As Infrastructure Deal Gathers Steam, Democratic Cracks Begin to Show

House progressives say they can bring down the bipartisan bill if they do not get their priorities too, but as White House lobbying steps up, other Democrats have different ideas.

By Jonathan Weisman

WASHINGTON — Liberal House Democrats, squeezed between President Biden’s personal lobbying for a bipartisan infrastructure deal and their own ambitions for a far more expansive domestic agenda, are warning that they will not hesitate to bring down the accord without action on their long-sought priorities.

The brewing fight, which pits progressives against moderates more aligned with the president’s tactics, is exposing cracks in the party’s fragile strategy for enacting its economic plans.

Democratic leaders have said the Senate centrists’ agreement, which would pump $1.2 trillion into roads, bridges, tunnels and broadband, will not get through Congress without a second, larger bill. That measure includes progressive wish-list items that Republicans have rejected, such as universal preschool and community college access, a health care expansion and a broad effort to combat climate change.

But progressive House members have begun questioning the depth of that commitment, particularly after Mr. Biden walked back a threat he made to condition the narrower bill on the more costly one, and as he and other administration officials begin a lobbying blitz around the country to build support for the infrastructure package.

On Tuesday, Mr. Biden will promote the deal in La Crosse, Wis., the home district of a long-targeted House Democrat, Representative Ron Kind. And on Monday, Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, toured a crumbling tunnel to Manhattan with two New Jersey Democrats, both of whom said they came away convinced that Congress should move now on infrastructure.

“We’re going to do what we should have done from the start, which is to try to pass this good bipartisan bill, and then Democrats, as the majority party, will try to legislate,” one of the representatives, Tom Malinowski, said after the visit with Mr. Buttigieg. “There’s no need for drama around that.”

Representative Josh Gottheimer, who was also on the tour, said the bipartisan infrastructure deal was historic on its own and “something we should celebrate by getting it passed as quickly as possible.”

But the fear among liberals is that if the bipartisan measure gathers enough momentum to quickly pass, some Democrats — particularly centrists like Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — will lose their appetite for another major economic package, or will force progressives to substantially scale back the scope and cost of any such plan before they are willing to vote for it.

Progressives in the House warn that their support for the infrastructure agreement is contingent on the success of the bigger bill, which could amount to several trillion dollars and which Democrats plan to push through using a budget maneuver known as reconciliation to shield it from a Republican filibuster.

“The president can say he’s bipartisan, he can go out and support the deal, but at the end of the day, if he wants it, he’s going to have to support our priorities,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington and the chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus, which represents 93 House members.

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