When House Democrats were forced to postpone their planned vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill earlier this month, the progressives’ reaction has been a bit surprising given that it is a key part of Joe Biden’s national program.
Rather than bemoaning the delay in the vote, progressive groups praised Democratic lawmakers who demanded the change in schedule.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus – a group of leftist Democrats in Congress – had argued that the infrastructure bill could not pass on its own, because if it did, Democrats would lose vital momentum in passing the package. much larger reconciliation, which includes huge investments in climate initiatives. , access to affordable child care, health care and other social programs.
“We applaud the House Democrats who boldly hold the line for better care for our families, our planet and our future, not the bottom line for big business,” progressive group MoveOn said.
After years of complaints that leftist Democrats in Congress have still failed to exercise their power effectively, the CCP is now receiving applause from supporters for its strategy in infrastructure negotiations.
The progressives’ success has emboldened their allies and raised questions about how they might use that power in the next stage of negotiations as Biden seeks to push through an agenda that many have compared to the 1930s New Deal or the Great Society of the 1960s.
For progressives outside of Capitol Hill, the CCP’s success was a validation of their long-standing efforts to push for more robust climate and health care policies.
“I think that often movements run into attacks of helplessness when we spend so much energy [on] an election or a certain candidate running in order to keep all of these promises, ”said John Paul Mejia, spokesperson for the climate group Sunrise Movement.
“Fortunately with the progressives, what we’ve seen is that by building accountability and power with people inside and outside the halls of power, we’ve actually been able to do pretty crazy things that fit what our movement is trying to do. to ensure the vision of the Green New Deal.
Some progressives have said the fight is overdue because the CCP has long resisted criticism that its members only raise objections to bills to back down at the last minute.
“Progressives were seen as cavers in the ninth inning of a game, and there was a need for years of credibility if the progressive bloc was to be seen as a real bloc in future fights,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Campaign Committee for Progressive Change. “And it was then because the stars aligned.”
Green added that the victory could encourage progressives to pursue tough tactics again, saying, “Now that it’s done once, [CPC chair] Pramila Jayapal and the Progressive Caucus will have more credibility and can therefore have more impact on the negotiations in all future fights. “
The progressives’ strategy could have a significant impact on the final version of the reconciliation package, on which lawmakers continue to negotiate.
The legislation was previously expected to cost around $ 3.5 billion, a figure progressives already saw as a major compromise from their ideal price of $ 10 billion. But now more centrist Democrats, including Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, are pushing for a smaller bill. Manchin suggested to go as low as $ 1.5 billion for legislation.
Mejia strongly urged progressives to stick to the next stage of negotiations once again, warning that a smaller bill would not solve the serious problems facing the country.
“We need an investment of $ 3.5 billion in order to really start dealing with the crises that have plagued us over the past few years,” said Mejia.
“When we face our next hurricane or when we face flooding in our homes, we won’t care about Joe Biden’s kindness to Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema. We will care whether or not he made the $ 3.5 billion investment to keep our communities and families safe. “
As they push for a broader reconciliation plan, Progressives are also seeking to change the narrative about lawmakers pushing for a less comprehensive bill, like Manchin and Democratic Congressman Josh Gottheimer.
Progressives argue that it is incorrect to describe these politicians as “moderate.”
Progressive MP Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said in a tweet last week: “The moderates are a big part of the party. The 4% of members threatening the full agenda of a moderate president are not moderates. How would you describe these demands: subsidizing fossil fuels, protecting the rich from taxes, keeping prescription drug prices high? Conservative!”
Indeed, some of the most vulnerable members of the House Democratic caucus echoed their progressive colleagues in stressing the need to pass both the infrastructure bill and the reconciliation package.
Six of these “front line Democrats” wrote a Newsweek Editorial Monday, in which they wrote: “[W]We are the serious and dedicated lawmakers who won the Democratic majority. We fight every day to deliver our constituents. And we are committed to bringing both the infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better Act to the finish line.
Matt Bennett, executive vice president of public affairs for the centrist think tank Third Way, warned it would be moderate Democrats who would bear the brunt in next year’s midterm election if the party fails to pass the reconciliation plan.
“We think in order to win they will need all the tools at their disposal, and they will have to run from a position of strength,” Bennett said. “And if the president’s agenda were to somehow collapse in quarrels within the party, that would be a position of extreme weakness.”
And while Democrats like Gottheimer have stressed the urgency of passing the “”historical“Infrastructure bill, Bennett argued that the bill alone would not be enough to get vulnerable moderates re-elected next year.
“There are a lot of good things in the infrastructure bill,” Bennett said. “But that’s just not enough. We need to do more to show voters that we are listening to them and that we are improving their lives in some fundamental ways. “
The stakes couldn’t be higher for Democrats, and progressives like Mejia are keeping a close eye on the negotiations. He condemned lawmakers such as Manchin and Sinema for their “relentless willingness to fight for their corporate donors instead of their own voters,” and said their actions only underscored the need to elect more progressives in the country. Congress, potentially by supporting the main challenges to more centrists. Democrats.
“With the crisis we are facing right now, we don’t need any other obstacle to power to prevent us from getting the solutions our communities desperately need,” said Mejia.
“And if a member of Congress or a leader in any form cannot respect the will of the people in a democratic process, then he must be replaced by someone who will.”