy we are getting done,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, speaking on the Senate floor ahead of the vote. “With so many things happening in Washington, the last thing the American people need is for the government to grind to a halt.”
Lawmakers reached a deal on the spending legislation after Democrats agreed to strip out a provision that would have raised the federal government’s ability to continue borrowing funds through the end of 2022. Senate Republicans blocked an initial funding package on Monday over its inclusion, refusing to give the majority party any of the votes needed to move ahead on a bill to avert a first-ever federal default in the coming weeks.
The legislation keeps the government fully funded through Dec. 3, giving lawmakers additional time to reach consensus over the dozen annual bills that dictate federal spending. It provides $6.3 billion to help Afghan refugees resettle in the United States and $28.6 billion to help communities rebuild from hurricanes, wildfires and other recent natural disasters.
“This bill is not a permanent solution,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. “I look forward to soon beginning negotiations with my counterparts across the aisle and across the Capitol to complete full year government funding bills.”
“The American people are capable of building a future that is stronger and more prosperous as long as they have the tools they need to do it,” she added. “This bill helps ensure that they have those tools.”
The disaster funding is intended to help communities across the country continue recovering from the damage inflicted in recent years by natural disasters, including Hurricanes Ida, Delta, Zeta, and Laura, as well as wildfires, droughts and winter storms.
The aid for Afghan refugees including funds for emergency housing, English lessons and additional resources.
Before agreeing to the details of the spending bill on Thursday morning, the Senate defeated an amendment proposed by Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, that would have curtailed the duration of some of the benefits for Afghan refugees.
Senators also voted down an amendment, offered by Senator Roger Marshall, Republican of Kansas, that would have barred funds from going toward the implementation and enforcement of Mr. Biden’s coronavirus vaccine mandate, as well as an amendment that would deny lawmakers pay should they fail to pass a budget resolution and the dozen spending bills by Oct. 1.
Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a key centrist holdout, panned the prospects of reaching a deal on Thursday on a framework for an expansive domestic and social policy package, holding firm to a $1.5 trillion price tag that liberals have said is too small.
Emerging late in the evening from a lengthy huddle with top White House officials and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Mr. Manchin said, “I don’t see a deal tonight, I really don’t.”
The comments underscored just how far apart the intraparty factions were as they struggled to salvage both pieces of President Biden’s sprawling economic agenda. On a day when Congress united to keep the government funded until early December, divisions within the Democratic Party threatened his $1 trillion infrastructure bill as well as the social spending bill.
Hours after Mr. Manchin confirmed that he would not support anything larger than $1.5 trillion in social spending — less than half of what liberals have sought — efforts to hammer out a framework had yet to deliver a deal.
“I’m at $1.5 trillion — I think $1.5 trillion does exactly the necessary things we need to do,” he said. Ms. Sinema did not comment as she left the meeting.
Liberal House Democrats have so far refused to support a final vote on the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill Mr. Manchin helped negotiate without a vote on the sprawling domestic policy package carrying many of their legislative ambitions. White House officials — Louisa Terrell, the director of legislative affairs; Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council; and Susan Rice, the director of the Domestic Policy Council — shuttled between meetings with Democratic leaders and the two centrist holdouts.
In a letter to her caucus late on Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered few updates but counseled that “it has been a day of progress in fulfilling the president’s vision.”
“All of this momentum brings us closer to shaping the reconciliation bill in a manner that will pass the House and Senate,” she wrote. But she delayed the vote on the infrastructure bill, which she had pledged to bring to the House floor on Thursday.
External pressure was intensifying on both sides of the entrenched debate. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. and other labor unions issued statements in support of immediately taking up the infrastructure bill, while grass-roots organizations were cheering liberal lawmakers to “hold the line” and hold out for a reconciliation bill.
Amtrak would see its biggest infusion of money since its inception a half-century ago. Climate resilience programs would receive their largest burst of government spending ever. The nation’s power grid would be upgraded to the tune of $73 billion.
The sprawling, $1 trillion bill that the Senate passed last month — a bipartisan deal that is the product of months of negotiating and years of pent-up ambitions to repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure — would amount to the most substantial government expenditure on the aging public works system since 2009. It includes $550 billion in new funds and the renewal of an array of programs otherwise scheduled to expire at the end of September.
It is also stuffed with pet projects and priorities that touch on nearly every facet of American life, including the most obscure, like a provision to allow blood transport vehicles to use highway car pool lanes to bypass traffic when fresh vials are on board and another to fully fund a federal grant program to promote “pollinator-friendly practices” near roads and highways. (Price tag for the latter: $2 million per year.)
The measure represents a crucial piece of President Biden’s economic agenda, and the agreement that gave rise to it was a major breakthrough in his quest for a bipartisan compromise. But it was also notable for the concessions Mr. Biden was forced to make to strike the deal.
For example, the legislation includes $73 billion to modernize the nation’s electricity grid, which energy analysts said would lay the groundwork for pivoting the nation off fossil fuels. But it contains only a fraction of the money Mr. Biden requested for major environmental initiatives and extends a lifeline to natural gas and nuclear energy, provisions that have angered House progressives.
The Senate took its first procedural step on Thursday to advance a stand-alone bill that would lift the statutory limit on federal borrowing until December 2022, even though it is all but guaranteed to fail amid a Republican filibuster.
Senate Democrats pushed forward with a party-line 50-to-43 vote on the legislation, which cleared the House on Wednesday. A day earlier, the Treasury Department warned that it would hit the limit by Oct. 18 and inaction would risk a first-ever default on the federal debt.
Congress raises the debt limit to cover spending it has already approved, and failure to address that ceiling could force the Treasury Department to default on its loans and struggle to pay Social Security payments and crucial benefits.
Republicans continue to insist that Democrats, who control the White House and both chambers of Congress, should act to lift the debt ceiling without any votes from the minority party. Democrats, who helped raise the cap under the Trump administration, have argued that Republicans should help shoulder the political responsibility for such measure.
But in the Senate, where both parties control 50 seats, Republicans are adamant that they will not help Democrats clear the 60-vote threshold needed to advance most pieces of legislation.
Democrats initially sought to address the debt ceiling with a provision in the funding package passed and signed into law on Thursday to keep the government open through early December, but Senate Republicans blocked its inclusion.
“Despite Republicans’ intransigence, the facts have not changed: we must raise the debt ceiling,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader. “We cannot allow America to default.”
Democrats tried to waive the 60-vote threshold for a stand-alone debt ceiling bill earlier this week, arguing that Republicans just needed to step aside and allow the measure to reach the floor. But Republicans refused to do so, arguing that Democrats should instead use the same fast-track reconciliation process to lift the debt ceiling that they are already planning to use to advance a sprawling social policy bill that could cost as much as $3.5 trillion.
“The conclusion to draw from this week is very clear: Clumsy efforts at partisan jams do not work,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader. “What works is when the majority accepts reality.”
While Democrats are currently using the reconciliation process to advance Mr. Biden’s domestic policy package, they have argued it would be too time-consuming and complex to use it to address the national debt.
“That’s the path,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared, as she zipped between her office and the House chamber, surrounded by her security detail and a gaggle of reporters. “That’s the one we’re on. And it’s still on.”
Ms. Pelosi may be on a path, but with President Biden’s infrastructure bill still in limbo on Thursday evening, nobody in the Capitol seemed to know quite what that path was.
Ms. Pelosi had promised the House would vote Thursday on the bill. Instead, rank-and-file Democrats and members of the Democratic leadership team trooped in and out of the speaker’s suite on the second floor of the Capitol for much of the day, as Ms. Pelosi tried to round up the necessary votes to pass the measure.
Liberals were balking, insisting they would vote no unless the measure was paired with an expansive social policy bill. Moderates were frustrated; they need to show their constituents that they are doing something — anything — and are eager for the vote. The question of the day was: Would the bill come to the floor, as Ms. Pelosi had promised? Nobody seemed prepared to offer an unqualified “yes.”
“I don’t know,” Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 House Democrat, told reporters who asked if the vote would come Thursday night. Mr. Clyburn is the Democratic whip — the leader responsible for counting (or in congressional parlance, “whipping”) votes. But for this bill, at least, it appears the one cracking the whip is Ms. Pelosi.
The No. 2 Democrat, Representative Steny D. Hoyer of Maryland, did not have much to add. Are you confident, he was asked, that if the bill came to the floor it would pass? “I’m confident that a majority of members are for it,” he said, leaving open the possibility that being for it and voting for it are not the same thing.
As afternoon headed toward evening, reporters were taking bets. Would the vote come at midnight? 1 a.m.? Later? Was there an ample supply of caffeine in the press gallery? Some in the Democratic rank and file were growing frustrated.
“We’ve been told over and over that we’re voting on this today,” said Representative Elissa Slotkin, a centrist Democrat from Michigan. “All the caucuses that I’m part of have been telling me that we’re voting on this today. We’re just waiting, for standby, on when.”
At 5:45 p.m., she got her answer — sort of. The House went into recess, with no votes scheduled until at least 9 p.m.
Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a centrist Democrat, said Thursday that he could not support a social safety net bill of more than $1.5 trillion, less than half the size of the package that President Biden and Democratic leaders have been trying to push through Congress.
In comments to reporters outside the Capitol, Mr. Manchin laid out publicly for the first time the general outlines of what he would be willing to support, putting detail to what he has said for weeks — that he could not vote for a package anywhere near the size of the sprawling $3.5 trillion plan Democrats sketched out in their budget blueprint.
Mr. Manchin’s relative silence on what specific proposals he would eventually support has frustrated liberals who have feared he would ultimately oppose an ambitious plan to expand health care, education, paid leave and anti-climate change programs, coupled with an array of tax increases on the wealthy and corporations.
“I’m willing to sit down and work through that 1.5 and get our priorities,” Mr. Manchin said, standing outside the Capitol as protesters heckled him nearby. Liberal Democrats who want a more expansive bill “can come back and do later, and they can run on the rest of it later. I think there’s many ways to get to where they want to — just not everything at one time.”
It was unclear whether going public with those details would help assuage or further anger liberal Democrats, who have threatened to oppose a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package on track for a House vote on Thursday without substantial progress toward passing the second, far larger bill.
Still, the comments were his most forthcoming about his willingness to support the social policy plan, which Democrats plan to push through using a fast-track process known as budget reconciliation that shields fiscal legislation from a filibuster. Democrats are trying to pass the package over united Republican opposition, meaning they cannot spare even one vote in the evenly divided Senate.
Mr. Manchin said that he had informed Mr. Biden in the last week about his overall spending number and acknowledged that “he would like to have a lot more than that.”
Mr. Manchin spoke out about his position after the news of an agreement enshrining it, signed by both him and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, leaked out on Thursday. The document, dated July 28, says that Mr. Manchin will not support any plan that lacks conditions for any new spending, income thresholds for social programs, accommodations for fossil fuel tax credits and natural gas, or does not devote any revenue exceeding $1.5 trillion to deficit reduction.
The agreement, obtained by Politico and confirmed by two people with knowledge of it, said that Mr. Manchin “does not guarantee that he will vote for the final reconciliation legislation if it exceeds the conditions outlined in this agreement.”
Mr. Manchin’s memo also stipulated a number of demands to help the fossil fuel industry. It said that, in his role as chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, he must have full control over crafting the central climate change provisions of the legislation — all but ensuring that those provisions will be far less ambitious and more fossil-fuel friendly than Mr. Biden had hoped.
In addition, the memo demands that if the legislation were to include extensions of tax credits for wind and solar power, it would not undo tax breaks for fossil fuel producers.
Mr. Schumer, who signed the agreement as he was working to persuade Mr. Manchin to support the budget blueprint, also appears to have scrawled “I will try to dissuade Joe on many of these” underneath his signature.
On Thursday, a spokesman emphasized that Mr. Schumer did not consider it binding.
“As the document notes, Leader Schumer never agreed to any of the conditions Senator Manchin laid out; he merely acknowledged where Senator Manchin was on the subject at the time,” said Justin Goodman, the spokesman.
On Thursday, the office of Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, another moderate holdout on Mr. Biden’s plan, said she would not “negotiate through the press” but had made her priorities and concerns known to Mr. Biden and Mr. Schumer.
Coral Davenport contributed reporting.
Paring back the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion domestic policy package will involve difficult choices for a party fractured by mistrust and competing priorities. But in a package that is intended to shape every facet of American life, including public education, health care and the environment, there is room for agreement, even in a thinly divided Congress.
Here are three possible scenarios for how to structure a final deal.
A slightly scaled-back plan that uses budget tricks to hold down the cost.
Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, initially urged his colleagues to embrace spending as much as $6 trillion over 10 years as they began drafting the bill.
To narrow the scope to its current price tag of $3.5 trillion over 10 years, aides said, Mr. Sanders and his colleagues employed budget gimmicks like setting earlier end dates on programs or narrowing their proposed size to lower their cost.
A lowest-common-denominator $900 billion package that extends existing health and child care benefits.
The easiest fallback for Democrats might be to extend the generous tax credits and other benefits created for a single year in the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief law, known as the American Rescue Plan. According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog group, that skinny option would total $900 billion, still more than President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan, which, when it passed, was considered huge.
A middle-ground $1.5 trillion bill that invests huge resources in programs to combat climate change.
Progressive Democrats have indicated that they will not vote for the $1 trillion infrastructure bill without ensuring passage of the social welfare and climate change bill. To pass the former without the latter could actually make global warming worse, they argue.
To answer those concerns, Democrats could include the social welfare components of the lowest-common-denominator option — extending the temporary benefits of the American Rescue Plan — while also going big on climate change.
The budget reconciliation process allows Congress to advance certain spending and tax bills on a simple majority vote, freeing lawmakers in the Senate from the 60-vote threshold most legislation must meet to be considered. Democrats are aiming to use the process to pass the sweeping $3.5 trillion social safety net and climate change measure, which carries much of President Biden’s agenda, in the face of united Republican opposition.
The process begins with a budget resolution, which establishes a blueprint for federal spending and directs congressional committees to write bills to achieve certain policy results, setting spending and revenues over a certain amount of time. Its name refers to the process of reconciling existing laws with those directives. Here are some key things to know about the legislative maneuver.
The process is subject to strict rules that limit what can be included.
While reconciliation allows senators to scale procedural and scheduling hurdles, it is also subject to strict limits that could constrain the scope of any pandemic relief package Democrats seek to pass.
In the Senate, the “Byrd Rule,” established by former Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, bars extraneous provisions, including any measure that does not change revenues or spending, affects the Social Security program or increases the deficit after a certain period of time set in the budget resolution. It is intended to ensure that the reconciliation process cannot be abused to jam through any unrelated provision.
The rule’s name lends itself to a number of bird-related puns commonly used to describe the stages of the reconciliation process. There is the “Byrd bath,” when the Senate parliamentarian scrubs and analyzes a bill for any provision that violates the rule if a senator raises a concern about a violation. Anything that does not survive the scrutiny is known as a “Byrd dropping,” and is removed from the legislation before it can advance.
Vice President Kamala Harris could also overrule the parliamentarian, but that has not been done since 1975.
The process is in motion, but the legislative math is proving tough for Democrats.
A budget blueprint on the social spending and climate bill was advanced in August and committees have been working on drafting the reconciliation legislation, but key centrist Democrats in the Senate who have balked at the $3.5 trillion price tag have brought the process to an impasse as party leaders try to negotiate a compromise.
Because Republicans have made it clear they are unified in their opposition, Democrats cannot afford to lose even one vote from their party in the Senate. In the House, the math is almost as challenging; if every member voted, Democrats could afford to lose only three of their members and still pass the legislation.
The Senate on Thursday rejected a Republican effort to use a spending bill needed to keep the government open past midnight to curtail assistance to Afghans who were quickly evacuated to the United States as American troops withdrew from their country last month.
The proposal by Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas was just one of a series of skirmishes over a bill that would extend federal funding into early December and provide emergency funding for the resettlement of Afghan refugees and disaster recovery. The legislation is expected to pass later Thursday with bipartisan support, but first, Republicans have demanded votes on several proposed changes.
Mr. Cotton’s proposal failed on a 50-to-50 vote, along party lines. Under Senate rules, a tied vote on a proposed change to a bill is not enough to amend the legislation.
The amendment would have cut off aid for things such as housing, food and medical benefits after March 31, 2023, for Afghans who were granted parole to quickly enter the United States because of the urgent humanitarian crisis.
Mr. Cotton has argued that terminating the benefits is reasonable, considering that Afghans who received special visas for helping the American military may only receive such benefits for eight months.
The amendment also would have cut from the bill language that would have waived certain requirements for obtaining driver’s licenses or identification cards, making it easier for the Afghans to get them. Those who were granted humanitarian parole lack some of the documentation required under the REAL ID Act, which was created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to enhance security on commercial airlines.
His amendment also attempted to force the Department of Homeland Security to work more quickly to process Afghan asylum applications, moving up the deadline to conduct a first interview with an applicant to 15 days instead of 45 days, and required the department to make a decision within 150 days of the application’s filing.
Before the vote, Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, said the amendment would ensure Afghan evacuees are “properly vetted.” But Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, argued the amendment was unnecessary, saying the evacuees were already being properly vetted and it merely blocked badly needed benefits for those in dire need of help.
Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, touted the bill’s provisions to help Afghan evacuees in a speech on the Senate floor before the vote. He urged his colleagues to “strongly oppose” Mr. Cotton’s proposal and other amendments offered by the Republicans, warning that accepting any could slow down the process and result in a government shutdown.
“It provides critical assistance to Afghan refugees who fled the Taliban in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan,” he said of the funding bill. “Many of those refugees worked with American forces and helped us.”