Republicans may abandon infrastructure bill because Pelosi 'linked' it with reconciliation: GOP Rep. Johnson

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As Democrats charge ahead with writing their massive $3.5 trillion spending bill, which they aim to pass on a party-line vote through budget reconciliation, at least one moderate Republican is warning the bipartisan infrastructure bill may lose GOP votes because it’s too intertwined with the reconciliation bill.

“I think Nancy Pelosi did this whole process a real disservice by linking them together so strongly and she continues to do that. And that makes it very difficult to bring Republicans to the party,” Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus (PSC), told Fox News Wednesday. “I think for honest, forthright fiscal conservatives, it’s hard to get excited about the trillion dollar deal if in any way it makes it more likely that the three-and-a-half trillion dollar deal passes.”

This was always a possibility. 

Last month, PSC Co-Chairman Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., told Fox News he believed there were more Republicans willing to vote for the infrastructure bill than there would be Democrats willing to vote against it without a reconciliation bill. He qualified that statement by saying, “If the [infrastructure bill] is linked to any other bill or held up for months, that support would fall apart.” 

Johnson said Wednesday there are still plenty of Republicans who like the infrastructure bill. But he also used the same “linked” language as Fitzpatrick to describe what’s happening with the infrastructure and reconciliation bills. 

Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., with the Problem Solvers Caucus and other members, speaks at a news conference on the forthcoming passage of the bipartisan emergency COVID-19 relief bill in Washington, D.C., Dec. 21, 2020. (REUTERS/Ken Cedeno)
(REUTERS/Ken Cedeno)

“I think if reconciliation were to just die tomorrow and know we were able to put that monstrosity to bed, I think you would see somewhere between 50 and 100 Republican votes on infrastructure,” he said. 

Johnson added, however, that the infrastructure bill “looks lousy as long as the reconciliation package lives.”

“Speaker Pelosi is absolutely holding the infrastructure bill hostage. … There are not just nine or 10 Democrats who are concerned about how breathtakingly large the $4.7 trillion combined package is. I mean there might be 100 Democrats that have some concerns,” Johnson added. “And I think Nancy Pelosi is an expert at leverage. … And I think she understands how to put some of these Democrats into a box.”

Asked whether he thinks the House will actually vote on the infrastructure bill by the Sept. 27 nonbinding deadline Pelosi, D-Calif., set as a result of negotiations with moderate Democrats, Johnson said it’s extremely unclear whether that’s possible. 

“I think the path forward looks incredibly murky. I wouldn’t even try to hazard a guess,” Johnson said. “What we know is that the ‘Squad,’ these folks are legislative terrorists, they love to take hostages.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., conducts a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center to introduce members of the select committee to investigate the January 6th attack on the Capitol on Thursday, July 1, 2021. At least one moderate Republican is upset at how Pelosi "linked" the bipartisan infrastructure bill with the reconciliation package. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
(Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Among the potential pitfalls for infrastructure specifically are progressives who refuse to rule out the possibility of voting against it if they don’t get as much money as they want in the reconciliation bill. Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., was asked whether he would torpedo infrastructure over the contents of the reconciliation bill on MSNBC earlier this week and said, “We’ll see when we get there.” 

The “Squad,” however, may have more leverage than Johnson and his fellow Republicans over the process. If Republicans all bail on the infrastructure bill, it will still be able to pass with only Democrat votes. And if Republicans are unhappy with how the reconciliation bill eventually shakes out, it’s possible the “Squad” got its way. 

Because no Republicans are even considering voting for reconciliation, it’s moderate Democrats who truly hold any leverage on that bill. They’ve so far generally supported the idea of the bill – even if there are some process complaints and disagreements on issues like prescription drugs and SALT taxes. So long as Pelosi can keep her moderate and progressive wings on board, the House could pass both bills. 

But any GOP abandonment on infrastructure would still greatly reduce the margin for error if any Democrats do indeed decide they can’t vote for it. Democrats can only lose three members on any given vote without picking up Republicans. 

Lawmakers will also have to deal with upcoming deadlines to fund the government, raise the debt ceiling and more in the coming weeks, making any path forward unclear. 

Fox News’ Jacqui Heinrich contributed to this report.

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