The Democrats most in danger of losing their seats in next year’s midterm elections are warning their fellow lawmakers that Congress must find a way forward on the infrastructure and social spending bills or risk losing the House.
Lawmakers from swing districts said in interviews they’re growing concerned about the current deadlock among Democrats on how to proceed with these massive spending measures. Progressives are insisting that both bills be considered at the same time, while some moderates want to vote on infrastructure as leaders continue negotiating the social spending package.
“Quite honestly if we can’t deliver we can lose the majority,” Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) said. “And we’ll be the minority party, and we’re not going to be talking about working on any of these things. The Republicans will be working on tax cuts for the super wealthy.”
Several Frontline members, as the Democrats call those in the most competitive districts, say they’ve urged their progressive colleagues to support the infrastructure bill (H.R. 3684) Thursday, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi(D) scheduled a vote on it. But progressive leaders have pledged to vote it down without an agreement on the larger package.
Rep. Susie Lee (D-Nev.), a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus who played a role in putting the infrastructure bill together, said passing it with bipartisan support was important for Democrats and that coupling the two bills won’t help.
“I don’t think using one bill to leverage another is the most effective way to make policy,” she said.
Wild said there are “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects in her district that could begin as soon as this winter if federal funding is approved. Being able to point to accomplishments in office is what lawmakers in tough campaigns need, Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas) said.
“In a top district you can’t just say vote for me even though I haven’t delivered anything. You have to say these are the ways I’ve made the community better,” Allred said.
“Not doing anything would be more harmful than the prospects and concerns around doing too much,” he added.
The sweeping social spending package is being advanced using the budget reconciliation process that allows qualifying legislation to be passed by the Senate with only a simple majority — though all 50 members of the Democratic Caucus need to back it to ensure it moves forward.
Allred said he supports the social spending bill in part because it’s likely to include provisions to lower drug pricing, which he called “winning issue No. 1.” And a number of vulnerable lawmakers said provisions on health care, paid family leave, and child tax credits included in the social spending bill are just as critical for their political survival.
Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) made a passionate plea during a Wednesday press call for the social spending bill to pass, saying it would expand Affordable Care Act premium subsidies. Currently, the subsidies are set to expire in 2022.
“We cannot afford to backtrack on the historic progress we have made,” Underwood said.
But in the Senate, Democrats Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) have raised concerns that the up-to-$3.5 trillion social spending bill could lead to skyrocketing inflation while increasing the national debt.
But some swing-district members in the House aren’t so concerned about the cost of it, despite the National Republican Congressional Committee running ads in more than a dozen Frontline districts warning that the measure would increase inflation and raise taxes.
Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.) said he doesn’t expect the level of spending to be an issue for voters.
“Inflation is not out of control,” he said. “It won’t be out of control because this money is not going to be spent for a number of years.”
Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.), another target of the ads, said inflation wouldn’t be an issue as long as the bill was paid for.
Craig also said she told her constituents she would fight for access to community colleges and lowering the cost of health care, two issues addressed in the social spending package.
“I don’t want to go home and tell my constituents that I was worried about the next election and I didn’t do what I said I was going to do,” Craig said.
While most lawmakers facing tough races agree on the need for both an infrastructure and social spending bill, there’s less agreement about the process for how and when to move the bills.
Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) said his constituents don’t care about the process or the timeline so long as the larger bill gets done.
“They don’t care how many times we have to vote,” he said. “They don’t care whether we do it on September 27, September 29, October 2. That’s not what matters.”
What matters, Malinowski said, is the bill contains items he can sell to his constituents back home: lowering health care costs, providing affordable child care, restoring the state and local tax deduction.
If those are achieved, he said, “I will win re-election.”
Laura Davison in Washington also contributed to this story.