Progressives Just Won a High-Stakes Game of Chicken in Congress - DMT NEWS

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Progressives Just Won a High-Stakes Game of Chicken in Congress

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Call it a conscious recoupling.

House progressives called moderate Democrats’ bluff on Thursday night, blocking a major bipartisan infrastructure bill as they insisted they won’t pass it without an accompanying reconciliation package.

That means that after weeks of wrangling, House progressives stood firm and made clear they won’t give moderates a win on infrastructure unless they get some major concessions in return—like a child tax credit, allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prescription-drug prices, and universal free community college that are key portions of President Biden’s policy agenda. That maintains their leverage in ongoing negotiations and increases the pressure on moderates to land on an agreement.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had said she’d put the bill on the floor on Thursday, after she promised moderates she would. But after a drama-filled day, House Democratic leadership announced Thursday night that the bill would be delayed because they didn’t have enough votes to pass it.

The result proved that moderate House Democrats had badly misplayed their hand—and misjudged their own power. Moderate Democratic New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer, who led the fight to decouple the two bills and pass infrastructure immediately, said as late as midday Thursday that he was “1,000 percent” sure that the House would vote that day and pass the bill.

But Washington Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the House Progressive Caucus, proved her larger caucus had the backbone to stand up to moderates, as enough of her 94 members refused to budge.

Jayapal reportedly encouraged progressives not to gloat if they won this fight. But they some took a victory lap anyway. 

Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar trolled Gottheimer for his remarks:

“In Congress, we don’t make predictions like this until we know we have the votes. Some of us get this, others bluff & fall on their face,” she tweeted. “Hopefully, @JoshGottheimer and the other 4% of Democrats will not obstruct but negotiate and help us get @POTUS’s agenda done for the people.”

This doesn’t mean that progressives will suddenly get everything they want in the proposed reconciliation package that would spend $3.5 trillion over the next 10 years on a bevy of programs: universal free community college and pre-kindergarten, major financial support for childcare, a child tax credit, expansion of Medicare to include dental, hearing, and vision coverage, a guarantee of paid family and medical leave, lower prescription drug prices, and money to fight climate change. Most of the package would be paid for by increases in corporate and wealthier Americans’ personal taxes to near the levels that existed before President Trump and the GOP slashed rates in 2017.

Democrats still need every single one of their 50 senators and almost all of their 220 House members to support the eventual package if they’re going to squeeze it through a narrowly divided Congress, and both West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema have made clear they’re not willing to go nearly as far as progressives want. Manchin made public on Thursday that he’s been pushing since July for a package that’s no bigger than $1.5 trillion and that he hasn’t budged from that number.

And Sinema and Manchin aren’t even on the same page with each other: Manchin’s biggest complaints with the bill seem to be with its environmental provisions (he’s a coal-state booster), as well as with the size of the tax increases, while Sinema seems even less comfortable with the tax increases and the only part of the spending she seems supportive of, according to reports, are the green provisions.

But almost any one of these items would be a major achievement for progressives even if passed on its own. If Manchin and Sinema get their own infrastructure bill signed into law, they’ll have to make more concessions. And even if progressives’ stubbornness on Thursday helps them get even a bit more of this signed into law, they’ll likely view the delay as worthwhile. 

It’s still possible that Pelosi can wrangle enough votes to pass this bill—the House hasn’t adjourned—but it looks like this isn’t going anywhere until progressives can be assured that a reconciliation package with some of their priorities can get through Congress. And while this appears to be a public failure for Pelosi, sources say she wasn’t aggressively whipping progressives to support the bill, a sign that she was fine proving that this bill couldn’t pass to moderates and wasn’t that uncomfortable with the delay.

The White House never got that heavily involved in arm-twisting to ram through the bill, either. And senior Biden officials don’t seem too bummed that it’s been delayed.

When California progressive Rep. Jared Huffman tweeted that a New York Times headline should read “We are setting the Biden agenda back on track, not setting it back,” he got retweeted by White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain:

Major publications painted this as a setback for Democrats. But while it’s a delay, it seems that this move is the opposite: It makes it more likely that progressives could actually get a chunk of what they want in reconciliation and push through more of President Biden’s agenda by holding hostage the infrastructure package, a bill that Sinema and Manchin are deeply invested in making law.

Ironically, House Republicans’ refusal to help Pelosi out on this bill may strengthen progressives’ hand in the long run. While 19 of the 50 Senate Republicans had voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, House Republican leaders pushed hard to keep their members from supporting it this week. 

That contributed to the delay but could eventually lead to the passage of a much more robust package. If Republicans had decided to give Biden (and themselves) a modest win, it would have undercut progressives’ negotiating position going forward. But they decided to trade that risk for a few days of headlines about Democrats in disarray.

While Democrats have ostensibly been working on this package for months, Thursday marked the real start of serious negotiations to get a deal done. The two sides are still far apart, and more ugly wrangling is ahead. But unlike in past Capitol Hill negotiations, progressives held firm and refused to give up their leverage—a sign of their growing power within the Democratic Party.



via https://www.DMT.NEWS

Cameron Joseph, Khareem Sudlow