The House of Representatives approved Joe Biden’s $1.2tn bipartisan infrastructure bill late on Friday night, in a major victory for the US president following months of Democratic party infighting.
In a 228-206 vote, the infrastructure package passed the House, with 13 Republicans joining most of the Democratic caucus. Six progressive Democrats, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cori Bush, voted against the measure. The bill, which passed the Senate in August, will now be sent to Biden’s desk to be signed into law.
The vote provides a much-needed legislative win for the US president as he grapples with falling approval ratings and Democrats’ losses in several key elections this week, including the Virginia governor’s race.
Friday’s vote followed several days of crunch talks that came down to the wire after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed to press ahead with the infrastructure bill while delaying consideration of a separate, larger social spending package popular with leftwing Democrats.
Pelosi’s move broke a longstanding promise to move the two bills through Congress in tandem, a demand extracted by progressives who were wedded to the programmes in the larger package, including subsidies for childcare and sweeping investment in efforts to combat climate change.
The strategy opened up the possibility that members of Biden’s party would torpedo his flagship infrastructure bill, if a critical mass of progressives voted against the measure in defiance of the Speaker.
For several hours on Friday it remained uncertain whether progressives would sign on, as they remained locked in a meeting over how to proceed. At one point, Biden — who had postponed a planned trip to his holiday home in Delaware — called into the meeting in a last-ditch effort to win their support.
In the end, the majority of House progressives said they would vote in favour of the infrastructure bill after their moderate colleagues issued a statement saying they would vote in favour of the second, larger “Build Back Better” bill no later than the week of November 15.
The agreement provided a breakthrough after months of infighting that exposed fissures in the president’s party and stymied his legislative agenda at a time when his national approval ratings have dropped sharply.
Many Democrats blamed the inaction on Capitol Hill for their party’s weak performance in this week’s governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey, as well as several down-ballot local contests in other states. Democrats are seeking to shore up support heading into next year’s midterm elections, when control of both chambers of Congress will be up for grabs.
At the start of the day, Democratic leaders had intended to pass both bills before the weekend. But it soon became clear that the goal would go unrealised after a group of at least six House moderates, including Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, said they would not vote for Build Back Better until they saw official cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, an independent agency.
Critics have questioned the White House’s insistence that the measures would be “fully paid for” through a crackdown on tax evasion, a corporate minimum profits tax and a new tax surcharge for people earning more than $10m a year.
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