WASHINGTON — Hawaii Congressman Ed Case is in a standoff with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the progressive wing of his party over a $3.5 trillion spending plan that includes some of Democrats’ top priorities, from combating climate change and building more affordable housing to extending the child tax credit and expanding family medical leave.
On Thursday, Case and eight of his colleagues — all of them moderate Democrats — sent Pelosi a letter saying they would not consider voting on the party’s budget resolution until the House passes a $1 trillion infrastructure bill approved by the Senate last week with bipartisan support.
Unlike the infrastructure bill, the $3.5 trillion budget resolution passed along party lines with instructions written into the outline to be shepherded through Congress using reconciliation, which allows Democrats to avoid a GOP filibuster in the Senate.
Pelosi has said she wants to take up both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Democratic spending package at the same time. The purpose of tying the legislation together is to keep the party from splintering.
Moderates, such as Case, have raised concerns about the size of the $3.5 trillion budget package while progressives have said the infrastructure plan alone does not go far enough.
At stake is the looming 2022 midterms and the very real possibility that Democrats will no longer be in charge of Congress. That means the window to move significant Democratic-backed legislation core to President Joe Biden’s agenda is rapidly closing.
In an interview with Civil Beat, Case said he does not want to squander the good will that comes from passing bipartisan legislation, especially when the country is so politically polarized.
He said he also doesn’t want to delay a vote for fear Republicans in the House will change their minds should Democrats start moving ahead without them on the budget resolution that goes far beyond what’s contained in the bipartisan infrastructure package.
That process could take months and eventually lead to the whole thing falling apart, he said. Pelosi’s plan to take both pieces of legislation concurrently, Case said, is “a mistake.”
“I’ve got a bird in the hand and I’m not going to let it get away,” he said.
Case and his fellow moderates can hold sway because Democrats have a slim majority in the House.
The Hawaii congressman wants to get the bipartisan infrastructure deal to the president’s desk as soon as possible because it includes billions of dollars for Hawaii, including money for roads, harbors and bridges.
Case said it will also include significant investment in broadband infrastructure, which will help parts of Hawaii, including in the 1st Congressional District that he represents, get access to high speed internet.
The Democrats’ $3.5 trillion spending plan would also be good for Hawaii.
According to an outline of the legislation, there would be an extension of the federal child tax credit that currently gives qualifying families up to $300 a month per child. Billions of dollars would be set aside for rental assistance and the “creation and preservation” of affordable housing, and Medicare and Medicaid would be expanded along with an increase in spending on long-term care for seniors.
Climate is also a key cog in the legislation as billions of dollars will be set aside for research and clean energy initiatives that seek to reduce emissions and help Americans transition to green technologies, such as solar.
Case said he has a few fundamental problems with the $3.5 trillion spending plan. For one, he said the legislation hasn’t actually been written yet so there are few details for him to go on. The price tag, too, is too high for his liking, especially without a clear plan for how to pay for it.
Case has recently introduced legislation that, if passed, would bar future reconciliation efforts from increasing the deficit. So far, the bill does not have any cosponsors.
Case said he’s willing to reverse former President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cuts and raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy to have a more equitable distribution of the tax load.
“What I don’t like is people saying we don’t have to do that in order to pay for all this,” Case said. “So I think we need a far more realistic and honest budget resolution.”
Case says some provisions in the spending plan need to be reconsidered, one of which is tuition-free community college.
He said that while he agrees with paying for school for those who don’t have the financial means, he is opposed to the idea of people with money taking advantage of free college. Case said he’s also concerned that language in the spending plan related to immigration does not specifically address the crisis at the southern border.
Case’s position is unique among Hawaii’s federal delegation. Both U.S. senators, Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono, voted for the bipartisan infrastructure deal and the $3.5 trillion spending plan.
Congressman Kai Kahele has also expressed his support for the larger budget resolution on Twitter.
Colin Moore, an associate professor of political science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and director of the school’s Public Policy Center, said Case stands out among his colleagues who voiced their concerns because he represents a solid blue Democratic district while the others face legitimate challenges from the right that could flip the House back to Republican control after the 2022 midterm elections.
Aside from Case, all the signatories, from Josh Gottheimer and Carolyn Bourdeaux from New Jersey and Georgia, to Kurt Schrader and Jim Costa from Oregon and California, are on the National Republican Campaign Committee’s target list, meaning that those are seats the GOP will seek to flip in 2022.
“Most of those folks are from battleground districts,” Moore said. “Ed Case doesn’t need to do this. He represents one of the most liberal districts in the country. And the one thing we know about Hawaii voters is that they’re never afraid to spend the federal government’s money, so it’s not like this is coming from his constituents.”
Moore pointed out Case’s long history as a fiscal conservative.
He’s a chair of the Blue Dog Coalition in Congress, which is made up of Democrats of the same political ilk. He has also aligned himself with Republicans and more conservative members of his caucus on certain issues such as taxes, including in 2006 when he voted to extend Bush era tax breaks on dividends and capital gains.
“There’s no political reason he’s doing this,” Moore said. “This is just who he is. He’s a fiscal conservative who’s voting his conscience.”
It’s unlikely to result in any blowback at the ballot box, Moore said. Case is still relatively popular in his district, according to the most recent polling from Civil Beat and Hawaii News Now. He also has yet to draw a challenger in 2022, either in the primary or the general election.
“I still think Ed Case is well liked in Hawaii and doesn’t have anything to worry about,” Moore said.
Sign up for our FREE morning newsletter and face each day more informed.
Not a subscription
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service.
That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.
Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.