What to Know in Washington: Democrats Head for Agenda Showdown

House Democrats are moving toward a showdown this week over President Joe Biden’s economic agenda, with a planned vote on a $550 billion infrastructure package that has riven the caucus in two and still more negotiations on broader tax and spending plan.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) put the infrastructure bill on the schedule for today under pressure from moderates eager to get the bipartisan bill, which has already passed the Senate, enacted. But progressives—whose votes are likely vital—are insisting on progress first on the bigger social-spending bill.

Last night, she told House Democrats in a letter that the infrastructure legislation will be voted on Thursday. Party leaders are continuing to negotiate among factions on the second bill encompassing much of the rest of Biden’s plans.

“We’re going to pass the bill this week,” Pelosi said of the public works legislation on ABC’s “This Week” program yesterday. “I’m never bringing a bill to the floor that doesn’t have the votes.”

The high-stakes political battle is consuming politicians just days before a possible Oct. 1 government shutdown and a payments default by the Treasury later in October if the federal debt limit isn’t raised—neither of which Congress is yet ready to address.

Biden spent part of his weekend contacting lawmakers, as did Cabinet members and staff, about the path ahead for the infrastructure and social spending measures, according to a White House official. That will extend into today, the official said. Read more from Erik Wasson and Laura Litvan.

Photographer: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg
Pelosi at the Capitol on Friday.

Also Happening on the Hill

Today’s Agenda:

  • The House plans to begin consideration of the Senate-passed, bipartisan infrastructure bill. The chamber is also scheduled to consider five measures under expedited procedure.
  • The Senate plans a procedural vote on the House-passed continuing resolution that includes a proposal opposed by Republicans to increase the debt limit.
  • Click here for a complete list of the week’s hearings and markups.

Highway Fund Gets Infusion Ahead of Infrastructure Vote: The Federal Highway Administration says it has enough money to keep highway projects running in the coming weeks, as Congress faces a Sept. 30 deadline to reauthorize surface transportation programs. The office had previously warned it would have to ration payments to states as the Highway Trust Fund runs out. Still, stakeholders are warning of potential furloughs and frozen reimbursements if Congress doesn’t act. Lillianna Byington has more.

Debt Limit Fight Is as Much Politics as Policy: The U.S. is heading to the precipice of a debt default as much for the sake of campaign ads and political branding as fiscal philosophy. While agreeing that the statutory limit on U.S. borrowing must be raised before it’s breached sometime next month, Republicans and Democrats are completely at odds over who should act. The debt limit fight has become part of an ongoing struggle between the parties to shape public perceptions of Biden’s agenda heading into next years congressional election. Read more from Mike Dorning.

Drug Pricing Allies See Promise in Leahy Bill: A planned bill to make changes to how the Patent Trial and Appeal Board reviews patents includes a new validity challenge that supporters of lower drug prices believe could be useful in getting more generics on the market. The legislation, which Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) plans to introduce, would allow the Patent Trial and Appeal Board to examine a patent’s validity under the double-patenting doctrine during a review challenge. Matthew Butlman has more.

White House May Give Trump Records to Jan. 6 Panel: Biden won’t block requests for Trump administration records sought by a House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said. “We take this matter incredibly seriously,” Psaki told reporters on Friday. “The president already concluded that it would not be appropriate to assert executive privilege. So we’ll respond promptly to these questions as they arise.” Justin Sink and Jenny Leonard have more.

  • Meanwhile, New York City prosecutors said they’ve amassed millions of records from Trump’s accounting firm and from a range of banks and real estate companies that did business with his company. In a court filing last week, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office disclosed a summary of materials collected so far in the probe, offering an overview of what officials have gathered in their inquiry. Greg Farrell and Patricia Hurtado have more.

Midterm Fears Quicken Pace on Biden Judicial Nominations: Fear of losing a slim Senate majority, absence of a Supreme Court vacancy to fill, and a focus on blue states are all contributing to Biden’s quick pace on judicial confirmations. The speed is noteworthy for a Democratic president—as they’ve struggled in the past to match Republicans’ sense of urgency when it comes to judgeships—but keeping up the pace could prove challenging. Biden’s nine district and circuit court confirmations as of Sept. 10 surpasses every president since Richard Nixon, according to Russell Wheeler, a researcher at the Brookings Institution. The Senate has confirmed five more in the subsequent two weeks. Read more from Madison Alder.

Around the Administration

Today’s Agenda: Biden has no public events scheduled for today. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki is scheduled to hold a press briefing at 1 p.m.

Biden to Restore Legal Case For Mercury Limits: Biden plans in coming days to shore up one of the most consequential environmental regulations in history by moving to restore the legal foundation for limits on mercury pollution from power plants. Restrictions on mercury, imposed by the Obama administration, are credited with reducing the emissions from coal-fired power plants by 84% and cutting in half the number of children exposed to unsafe levels before birth. The Trump administration last year concluded the Obama-era requirements were no longer “appropriate and necessary,” and said the costs of complying outweighed the potential benefits. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Jennifer Hijazi.

Honoré Has Environmental Concerns For FERC Pick: The decorated Army veteran who coordinated relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina wants answers from the White House on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s oversight of liquified natural gas facilities on the Gulf Coast. Retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré sent a letter to Biden posing a series of questions for Willie Phillips, the administration’s nominee for FERC commissioner. Read more from Kellie Lunney.

Walensky Warns of ‘Dire Straits’: Parts of the U.S. health system “are in dire straits,” as the spread of the Covid-19 delta variant forces some states to prepare for rationed medical care, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said. “That means that we are talking about who is going to get a ventilator, who is going to get an ICU bed,” Walensky said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” yesterday. “Those are not easy discussions to have, and that is not a place we want our health care system to ever be.” Read more from Ian Fisher.

Providers Want More Time to Spend Relief Money: Medical groups and health lawyers are calling on the government to give hospitals more time and clarity as they hustle to report how they spent pandemic assistance funds by an approaching deadline. The delta variant has hit an already overburdened health-care workforce hard, with hospitals losing money and staff. And rules from HHS around how the funds would be spent and accounted for have changed several times. Allie Reed has more.

Defense & Foreign Affairs

Sullivan Said to Meet Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince: U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will meet today with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the Associated Press reported, as part of a trip that makes him the highest-ranking Biden administration official to visit Saudi Arabia. The meeting comes as the U.S. is urging Saudi Arabia to embrace a cease-fire in its war with Houthi rebels in Yemen. The AP, citing two senior administration officials, said Sullivan also plans to meet with deputy defense minster Khalid bin Salman, a brother to the crown prince. Read more from Jennifer Epstein.

Biden Team Aims to Rival China’s Belt and Road in Latin America: The Biden administration is considering a U.S.-led competitor for China’s Belt and Road international trade and public works program, and a top White House official will scout Latin America next week for possible projects. Daleep Singh, the U.S. deputy national security adviser for international economics, is traveling to Colombia, Ecuador and Panama to talk with high-level officials, business leaders and civic activists about infrastructure needs, according to U.S. officials who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity. Read more from Jennifer Jacobs.

  • Biden and the leaders of Australia, India, and Japan made a show of unity against China on Friday, meeting together at the White House in first-ever talks to discuss initiatives to counter Beijing’s influence across the Pacific region. The group is “coming together to take on key challenges of our age, from Covid-19 to climate to emerging technologies,” Biden said Friday at the White House. Read more from Justin Sink.

Errant Drone Strike Undercuts Biden Vow on Terrorists: The Pentagon’s admission that a drone strike killed innocent civilians as U.S. forces hastily withdrew from Afghanistan undercut one of the Biden administration’s chief arguments for leaving—the ability to use “over the horizon” capabilities to hit terrorists. The risk of drone attacks gone wrong remains. As vaunted as American drones and satellite technology are, there’s still no substitute for boots on the ground, soldiers and agents who can provide the close-up intelligence on possible targets clarifying fuzzy data that’s sometimes collected from thousands of miles away. Read more from Peter Martin.

Biden Praised Germany’s Projected Election Winner: Biden hadn’t heard Germany’s election results when he returned to Washington from his weekend retreat yesterday, but he complimented the projected winner. “I’ll be darned,” Biden said when a reporter told him that the Social Democrats were ahead in the election, which will determine who replaces Angela Merkel as German chancellor. “They’re solid,” he said, Sophia Cai reports.

Mayorkas Says U.S. Won’t Build Wall to Protect Border: Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the Biden administration won’t build walls on the border despite a pickup in crossings. “We have seen large numbers of individuals encountered at our border making a claim for asylum, for humanitarian relief,” Mayorkas told Fox News yesterday, adding that it’s nothing new and spans several presidents. “We do not agree with a building of the wall,” he said. Craig Torres has more.

U.S.’s Costly Move to End Huawei Spat: The U.S. met one of China’s key demands to improve relations with the release of a top Huawei executive, paving the way for better ties at the cost of seeming to reward Beijing for what critics call “hostage diplomacy.” Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer, flew to China from Vancouver after reaching a deferred prosecution agreement with U.S. authorities. Shortly after, China released two Canadians detained within days of her December 2018 arrest. Read more.

Russia Says U.S. Should Do More to Ease Iran Tensions: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged the Biden White House to be “more active” in resolving disputes with Iran by removing sanctions that were “unlawfully” applied. The U.S. has criticized the new Iranian government for taking its time in returning to nuclear talks, but Lavrov said the U.S.—which withdrew from the agreement under Donald Trump—shouldn’t be complaining about Iranian delays. Read more from David Wainer.

To contact the reporters on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com; Michaela Ross in Washington at mross@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com