Georgia Democrats say deal on social spending, infrastructure will be reached

WASHINGTON — The week on Capitol Hill was defined by sharp disagreements among Democrats over whether to immediately pass a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill or wait until they finalize negotiations on a $3.5 trillion social services and climate change package.

Still, after meeting with President Joe Biden on Friday, Democrats from Georgia’s delegation said they are confident that both measures will pass eventually. And they are hoping their constituents give the legislative process time to work.

“We heard from the president today, and the president stated very clearly that we need both,” U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, of Atlanta, said. “And we’re going to find a way to get that done.”

The wrangling over Biden’s policy agenda wasn’t the only debate contributing to the drama of the week. Lawmakers passed emergency government funding bill, avoiding a partial shutdown by mere hours. But there is no agreement between Democrats and Republicans on raising the debt limit, and the government could default in about two weeks if an increase in the limit fails to pass.

Because the infrastructure bill didn’t pass, the surface transportation program expired at the end of September. Thousands of federal employees were technically furloughed as a result, although Congress sent a fix to Biden Saturday that was expected to be quickly signed into law.

Democrats say voters gave them control of Washington, including the White House and narrow majorities in the House and the Senate, because they support Biden’s vision as demonstrated in the infrastructure and social services bills. Williams said her constituents remain supportive and haven’t expressed frustration about the intraparty disagreements.

“My constituents are proud that I am here in Congress fighting for their needs every day,” she said. “We are hearing a lot of that, people calling in, telling me to continue to stand strong and make sure that we get childcare, paid family leave and address climate change in a real way.”

Williams and Rep. Hank Johnson are both members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a group that vowed to withhold support for the infrastructure bill until after the social services package is finalized.

Williams would not say whether she would have voted against the infrastructure bill if it came to the floor, saying the point was moot. Johnson is on the record saying he would have been a “no.”

The infrastructure legislation includes funding for roads, bridges and transit and has already passed the Senate in a bipartisan fashion. It also has the support of most House Democrats, but the disagreement over the timing of that vote is what threatened its passage.

House progressive made clear last week that infrastructure won’t pass until after, or at the same time as, the social services and climate change bill.

That measure in its current form has provisions including Medicaid expansion in conservative states such as Georgia, free community college, universal prekindergarten, expanded Medicare benefits, continued child tax credits and tax increases on wealthy Americans and businesses. Some of those programs are likely to be cut as negotiations over the total cost continue.

Objections from centrist Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, whose votes are crucial to passage in the Senate, have forced changes to the legislation. The total is likely to end up closer to about $2 trillion in spending over 10 years.

Johnson said he is ok if the measure is slimmed down, but he wants the Senate to approve it first before the House takes a vote on infrastructure.

“We’ve got to ensure that there is a product that comes out of the Senate, and then we can give them what they want on their infrastructure bill,” he said Friday.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, a Suwanee Democrat, was among the moderates who had pushed Pelosi to move forward with a vote on infrastructure last week. She said Friday she was disappointed it didn’t happen but agreed with her colleagues that it will happen eventually.

“I would have preferred to have taken the vote this week, most certainly,” she said Friday. “But I’ve been in many legislative processes, and you just don’t give up. Sometimes it doesn’t go quite the way you want, but I think a lot of us are pushing towards the same goals.”

Georgia Reps. David Scott and Sanford Bishop both indicated earlier in the week that they were ready to vote for the infrastructure bill whenever Pelosi brought it to a floor for a vote, even if the larger package was still being negotiated. Bishop, of Albany, said Friday his position hadn’t changed.

“Whenever I have an opportunity to vote on either or on both, I will vote for them,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, who lives in Marietta, is the only Democrat in Georgia’s delegation who declined to weigh in on the matter.

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