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Reps. Ilhan Omar and Pramila Jayapal attend an event in Washington, D.C.

Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) listen during an event on June 17, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)

Ilhan Omar Says Progressives Ready to Withhold Votes From Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal

The Minnesota Democrat said an internal survey found that more than 40 Progressive Caucus members would refuse to vote for the bipartisan bill if it's not accompanied by a bold reconciliation package.

Jake Johnson

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar said Tuesday that Democratic lawmakers in the House's nearly 100-member Progressive Caucus are prepared to withhold their votes from the White House-backed bipartisan infrastructure deal in order to guarantee the concurrent passage of a separate bill that invests in climate action, child care, and other priorities.

"We're not going to be passing a bipartisan infrastructure package unless we are, at the same time, passing a reconciliation package that includes all of our priorities."
—Rep. Pramila Jayapal

Speaking to Politico, Omar—the whip for the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC)—said a recent internal poll of the members showed that 60% of respondents would be willing to withhold their votes to secure a reconciliation bill. The Minnesota Democrat noted that 80% of the caucus responded to the survey, meaning that more than 40 CPC members are prepared to stand in the way of a bipartisan infrastructure measure if it is not accompanied by a more ambitious bill.

Depending on how many House Republicans ultimately support the bipartisan deal, that level of progressive opposition could be enough to sink the bill.

"We have a commitment that regardless of what happens with bipartisan legislation, they will give us reconciliation legislation that goes as far as we've wanted it," Omar said.

Under the two-track infrastructure approach embraced by the Democratic leadership and endorsed by President Joe Biden, Congress will soon move the $579 billion bipartisan infrastructure plan through regular order, meaning the bill will need 60 votes to pass the Senate. The details of the measure have yet to be finalized amid growing questions over its proposed pay-fors, which could include the privatization of public assets and cuts to unemployment insurance.

At the same time as the bipartisan bill advances, Democrats plan to use the arcane budget reconciliation process—which is exempt from the Senate's 60-vote filibuster rule—to pass legislation dealing with agenda items that were excluded from the bipartisan plan, from major green energy investments to Medicare expansion. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vowed last week that the lower chamber will not vote on the bipartisan legislation until the Senate also passes a reconciliation bill, which Republicans are likely to unify against.

Now House progressives are urging Pelosi to hold to that position as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) demands the decoupling of the bipartisan bill and the infrastructure package.

"There cannot be a bipartisan infrastructure plan without a reconciliation bill alongside it," Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a CPC member, tweeted Tuesday.

Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), another CPC member, told Politico that "the linkage is non-negotiable for me," pointing specifically to the bipartisan bill's exclusion of funds for affordable housing.

"I will refuse to vote for any bill that fails to be linked to a larger reconciliation bill," Torres added.

In an appearance on MSNBC over the weekend, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.)—chair of the CPC—said she has repeatedly conveyed to Pelosi that the bipartisan bill will not garner enough progressive support to pass the House unless there is also a "full reconciliation package."

"That's just the way it is," said Jayapal. "We're not going to be passing a bipartisan infrastructure package unless we are, at the same time, passing a reconciliation package that includes all of our priorities. And that has been our consistent message for some time."

Back in April, the CPC released a document (pdf) outlining its top priorities for the reconciliation bill, a list that includes slashing sky-high prescription drug prices, lowering the Medicare eligibility age, investing in affordable housing, establishing a permanent paid family and medical leave program, and providing a path to citizenship for essential workers, Dreamers, and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients.

It remains unclear whether those policy goals will make their way into the reconciliation measure, the details of which have yet to be worked out by the Democratic leadership. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate Budget Committee, is advocating for a $6 trillion reconciliation bill that includes Medicare expansion and other progressive proposals.

Over the weekend, Sanders joined his progressive allies in the House in vowing to oppose any bipartisan infrastructure deal that is not paired with a sweeping reconciliation package.

"Let me be clear: There will not be a bipartisan infrastructure deal without a reconciliation bill that substantially improves the lives of working families and combats the existential threat of climate change," Sanders tweeted Sunday. "No reconciliation bill, no deal. We need transformative change NOW."

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