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House Democrats Encourage Moderates To Pass Infrastructure Bill, Spending Package

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's talk through the complexities to come with Democratic Congressman Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey. He led nine moderate House Democrats in pushing for a bipartisan infrastructure bill first. And Congressman Gottheimer is on the line. Good morning.

JOSH GOTTHEIMER: Morning. Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: What's really at stake in the order in which you do things in the House?

GOTTHEIMER: Well, as you might imagine, when we look at something as important as infrastructure and the historic bipartisan package that was passed out of the Senate a few weeks ago - and my concern and my colleagues' was that it wouldn't get stuck for months on end, which was the original plan, if you bring that second package, which could be up to $3.5 trillion - we still have a debate that. If you hold it off until that was done, you'd actually literally be delaying getting shovels in the ground and people to work up to 2 million jobs a year when you've got - I mean, I live in Jersey - you've got the third-worst roads in the country. Our bridges are - a third of our bridges are considered unsafe. We've got this gateway tunnel between New York and New Jersey that needs to be built. And putting that off and holding it basically hostage for the next package just didn't make sense. So it was critical that we got a vote, as you've just heard, we will have done by September 27.

And the other critical commitment we got, the speaker announced yesterday - and not just her - that she would work very hard to, of course, get all the votes for infrastructure, and - which will, I'm hoping, be bipartisan but that we won't bring anything to the House floor to vote on unless we know we have 51-vote majority support in the Senate on that second reconciliation package when we debate the $3.5 trillion.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that. You talked about holding the infrastructure bill hostage. You know that people on the other side of this debate felt that you were holding the budget resolution hostage in a way. You wanted to base - or rather holding the infrastructure bill hostage in order to get leverage on the budget resolution - that you wouldn't do one without the other, which suggests there's something about that giant budget resolution that bothers you. What is in that resolution or could be in that resolution that you just can't take?

GOTTHEIMER: Well, if I could disagree a little bit with that, that sense of it - I mean, one, we have a bill that was in the Senate that, of course, was done and ready to be passed in the House. A key - as the president said, send it to my desk as soon as possible. It's a key priority of President Biden's. And that's...

INSKEEP: OK.

GOTTHEIMER: ...A great win for the country to move forward. But secondly, you know, the $3.5 trillion package, there's so many policy areas that are so important that I believe deeply in, like Medicare expanded with dental and vision and hearing, universal pre-K, fighting climate change and making sure we do everything to protect our climate and reinstating the state-level tax deduction as SALT. Those are just some of the items. I think where the debate will be over is just some of the size of that and, of course, some of the revenue raisers. But there's no bill yet written. I think folks should know that. We're just starting the process. And what we did yesterday is start the debate that we're going to have in the committees and do our work. And something of that magnitude, of course, should take really careful consideration. And that's what we're going to do over the next - over the next weeks and months. And we'll hopefully get something that we can agree upon. It's a critically important piece of legislation...

INSKEEP: Do you - if I might...

GOTTHEIMER: ...And of course we'll work hard on it.

INSKEEP: Forgive me for interrupting, Congressman.

GOTTHEIMER: No, not at all.

INSKEEP: You said the size of that. Do you have a disagreement with progressives about how much to spend, how much to borrow or a basic disagreement about the size and role of government?

GOTTHEIMER: Well, there's no disagreement yet until we actually see a piece of legislation. And, you know, $3.5 trillion at first blush is a little aggressive. And I'm concerned about some of the revenue raisers that have been proposed. But frankly, we haven't seen any legislation yet. There's no specifics yet. So that's what we're going to be debating. And when we get further along, I'm sure we're going to have things that we'll work together on. You know - and that's part of our great process that we have that debate. And what I wanted to do is make sure before we moved onto that months-long debate and that we work with our Senate colleagues and House colleagues, that we got that infrastructure package and that huge win for the country done, that it wasn't held up waiting for whatever happened.

INSKEEP: I think I understand what you're saying. In the minute or so that we have left, I think you are suggesting, Congressman, that you didn't want to be in a position where you're jammed, where there's something very unpleasant in that $3.5 trillion or whatever it is, and you're just forced or compelled to vote for it because there are other things that are too essential to vote no on.

GOTTHEIMER: Well, I just didn't think that we should stop one of the key priorities of the president of the United States and that infrastructure package that's so critical while we debate that. They should stand on their own. They're separate pieces of legislation; that's how we should consider them. And we should. Right? We should move forward fast on infrastructure 'cause it's so critically important that we get that going. And, you know, we can get a great vote on that and pass that and get it to the president's desk and, of course, spend the time debating the next package. And we'll come together. We'll figure it out.

INSKEEP: Congressman, it's a pleasure talking with you. Thank you very much for joining us early this morning.

GOTTHEIMER: Thanks so much for having me.

INSKEEP: That's Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOGO PENGUIN'S "A HUNDRED MOONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.