WWhen House Democrats were forced to delay their planned vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill earlier this month, the reaction from progressives was a bit surprising considering it is a key part of the national agenda of Joe Biden.
Rather than lament the voting delay, progressive groups praised Democratic lawmakers who had demanded the scheduling change.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus, a group of left-wing Democrats in Congress, had argued that the infrastructure bill could not pass on its own because if it did, Democrats would lose vital momentum to pass the reconciliation package much more. large, which includes huge investments in climate initiatives. , affordable access to child care and health care and other social programs.
“We applaud House Democrats who stand firm in the line for better care for our families, our planet, and our future, not the bottom line for big corporations,” said the progressive group MoveOn.
After years of complaints that left-wing Democrats in Congress have consistently failed to exercise their power effectively, the CCP is now receiving applause from its supporters for its strategy in infrastructure negotiations.
The progressives’ success has emboldened their allies and raised questions about how they can use that power in the next stage of negotiations as Biden seeks to pass an agenda many have compared to the New Deal of the 1930s or the Great Society of 60s.
For progressives outside of Capitol Hill, the CPC’s success was a validation of its years-long efforts to push for stronger health and climate policies.
“I think movements often run into crisis of impotence when we expend so much energy [on] an election or a certain candidate running to fulfill all those promises, “said John Paul Mejía, spokesman for the climate group Sunrise Movement.
“Fortunately with progressives, what we’ve seen is that by developing responsibility and power with people in and out of the corridors of power, we’ve actually been able to do some pretty crazy things that are in line with what our movement seeks to do. . to ensure the vision of the Green New Deal. “
Some progressives have said the fight seemed overdue, as the CCP has long resisted criticism that its members raise objections to bills only to back down at the last minute.
“Progressives were seen as giving up in the ninth inning of a game, and there was a need for credibility for years if the progressive bloc wanted to be seen as a real bloc in future fights,” said Adam Green, Co-Founder of the Campaign Committee. of Progressive Change. “And this was that moment because the stars aligned.”
Green added that the victory could encourage progressives to pursue hardline tactics again, saying, “Now that that was done once, [CPC chair] Pramila Jayapal and the progressive caucus will have more credibility and therefore will be able to impact the negotiations more in all future fights. “
The progressives’ strategy could have a significant impact on the final version of the reconciliation package, which lawmakers continue to negotiate.
The legislation was previously expected to cost around $ 3.5 trillion, a figure that progressives already saw as a significant compromise relative to its ideal price tag of $ 10 trillion. But now, the more centrist Democrats, including Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, are pushing for a smaller bill. Manchin has suggested that the legislation be as low as $ 1.5 trillion.
Mejía strongly urged progressives to once again stand firm in the next stage of the negotiations, warning that a smaller bill would not address the serious problems facing the country.
“We need an investment at the level of $ 3.5 trillion to really begin to address the crises that have affected us in recent years,” said Mejía.
“When we face our next hurricane or when we face flooding in our homes, we won’t care how nice Joe Biden was to Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema. We will worry about whether or not he made the $ 3.5 billion investment to keep our communities and families safe. “
While pushing for a broader reconciliation package, progressives also seek to change the narrative about lawmakers advocating a less comprehensive bill, such as Manchin and Democratic Congressman Josh Gottheimer.
Progressives argue that it is incorrect to describe these politicians as “moderates.”
Progressive Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said in a tweet last week: “The moderates make up a considerable part of the party. The 4% of members who threaten the entire agenda of a moderate president are not moderates. How would you describe these demands: fossil fuel subsidies, protecting the rich from taxes, keeping prescription drug prices high? Conservative!”
In fact, some of the most vulnerable members of the Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives have echoed their progressive colleagues in emphasizing the need to pass both the infrastructure bill and the reconciliation package.
Six of those “front-line Democrats” wrote a Newsweek op-ed on Monday, in which they wrote: “[W]We are the serious and dedicated legislators who won the Democratic majority. We fight every day to comply with our voters. And we are committed to ensuring that both the infrastructure bill and the Better Reconstruction Law reach the goal. “
Matt Bennett, executive vice president for public affairs at the centrist thinktank Third Way, warned that it will be moderate Democrats who will suffer the consequences in next year’s midterm elections if the party does not pass the reconciliation package.
“We believe that in order for them to win, they will need all the tools at their disposal and must run from a position of strength,” said Bennett. “And if the president’s agenda somehow collapsed in disputes within the party, that would be a position of extreme weakness.”
And while Democrats like Gottheimer have emphasized the urgent need to pass the “landmark” 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 it’s not enough. We have to do more to show voters that we are listening to them and improving their lives in some fundamental ways. “
The stakes could not be higher for Democrats, and progressives like Mejía are closely watching the negotiations unfold. He condemned lawmakers like Manchin and Sinema for their “relentless willingness to fight for their corporate donors rather than their own constituencies,” and said their actions only underscored the need to elect more progressives to Congress, potentially supporting primary challenges to more centrists. . Democrats.
“At the level of crisis we are facing right now, we do not need more obstructionists in power to prevent us from reaching the solutions that our communities desperately need,” Mejía said.
“And if a congressman or a leader in any form, shape or form cannot fulfill the will of the people in a democratic process, then they must be replaced by someone who will.”