Democratic candidates for governor were defeated in Virginia and squeaked through in New Jersey, two blue-leaning states. Those setbacks made party leaders — and moderates and liberals alike — impatient to produce impactful legislation and demonstrate they know how to govern. Democrats can ill afford to seem in disarray a year before midterm elections that could result in Republicans regaining congressional control.
The infrastructure package is a historic investment by any measure, one that Biden compares in its breadth to the building of the interstate highway system in the last century or the transcontinental railroad the century before.
“This is a blue collar blueprint to rebuilding America,” he said in his White House remarks.
His reference to infrastructure week was a jab at his predecessor, Donald Trump, whose White House declared several times that “infrastructure week” had arrived, only for nothing to happen.
Simply freeing up the infrastructure measure for final congressional approval was like a burst of adrenaline for Democrats. Yet despite the win, Democrats endured a setback when they postponed a vote on a second, even larger bill until later this month.
That 10-year, $1.85 trillion measure bolstering health, family, and climate change programs was sidetracked after moderates demanded a cost estimate on the sprawling measure from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The postponement dashed hopes that the day would produce a double-barreled win for Biden with passage of both bills.
But in an evening breakthrough brokered by Biden and House leaders, five moderates later agreed to back that bill if the budget office’s estimates are consistent with preliminary numbers that White House and congressional tax analysts have provided. The agreement, in which lawmakers promised to vote on the social and environment bill by the week of Nov. 15, stood as a significant step toward a House vote that could ultimately ship it to the Senate.
“Generations from now, people will look back and know this is when America won the economic competition for the 21st Century,” Biden said in a written statement early Saturday.
The president and first lady Jill Biden delayed plans to travel Friday evening to their house in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Instead, Biden spoke to House leaders, moderates and progressives, said a White House official who described the conversations on condition of anonymity.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Biden even called her mother in India, though it was unclear why.
“This was not to bribe me, this is when it was all done,” Jayapal told reporters. The lawmaker said her mother told her she “just kept screaming like a little girl.”
In a two-sentence statement, the five moderates said that if the fiscal estimates on the social and environment bill raise problems, “we remain committed to working to resolve any discrepancies” to pass it. The five included Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., leader of a group of centrists who this summer repeatedly pressed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to schedule earlier votes on the infrastructure bill.
In exchange, liberals agreed to back the infrastructure measure, which they’d spent months holding hostage in an effort to press moderates to back the larger bill.
The day marked a rare detente between Democrats’ moderate and progressive wings that party leaders hope will continue this fall. The rival factions have spent recent weeks accusing each other of jeopardizing Biden’s and the party’s success by overplaying their hands and expressed a deep distrust of each other.
But Friday night, Jayapal suggested they would work together moving forward.
“Let me tell you, we’re going to trust each other because the Democratic Party is together on this,” she said. “We are united that it is important for us to get both bills done.”