After infighting again delayed votes on the Democratic budget and bipartisan infrastructure bills, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has set a new deadline goal: the end of October, when federal highway funding will run out.
Oct. 1 was the original deadline for highway funding. Both chambers of Congress quickly responded, with both the House and Senate passing a stopgap to continue funding for highways until the end of October.
Leaders in the Democratic Congress originally believed that they would have the Senate-passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which extends highway funding for five years, on the president’s desk and signed before the Oct. 1 deadline. However, that deadline came and passed with no vote due to continued divisions between moderate expectations and progressive demands.
‘Everybody Is Frustrated’
Initially, the bill, which passed the Senate with 69 votes in August, was set for a vote in early September. However, Democratic infighting delayed a vote on the bill to Sept. 27. Continued division pushed that vote off to Thursday. But by Friday, the bill still did not have enough votes to pass the lower chamber.
Even a rare visit to Congress by President Joe Biden could not resolve the situation. During his visit to the Capitol, Biden reportedly admitted that the bill did not have enough votes to pass, despite a promise by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that the bill would have a vote that same day.
“Everybody is frustrated,” Biden told reporters outside the White House before departing for Wilmington, Delaware, for the weekend.
The situation has largely arisen from divisions between moderates and progressives.
Moderates are partial to the infrastructure bill, and have demanded swift passage of the legislation without linking it to the more-partisan $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill. Progressives have demanded that the budget bill be passed before the infrastructure bill. Both have threatened to and are capable of tanking either bill.
Only a handful of Republicans have indicated that they will vote for the bill, and Republican and Democratic proponents of the bill would easily be overwhelmed by the progressive caucus’s 95-strong voting bloc.
In the Senate, the budget also does not have enough votes. Two Democratic moderates, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have said repeatedly that they will not support a $3.5 trillion bill. Even as one deadline after another has passed, these two rebels have stuck to that promise.
With no resolution to these conflicts in sight, votes on both bills have been pushed off again.
Bills ‘Will and Must’ Pass in October
Pelosi and Schumer have picked a new deadline for the bills at the end of October. This new Oct. 31 deadline, nearly two months after both bills were due for a vote, is being emphasized as crucial by Democratic leaders.
After his meeting with the House, Biden told reporters, “It doesn’t matter whether it’s in six minutes, six days, or six weeks—we’re going to get it done.”
However, Democratic leaders in Congress have their sights set on four weeks at the most.
Pelosi said in a note to Democratic colleagues that they must pass the infrastructure bill before Oct. 31, adding that she didn’t allow a vote on the infrastructure bill because it would have failed. “We will and must pass both bills soon,” Pelosi insisted.
“Negotiations will continue now, with more time for decisions, legislative language, Senate parliamentarian review and public awareness,” she wrote.
Schumer in a statement dismissed the bills’ earlier failures, writing that “Doing big things in Congress is hard. Doing really big things all at once is really hard.” He added that leadership knew “from the very beginning” that passing the two bills would be “difficult and, at times, messy.”
But, he emphasized “[Democrats] can get this done, together, if we put aside our differences and find the common ground within our party.”
This “will require sacrifice,” he said, adding that “not every member will get what he or she wanted.”
Despite these divisions, Schumer said, “we will pass legislation that will dramatically improve the lives of the American people. I believe we are going to do just that in the month of October.”
Schumer emphasized the importance of this deadline, noting that highway funding would expire within the month. “Our new legislative goal must be to enact [the infrastructure] bill and the Build Back Better [reconciliation] bill before the new [highway funding] expiration date at the end of October.”
A final agreement between the House, Senate, and President on the Build Back Better Act “as soon as possible” is “crucial” Schumer said.
He added that such an agreement will be reached “preferably within a matter of days, not weeks.”
Zachary Steiber contributed to this report.