Are progressives really going to sink Joe Biden’s agenda?
Photo-Illustration: Intelligence; Photos: Getty Images / Shutterstock
Tuesday afternoon, Pramila Jayapal entered Nancy Pelosi’s office on the Capitol with a threat. The leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus told the Speaker of the House that she and some 50 colleagues would torpedo a bipartisan infrastructure bill if their demands on a separate and much more expensive bill were not met. After the meeting, when a reporter asked Jayapal if she and the caucus were bluffing, her response was simple: “Try us. “
Jayapal, 56, is not a traditional congressional broker. The first Indian woman in America to be elected to Congress, she rose from the Seattle left as a civil rights activist to become the first solo leader of Congressional Progressives in more than a decade. Progressives have long been relative team players within the Democratic caucus. Now they don’t play nicely anymore as they fight a group of moderates with Joe Biden’s legislative agenda caught in the crossfire.
Progressives’ effort to flex their muscles and move the center of power onto Capitol Hill further to the left is a change from the last time there was a Democratic trio, in the first two years of the presidency by Barack Obama. At the time, legislative pressure repeatedly came from moderate and conservative Democrats. “There were maybe 30 Blue Dogs. Now there are a lot more progressives and we’re in the ascendancy because we want to make progress for the people, ”Michigan Rep. Andy Levin told Intelligencer.
The fight is over two different laws, which are the centerpiece of Biden’s national agenda. One is a bill passed by the Senate in August on bipartisan lines that would spend nearly $ 1 trillion on infrastructure. The other is a $ 3.5 trillion purse called the Build Back Better Act that would dramatically expand the social safety net and tackle climate change by raising taxes for the rich and corporate. It would be passed in the Senate by way of reconciliation to dodge a Republican obstruction, then would have to go through a House with only four votes to spare. The reconciliation bill contains decades of liberal goals, and by tying the bills together they hope to ensure moderates seeking infrastructure spending should support both.
That was the plan until a rebellion by a group of nine moderates, led by Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, who pledged in August to vote against the reconciliation bill unless they get an immediate vote on the bipartite infrastructure bill. They reached a deal with Pelosi in which the bipartisan vote would be postponed until Monday, September 27. In response, the progressives said they would vote against the infrastructure bill until the reconciliation bill was passed by the House to regain their influence over the moderates. . “I am quite ready to vote for [the bipartisan bill], but… the reason I would vote no is because I think there are some members who would say “I am done, I have finished” and that the progress of our Build Back Better bill would be lost ” , Jan Schakowsky of Illinois says Intelligencer.
Gottheimer insisted his fears were unfounded. “We agreed to continue and we have been. So if we didn’t want to talk about it and work on it, we wouldn’t be working on it, ”he said of the reconciliation bill, although he was reluctant to mention its tentative price of 3. 500 billion dollars. “In the end, we all said publicly that we were going [support the bill] so I don’t know what else to say.
Progressives are not only wary of moderates blocking the reconciliation bill, they are afraid of trying to shrink it too. Both invoices had already been reduced, with the original price of the reconciliation invoice being $ 6 trillion. “We don’t see a lot of reason to negotiate lower,” insisted Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, who led the progressive caucus before Jayapal.
Above it all loom Senate moderates Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. House moderates say they are wary of voting for anything without the seal of approval from both senators, who could sink whatever the lower house passes when it gets to the Senate. In the House, at least ten Republicans have said they will vote for the bipartisan bill, and every one of them who gets on board is diminishing Jayapal’s influence over Pelosi. So far, Jayapal is sticking to her guns: she tweeted Friday afternoon, “Why are we waiting to vote on the Infrastructure Bill until after passing the Build Back Better Act ??” Because we are not ready to put aside child care, paid time off, education, housing, health care, climate action and a roadmap to citizenship. Let’s achieve EVERYTHING. “
Yet despite all the chaos, gossip and mistrust, Democrats still felt like something would be done. As one member pointed out to Intelligencer, progressives needed a deal more than moderates because, as Jayapal’s tweet shows, they opted for transformational change. Even a stripped down version of the reconciliation bill would be the most comprehensive progressive law in a generation. The moderates do not feel this urge. After all, they haven’t worked on transformational change. But they can’t go too far either. Torpedoing Biden’s legislative agenda would be disastrous for all Democrats on the ballot in 2022.
The challenge now for Biden and Pelosi is to disarm the two factions and pass both bills. However, just by holding the bipartisan bill hostage, Jayapal shifted the balance of power within the caucus further towards the progressives. The coalition of Democrats ready to vote against the bipartisan bill includes not only the usual ‘squad’ suspects, but members like Yvette Clarke, a product of Brooklyn machine politics, and Brendan Boyle, a powerful ally of Biden who represents northeast Philadelphia. .
Leaving the Capitol on Thursday afternoon, Jamaal Bowman of New York, a staunch progressive, said: “It feels like the start of the second half of a football game. We still have the second half left, Sunday and Monday is the fourth quarter. And when asked if it could go overtime, he said, “Dude, I don’t know, I don’t know.”