100 Days into 2nd Speakership, Nancy Pelosi Loses Control of House Floor, Withdraws Budget Bill Before Vote

Nancy Pelosi gavel (Susan Walsh / Associated Press)
Susan Walsh / Associated Press
MATTHEW BOYLE
Washington, D.C.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi lost control of the House floor on Tuesday, withdrawing from consideration before a vote what was presumed to be a mundane, run-of-the-mill, typical political messaging bill on the budget due to widespread division in her own House Democrat conference.

Bloomberg News’ Erik Wasson and Jack Fitzpatrick reported on Tuesday afternoon:

House Democratic leaders shelved a plan to pass a bill increasing budget caps for the next two fiscal years amid infighting between their caucus’s liberal and moderate wings. Liberals demanded $33 billion more for domestic social programs in 2020 as the price of their support, while some moderates opposed the bill over its lack of spending cuts in mandatory entitlement programs to offset the impact on the deficit. Republicans slammed the House majority for failing to produce a budget so far this year.

The bill was not even meant to become law, but to be a messaging bill–an opening salvo for spending negotiations between House Democrats, Senate Republicans, and President Donald Trump’s White House.

“The bill was intended to be an opening offer from House Democrats in budget talks with the White House and Republican-led Senate about the level of discretionary spending. It calls for increasing defense and non-defense caps by $88 billion each in 2020. Disagreement among House Democrats now raises questions about how those talks will proceed,” Wasson and Fitzpatrick reported.

They quoted House Budget Committee chairman Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) as saying the divisions between the two sides of the Democrat conference were irreconcilable ahead of Pelosi’s plans for a floor vote on the bill on Tuesday.

“There are further conversations we must have to reach consensus between the wings of our caucus, left and right,” Yarmuth said.

According to a Fox News report, while Pelosi’s plan would have raised spending significantly, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) was pushing an alternative that blew through the caps on spending even more. The CPC is dominated by far-left voices like freshman Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)–among others–representing the divide in the Democrat conference, and broader Democrat Party, between standard progressive leftists and the new class of socialists rising since the 2018 midterm elections.

Fox News’ Samuel Chamberlain wrote:

The measure [from Pelosi and Democrat leadership] would have raised limits on discretionary spending for both the Pentagon and domestic agencies, but leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) pushed to allow billions more in spending on domestic programs. An amendment offered by CPC co-chairwoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., would have added $67 billion to spending limits for nondefense programs over the next two fiscal years. Jayapal’s amendment would have also capped defense and nondefense spending at $664 billion each in fiscal year 2020 (which begins Oct. 1  of this year) and $680 billion each in fiscal year 2021.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), the co-chair of the CPC, tweeted that progressives “aren’t backing down” on this battle.

Similarly, the Bloomberg story quotes Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA)–a progressive caucus leader who also serves as co-chairman of the 2020 Bernie Sanders Democratic presidential campaign–as saying the left needs to fight harder:

Progressives urged party leadership to use Congress’s authority over taxpayer money to stake out a bold position on what the government’s priorities should be. Ro Khanna, a progressive Democrat from California, said his pitch to the Appropriations Committee will be to spend less money on the military to free up funds for social programs.

“We can’t surrender before the first shot is fired,” Khanna said, setting the tone for budget negotiations with Republicans and the Trump administration

Politico’s report, meanwhile, quotes Prayapal’s CPC co-chair Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) as saying that Pelosi and Democrat leadership did not listen to rank-and-file members enough on this.

“I think if leadership had maybe talked to a broader spectrum of members to begin with and not just worry about the folks who vote wrong on [motions to recommit], they would have had a better outcome,” Pocan said.

But Politico also found that not just the hard left-wing of the Democrat conference was opposed to the bill; so-called moderate Democrats like Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), a co-chair of the Democrats’ Blue Dog Coalition, was quoted as being upset with the proposal because it spent too much.

“The system is broken and somebody has to be the adult in the room and try to get us back on track,” Murphy said.

Politico then explains the tricky vote-maneuvering situation that Pelosi found herself in as she embarked on this process before surrendering on Tuesday with no bill at all:

The focus has been largely on the progressives, with Jayapal and Pocan pushing their own amendment, which would have dramatically increased domestic spending to match the Pentagon’s budget. But that move, which cost an extra $66 billion over two years, would have lost dozens of Democratic fiscal hawks.

Democratic leaders had agreed to put that amendment up for a vote. But it would have been a big political gamble, because the party’s centrists had warned that they would oppose the additional money at a time when government deficits are set to exceed $1 trillion this year.

The Blue Dogs and other fiscal hawks in the party argued that progressives should be the ones to help pass the bill because those votes won’t hurt them back home. Many moderate, vulnerable incumbents, on the other hand, were already loathe to vote for a bill that increases spending.

Democratic leaders made a last-ditch attempt to sell the budget in a closed-door meeting Tuesday morning, with House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey delivering some tough love to her colleagues.

If Democrats can’t pass a bill to set spending limits, the New York Democrat said, they shouldn’t be in the majority, according to multiple people in the room. Such a setback would come after the caucus is likely to skip passing a formal budget this year.

But the setback for Democrats could be even bigger than a budget loss in a battle with Trump or than an embarrassing lack of basic political wherewithal to pass something as non-controversial as a budget. Pelosi fended off an intra-party rebellion after the midterm election before the beginning of this Congress to win a second chance at the Speakership–the first time she’s held the gavel since she lost in the 2010 midterm elections at the beginning of former President Barack Obama’s administration. In doing so, Pelosi secured major rules changes that largely protect her from an internal rebellion mid-Congress–like what drove out former House Speaker John Boehner and what constantly threatened fellow former House Speaker Paul Ryan–but that does not mean she is fully secure.

If she keeps losing battles like this to the left of her conference and sizable numbers of members on both sides feel emboldened enough to take on the Speaker of their own party in battle–and they start winning those battles, as the left won this one–then they could start challenging her on many more things that they would normally let go.

With the rise of problematic members like Reps. Omar and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI)–both of whose repeated anti-Semitic remarks Pelosi failed to actually hold them accountable for–and others like Ocasio-Cortez, whose pie-in-the-sky socialism has rank-and-file so-called moderate Democrats freaking out, then Pelosi could be in for a wild ride from here. It’s notable that this first major blowup in her ability to pass legislation happened within 100 days of the new Congress starting–just 96 days in–so it remains to be seen what fight next leads to issues for Pelosi.

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