How Pennsylvania officials like Brendan Boyle and Susan Wild reflect Democratic divisions over Biden’s $ 3.5 trillion plan

WASHINGTON – For Rep. Brendan Boyle, now is the time for Democrats to go further.

With a bipartisan infrastructure bill slated for a House vote on Monday, the Philadelphian says he wants it approved – but only if The House and Senate Democrats are also offering a separate set of $ 3.5 trillion of social safety net programs.

“This is the first opportunity in more than half a century to do big, bold things that will transform our country,” he said at an event last week in Philadelphia. “Either way, we have to pass both bills.”

Rep. Susan Wild, from Allentown, also wants the two to move forward, but she’s ready to embrace the $ 1 trillion infrastructure plan now and is hoping for cuts for the bigger one.

“I am a firm ‘yes’ on the ‘hard infrastructure’ bill every time they talk about it, and I hope we will do that as soon as possible,” she said during the meeting. a telephone interview. She said she supported the “human infrastructure” package on social spending, but that it was “probably a good idea” if the cost came down. “I don’t think we’re going to see a $ 3.5 trillion bill under any circumstances.”

The divergent views reflect the competing approaches that now divide the party – across region, state and country – and threaten two central elements of President Joe Biden’s agenda.

At stake are some of the Democrats’ biggest political goals and much of the political capital they hope to build up for next year’s midterm elections. Some, like Wild, are hoping to campaign on the tangible benefits they say these bills would bring. But failure could raise serious questions about their ability to govern, even with full control of Congress and the White House. It would also deal a further blow to a president whose the approval rate has dropped amid criticism of its withdrawal from Afghanistan, increasing coronavirus cases and the influx of migrants.

“This is a huge concern for me,” said Wild, who represents one of Pennsylvania’s most competitive House districts. “If you don’t make at least one of these bills – especially the hardware infrastructure and preferably both – we are at substantial risk next year.”

Monday’s vote, demanded by moderate Democrats, would give final approval to the $ 1 trillion package that would fund upgrades to roads, bridges, public transportation and high-speed internet. It has already been passed by the Senate with bipartisan support. But all signs are that progressives in the House have the voices to block it as they urge the party to pass both measures – together.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi aimed to ease tensions on Friday by announcing measures to also move the larger package forward. But with the bill still evolving and the two factions still at odds over its size, it seemed unlikely to break the deadlock. Biden also acknowledged a “deadlock at the moment” but hoped for a resolution.

Neither Democratic faction can operate without the other, as the party has such tight control over the House and Senate. But each wants the other to put their cards on the table first.

READ MORE: Democrats rely on Biden’s big economic agenda, while Republicans point the finger at inflation

Moderates like Wild fear that waiting for the big bill could stifle a popular plan that is about to become law. Some fear the cost will be more than what taxpayers are willing to swallow.

Progressives say they are pushing to embrace the full scope of Biden’s program, not just part of it. If the smaller bill passes, they fear the moderates will walk away, letting the big bills wither. Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Pa.) Said House members should send the bill “as loud as possible” to the Senate “rather than negotiating against ourselves.”

“We need both bills to deliver on the promise to build back better after the pandemic,” Evans said in a statement referring to the larger plan for Democrats.

Likewise, Representative Mary Gay Scanlon (D., Pa.) Urged her party to “put pressure on the Senate” by passing a package “that delivers benefits that change the life of every American.”

“There are limited opportunities to leverage to make sure I am able to deliver the best to my constituents, and tying these bills together is part of it,” Scanlon, of Delaware County, said in a statement. .

The debate over how to proceed is perhaps the most concrete test of a long-held argument within the party about its approach to politics and politics: should it take a step-by-step approach that can appeal to voters? moderate? Or pursue aggressive action to address what progressives say are the deep challenges of the moment? These competing Democratic visions are already playing out in the race for the US Senate primaries in Pennsylvania.

And they reflect the different elements of the party coalition.

Boyle and Evans represent a city where progressives are increasingly influencing and where the biggest political challenge is likely to come from the left rather than the Republicans. Sauvage is from a competitive Lehigh Valley district that Democrats only regained in 2018, and where swing voters are essential.

She and others in similar situations are reluctant to vote on ambitious legislation that might not pass, especially with some Senate moderates reluctant to pay the price.

“It’s not much use to pass legislation either in the House or in the Senate if it doesn’t go to the president’s office,” said Representative Chrissy Houlahan (D., PA).

The “hard infrastructure” bill, which cleared the Senate with bipartisan support, would help rebuild the country’s obsolete infrastructure and expand internet access.

The $ 3.5 trillion measure, which Democrats hope to pass unilaterally, is expected to provide child care subsidies and tuition for two years of community college; extend the child tax credits Democrats passed earlier this year; and funding universal preschool education, the expansion of Medicare to cover dental, hearing and vision care, as well as paid family and medical leave. There could be hundreds of billions of dollars for clean energy and other environmental priorities.

This would increase income taxes on households earning more than $ 450,000 per year, impose a 3% surtax on those earning more than $ 5 million and increase the corporate tax rate to 26.5% for businesses with higher income to $ 5 million.

Republicans universally oppose the larger bill, calling it a liberal wishlist that will overspend, raise taxes too much and raise inflation. The smaller so-called hard infrastructure measure won 19 GOP votes in the Senate, although a majority still opposes it. “Too expensive, too expensive, too unpaid,” said Senator Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) When he voted against in August.

But with that piece already through the Senate, and the Democrats pushing the second measure through a Senate procedure that bypasses the usual 60-vote requirement, they could approve both measures on their own – if they can sort out their internal differences. .

Houlahan from Chester County, like Wild, supports the social spending plan but also raised concerns about the price. She argued that Democrats should embrace what they can now.

“Much of our infrastructure is really suffering,” said Houlahan, whose district is also potentially competitive in next year’s elections.

READ MORE: Here’s What Part of Pa. And NJ’s $ 1,000 Billion Infrastructure Bill Could Buy

The tension is high enough that some lawmakers are avoiding public positions. Rep. Andy Kim (D., NJ), who represents a battlefield district, declined to comment through a spokesperson.

Rep. Donald Norcross (D., NJ) has pledged to push through Biden’s entire economic agenda, a spokesperson said.

Representative Madeleine Dean (D., Pa.), Through a spokesperson, expressed her belief that the party would get both measures across the finish line.

Rep. Conor Lamb (D., Pa.), Who is running in a competitive U.S. Senate primary and helped negotiate part of the framework for the infrastructure bill, will vote for the bipartisan measure “as soon as possible,” said he said in a press release. declaration. He added that he supported the second element, although he was less firm on his size, saying he would vote for what came out of negotiations in the House and Senate.

Among Republicans, meanwhile, Bucks County Representative Brian Fitzpatrick is waging an at times lonely fight for GOP votes for the “hard infrastructure” bill.

As co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solver Caucus, Fitzpatrick expects eight to ten Republicans to support the measure, although this is before GOP leaders start pushing their members to oppose it.

A bill that has both corporate and union backing and won 69 votes in the Senate should be “a given,” Fitzpatrick said. But he said tying the two bills could push back GOP votes, which could help the compromise overcome Democratic defections.

“Our country is hungry for a bipartisan victory right now,” he said. “We have one right in front of us.”

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