House GOP leaders are rallying Republican lawmakers in opposition to an infrastructure bill that is expected to come to a vote next week, the latest sign of partisan divisions on Capitol Hill and a warning for Democrats that they cannot afford large defections within their own party if they want the legislation to pass.
The roughly $1.2 trillion legislation passed out of the Senate in August with 19 Republican senators voting for the bill. The measure, which includes funding for priorities like roads, bridges, rail, transit and the electric grid, was the culmination of painstaking negotiations between a bipartisan group of senators and the Biden administration, a process that showcased a rare example of successful deal-making between Democrats and Republicans on a major legislative package.
But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy argued on Thursday that the legislation should no longer be considered bipartisan, arguing that it is now inextricably linked with a far larger $3.5 trillion economic package that Democrats want to pass without GOP support in the Senate to address a wide range of priorities from climate change to health care. House GOP leaders announced Wednesday that they are formally whipping against the infrastructure bill, so if any rank-and-file members vote against it, they would be directly bucking leadership.
“I don’t view it as a bipartisan bill any longer,” McCarthy told reporters at a news conference, saying that he will vote against it and encourages his members to oppose it as well.
“It’s a different situation than it was when it came out of the Senate,” he said.
The $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill is separate from the $3.5 trillion package, but both are key priorities for Democrats who have been attempting to move the two items in tandem to keep their caucus united amid divisions among moderates and progressives.
After facing pressure from moderates who wanted to vote on the infrastructure bill immediately after it passed the Senate, House Democratic leaders committed to bring up the bill by September 27. But House progressives say they will vote against it unless the far larger $3.5 trillion package has been passed first, which is not on track to happen by that date.
“Every single Democrat, you can ask them, Pelosi on down, that it’s one bill. So you’re not voting for a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill, you’re voting for a $5 trillion bill,” McCarthy said. “They will hold it unless it goes forward. They have their internal firing squad right now upset with each other because one side won’t vote for it unless they get reconciliation.”
The comments from the top House Republican underscore the difficult dynamic facing House Democrats. If a significant number of progressives vote against the infrastructure bill, that number is not likely to be offset by Republican votes, and the bill could fail to pass in a major setback and embarrassment for Democrats as they race to enact their legislative agenda.
House Republicans are not completely united in opposition to the bipartisan bill, but the number of GOP members who vote in favor is expected to remain relatively small. House GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, a co-chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, has said that there are roughly 10 Republicans who are a hard yes on the bill, but declined to say how many more GOP votes are in play.
The Chamber of Commerce has been pressing a group of 57 House Republicans to support the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package. The Washington Times was first to report on the effort.
Despite their push, however, there’s not expected to be significant GOP support for the bill. In addition to the push from House GOP leaders in opposition to the bill, the chamber has lost its sway with the GOP in recent years.
GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Thursday that he believes it’s a “mistake” that GOP leaders are trying to get lawmakers to vote against it, saying that he plans to vote for the bill.
“I do think it’s a mistake, I think we need to allow members to vote on a bipartisan bill as they wish,” he said. “My intention is to vote for the bipartisan infrastructure bill.”
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