Opinion: Bourdeaux stakes out middle ground at fractious political moment

05/05/2021 — Peachtree Corners, Georgia — US Congresswoman Carolyn Bourdeaux makes remarks during a press conference about infrastructure at Jones Bridge Park in Peachtree Corners, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
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05/05/2021 — Peachtree Corners, Georgia — US Congresswoman Carolyn Bourdeaux makes remarks during a press conference about infrastructure at Jones Bridge Park in Peachtree Corners, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

When the U.S. House returns to work on Monday, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Suwanee, could find herself at the center of a swirling dispute among Democrats over a bipartisan infrastructure bill approved earlier this month by the Senate.

It’s not the first time in her first year in office that Bourdeaux has tacked a different way than her leadership.

Last week, Bourdeaux was one of nine centrist lawmakers who asked Speaker Nancy Pelosi to immediately allow a vote on the Senate infrastructure bill, as the Georgia Democrat threatened to vote against initial action on a separate $3.5 trillion tax and spending measure backed by President Biden.

“We should vote first on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework without delay,” the Bourdeaux group declared.

It’s not an idle threat, as just a handful of Democrats could block action on anything in the House because of their party’s paper-thin majority. And that includes the Biden agenda.

“Essentially, moderates are threatening to derail a train that’s already reached top speed,” said Josh Huder, a Congressional expert at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute.

That Democratic train holds the infrastructure bill and a much larger $3.5 trillion social spending plan, which is the central desire for progressives on Capitol Hill.

“This is the Democratic agenda,” said U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. “It’s what we promised people across America. Now we must deliver.”

Congressional expert Sarah Binder of the Brookings Institute says Bourdeaux can certainly send her own message in this infrastructure tussle.

“When a GOP challenger next year inevitably attacks Bourdeaux as a ‘socialist’ who is ‘out of step’ with the district, Rep. Bourdeaux can say she pushed the Speaker to move swiftly on a bipartisan bill to rebuild roads and bridges back home,” Binder told me.

Bourdeaux has not been on the same page with Pelosi several times in recent months.

In July, Bourdeaux was the only Democrat to vote against debating a package of government funding bills, pressing her party to bring down the federal deficit.

In June, Bourdeaux joined another call for fiscal restraint, saying she was “deeply concerned with the fiscal state of our nation.”

Part of the political calculus here for Bourdeaux is obviously 2022, as her seat in Georgia’s 7th District is one which Republicans would love to win back in the midterm elections.

The uneasy question on Capitol Hill is would the Democratic moderates really derail one of President Biden’s main agenda items?

Many who watch Congress - like Huder and Binder – believe the Bourdeaux group will eventually give in on the timing of an infrastructure vote.

But for now, top Democrats are getting some unwelcome legislative heartburn.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and the Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com