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Moderate U.S. House Democrats add to division over Biden agenda

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WASHINGTON, Aug 13 (Reuters) - Nine moderate Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives threatened on Friday to withhold support for a $3.5 trillion budget resolution that is one of President Joe Biden's top priorities until a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan is signed into law.

In the latest sign of division among Democrats over the path forward for Biden's agenda, the lawmakers led by Representative Josh Gottheimer told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a letter that they would not vote for the measure when the House reconvenes to consider it later this month unless the infrastructure bill moved first.

"With the livelihoods of hardworking American families at stake, we simply can't afford months of unnecessary delays and risk squandering this one-in-a-century, bipartisan infrastructure package," said the letter, signed by enough Democrats to prevent the budget resolution from passing the narrowly divided House.

"It's time to get shovels in the ground and people to work," they wrote.

The House is due to return from its summer break on Aug. 23 to take up the budget resolution, which is needed to authorize legislation to fund key Democratic priorities, including climate change, immigration reform, universal preschool and home healthcare for the elderly.

The $3.5 trillion spending package that the budget resolution would make possible, and the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill to refurbish America's roads, bridges, airports and waterways, are major priorities for Biden.

But getting them through Congress and onto Biden's desk has become an increasing challenge, since the Senate passed both the infrastructure bill and the budget measure earlier this week.

The U.S. flag flies in front of the Capitol Dome at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

The nine House Democrats oppose Pelosi's plan to delay consideration of the infrastructure bill until the Senate approves the larger "reconciliation" package later this year.

But in response to the letter, a senior Democratic aide said there are not yet enough votes to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill in the House, where Pelosi and progressive lawmakers want infrastructure and reconciliation to move in tandem to ensure that both get through.

"There are dozens upon dozens who will vote against (infrastructure) unless it's after the Senate passes reconciliation," said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, two moderate Democrats who helped write the infrastructure bill, have pushed back on the $3.5 trillion price tag of Biden's spending package, raising concerns about whether the legislation can pass the evenly divided Senate.

Pelosi told her caucus in a call this week that she would not deviate from the two-track process, saying: "The votes in the House and Senate depend on us having both bills."

Representative Hakeem Jeffries, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, downplayed tensions between House Democrats during a CNN interview on Friday.

"I'm confident that we're going to be able to continue to find a way to stay together," Jeffries said.

Reporting by Susan Heavey and David Morgan; Additional reporting by Jan Wolfe Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman

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