House Republicans could face increased pressure to vote against a bipartisan infrastructure package when they return to Washington later this month with outside groups and conservatives already ramping up the campaign against a $1.2 trillion package they say would be akin to writing Democrats a blank check to restructure the social safety net.
The dynamic in the House is far different than the one in the Senate just last month when 19 Republicans – including the Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – voted to pass legislation that enables the rebuilding of America’s roads and bridges, bolsters the nation’s broadband network and gives Republicans and Democrats alike a rare opportunity to point to a bipartisan accomplishment on the campaign trail next fall.
For House Republicans, voting “yes” on the bipartisan bill later this month could be far more of a liability. Former President Donald Trump, who still carries unrivaled sway over the conference, has urged members to vote against it. Members of the hardline House Freedom Caucus have threatened to campaign against GOP colleagues who vote “yes,” and outside conservative groups like the Club For Growth have already alerted members that they are urging a “no” vote.
Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia – who has already threatened to campaign against her “weak” Republican colleagues who back the $1.2 trillion package – said GOP lawmakers should be “shamed and never voted for again” if they support the plan.
Texas Rep. Chip Roy said he agreed, calling it “absurd” that 19 Senate Republicans backed the bill.
Even the top Republican, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, has made clear he’s opposed to the bipartisan bill in its current form, potentially forecasting an effort by leadership to sink the bill.
“As I read the bill now, I could not support it,” McCarthy recently said in an interview with Fox Business Network. “I have a great frustration with this bill.”
The Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative caucus in the House, began circulating a memo last month railing against the compromise bill.
Members and aides say it’s too early to know exactly how many Republican members could vote to advance the legislation or how much of a fight leadership will put up to defeat it, but aides so far predict the number of GOP votes in play would be just a few dozen. Unlike in the Senate where the bipartisan bill received a standalone vote weeks before a bigger, Democratic-only proposal was ready, in the House, the bipartisan bill is expected to come around the same time as Democrats prepare to vote on legislation that will expand federal health care programs, raise taxes and reimagine the social safety net.
In order to satisfy her caucus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pledged early on not to move the bipartisan infrastructure bill until the House was finished with their bigger proposal, which Republicans say gave them opening to argue that the two bills, which are separate proposals, are inextricably linked.
With just a three-vote margin, Pelosi has had to tread carefully to secure both moderate and progressive votes on both packages and has promised moderates she will bring the bipartisan bill to the floor no later than September 27, but Republicans aren’t waiting until then to begin their effort to message against the bill.
For months, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, has been engaging members directly on how Democrats are using their reconciliation bill as the opportunity to repeal GOP tax cuts that were their signature accomplishment under Trump. Republicans on the committee have been operating a “war room” and working to educate members directly on the Democratic-only bill that would increase taxes for some Americans.
“If they continue to be linked and they continue to be pushed as a package, it makes it pretty difficult for even pro infrastructure Republican like me to vote for it,” Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois, a top Republican on the House Transportation Committee and a member of the whip team, told CNN.
Republicans say a lot of the outcome for the bipartisan bill depends on timing and when Pelosi brings up both pieces of the infrastructure agenda.
“The biggest concern for most every Republican I’ve talked to is the fact that the $3.5 trillion package is still hanging out there as a villain,” Rep. Dusty Johnson, a South Dakota Republican who serves as a whip for the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, told CNN. “The fact that we might get a $3.5 trillion package passed at some time prior to, or shortly after, passing a trillion dollar infrastructure package, I mean that does complicate the path forward. There’s no question.”
Democrats are hoping that the political benefits of voting “yes” on the bipartisan infrastructure package will be too tempting for key Republicans to pass up. A Fox News poll in August, for example, found that 62% of the public supported the $1.2 trillion package.
For conservative members in safe red seats, a vote against the bipartisan infrastructure bill may be easier, but, for members in tough reelections, new investments in roads and bridges provide an easy and tangible way to prove to voters back home they are delivering for their district. Democrats also hope the recent natural disasters that have wreaked havoc across the country will renew the sense of urgency to invest in the nation’s aging infrastructure.
But there are no signs that Republicans have changed their minds in recent days. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, whose home state of Louisiana has been ravaged by Hurricane Ida, is still expected to oppose the measure.
“I’m against the far-left $5 trillion tax hike and Green New Deal scheme masquerading as an infrastructure bill,” Scalise told CNN in a statement.
And fellow Louisiana Republican Rep. Garret Graves said at a committee meeting last week that marking up trillions of dollars in spending for the reconciliation package was “ridiculous” and said the priorities of the committee were completely out of sync with what was needed in terms of how the federal response can be strengthened to respond to natural disasters.
While many moderate Republicans may support the core contents of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, they also feel comfortable opposing the measure if it is seen as setting the stage for Democrats’ massive spending package on social programs and climate change.
It’s unclear if and how many GOP votes Democrats would need to pass their bipartisan legislation. If Democrats remain united, they won’t need any. But many progressives have yet to commit publicly to voting for the bipartisan bill. With that three-vote margin, Pelosi may need a handful of Republican votes to get the legislation across the finish line.
GOP leadership has still not decided whether to formally whip against the plan, but the Freedom Caucus is publicly pressing McCarthy to do so, arguing they should not be the ones to bail Pelosi out. While whipping against the bill would certainly appease McCarthy’s right-flank — and increase pressure on Democrats to put up the votes on their own — it could also alienate the moderate Republicans in key swing districts who are considering backing the measure.
Some of them already felt burned earlier this year when McCarthy deputized one of his allies, GOP Rep. John Katko of New York, to cut a deal on a commission to investigate the January 6 attack on the Capitol. McCarthy signaled he would let members vote their conscience, but then informally encouraged members to oppose the bipartisan deal and ultimately voted against it himself.
Even if GOP leadership does decide to actively campaign against the bipartisan infrastructure bill, one member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus predicted there could be as many as 30 House Republicans who cross party lines to back the bill, noting the big bipartisan vote in the Senate provides them some cover.
Rep. Don Bacon, a Nebraska Republican who represents a district won by Biden, said he’d likely vote for the legislation – but only if it’s decoupled from the reconciliation package.
“I believe the majority of the Problem Solvers and many in the Main Street Republican Caucus will (vote for the bill) if the hard infrastructure bill is not linked to the Bernie Sanders $3.5 trillion Dem Socialist plan,” Bacon told CNN. “They must be totally separate votes.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the purpose of Rep. Kevin Brady’s war room. It is intended to lobby Republicans against the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill.