A few hours ago the two NY Times Jonathans-- Martin and Weisman reported what has become more and more apparent since Biden's visit to Capitol Hill yesterday: he sided with the progressive positions and away from the conservatives' demands. Those ugly, threatening letters from Josh Gottheimer, Stephanie Murphy and Kyrsten Sinema reflected their frustration of seeing their strategies undermined. Martin and Weisman wrote that Biden "had to choose sides. He effectively chose the left."
One of the corrupt right-wingers trying to prevent the reconciliation bill from moving forward, Orlando Blue Dog Stephanie Murphy, said called Biden’s refusal to embrace the position of the Republican wing of the Democratic Party "disappointing and frustrating."
Heading into last week, both the moderates and the progressives felt as if they had ironclad promises: the moderates, that a vote on infrastructure would happen before October; the liberals, that the bill, a crucial part of the president’s domestic agenda, was inextricably twinned with their higher priority, the more expansive measure addressing climate change and the frayed social safety net.
The liberals, however, used their larger numbers to blockade the infrastructure bill-- and they said they did it for Mr. Biden. Representative Ilhan Omar, a left-wing Democrat from Minnesota and one of the leaders of the blockade, stood before reporters last week and said the blockaders were the ones “trying to make sure that the president has a success.”
“If we pass the infrastructure bill alone, we are not even accomplishing 10 percent of his agenda,” said Ms. Omar, the vote-counter in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a bloc of Democrats nearly 100-strong, who showed their cohesion in last week’s showdown.
...“I don’t think it’s good for the Joe Biden administration, and I don’t think it’s good for Democrats,” said [far right, quasi-Republican] Representative Henry Cuellar, Democrat of Texas, suggesting that Biden was effectively siding with the left by not lobbying for passage of the infrastructure package.
...[I]n making peace with progressives after he secured the nomination, he adopted a number of their ideas.
That has allowed left-wing Democrats to say, with wide smiles, that they are only trying to fulfill Mr. Biden’s vision. The question now is whether his attempt to pass both bills will pay off-- or if his decision to not push for quick passage of the infrastructure bill will leave him with a protracted standoff, or nothing at all.
What’s certain, however, is that after Biden’s all-things-to-all-people campaign, he has committed himself to many of the policies that his liberal critics were skeptical he would embrace.
This evening, one very admired and very senior Capitol Hill staffer told me that "This is not a crisis. Congress-- specifically the Democratic caucus (because Republicans are useless obstructionists)-- is continuing to debate a pair of transformational bills that re-invest in our people. We will get this done and the nation will be better off for it. The Speaker was right not to stick to an artificial timeline supported by a very small minority of the caucus. Everyone understood-- in the House and Senate-- that this was a package deal. Passing the Build Back Better agenda and the infrastructure bill is good policy and good politics. It is incredibly popular. That is why I continue to believe we will land this plane."
He agreed with what is becoming clearer and clearer, one of the co-pilots of that plane is a skillful legislator who honed her skills and developed her chops in the Washington state Senate before getting to DC. Pramila Jayapal, the visionary chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, understands how to compromise without abandoning basic values or the legitimate interests of working families. Unlike Sinema, who learned absolutely nothing of any value to Arizonans when she served in the state Senate there, Pramila is one of the most accomplished negotiators in Washington-- and sometimes that means digging in your heels and holding the line.
On Friday David Dayen recognized what a difference Pramila is making for the formerly toothless and often somnolent Progressive Caucus. "It’s the first day Washington has seen a coherent, organized coalition in Congress wielding power from the left," he wrote. "And it has the congressional leadership confused. In the past, whenever the Democratic leadership needed a vote on some compromised piece of whatever, they would lean on the Progressive Caucus with hackneyed phrases like 'half a loaf is better than nothing' or 'don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,' and caucus members would give in. There wasn’t much of a strategy to keep the caucus together and voting as a bloc, to force their ideas into the conversation. There wasn’t much of a strategy, period.
An overlooked piece of Manchin’s ransom note that he belatedly released yesterday stated that negotiations should not commence on the reconciliation process until October 1. That was roughly the same deadline House members made for voting on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill. That was quiet evidence for the corporate Dems’ desire to de-link the two bills, the preferred strategy of their finance and pharma industry backers, who abhorred the tax increases and drug price reforms in the second bill and saw de-linking as a way to kill it.
At this point, we got the familiar trajectory from Pelosi. Having promised Gottheimer a late-September infrastructure bill vote, and having promised progressives a two-track strategy, she broke the promise to the progressives, and sought to blow right past them this week. And if this were the Progressive Caucus of 20, or 10, or even 5 years ago, Pelosi probably would have succeeded.But this is a completely different animal. At the beginning of this Congress, Jayapal, an organizer before she got to Congress, created new rules to facilitate voting as a bloc. She also elevated Squad member Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and frontline member Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) as top deputies. Not only are they effective communicators and organizers, but the different perspectives of someone in a safe seat and a swing seat spanned the gamut of the caucus.
Jayapal smartly got the two-track promise from leadership early enough to rally around it. By associating it, correctly, with the Biden agenda, she split the opposition from their standard-bearer. And she was able over months to build numbers to demand the original deal. It didn’t hurt that Manchin and Sinema simply refused to engage on particulars, and that the infrastructure bill, negotiated by Democrats and Republicans, was to progressives less than half a loaf, with its disproportionate emphasis on fossil fuels and bending to corporate giants.
Ultimately, nearly 30 members publicly opposed Pelosi’s de-linking efforts, with Jayapal having close to another 30 in her back pocket. Pelosi delayed the infrastructure vote from Monday to Thursday, and then gave up on Thursday night. Negotiations in both chambers on the broader deal continue, but there’s a recognition that only negotiation, not steamrolling, will get the infrastructure bill passed into law.
This is a genuinely new position for the CPC. They are using their numbers to enforce terms on legislation. I do have the sense that Pelosi didn’t mind failing on Thursday, if only to show her corporate Dems, and more to the point Manchin and Sinema, that they had no choice but to make a deal. Pointedly, Manchin publicly released his opening bid only when he realized this; likewise, Sinema had to release a defensive-sounding statement.
...[H]olding the line (as the hashtag goes) gives something the Progressive Caucus has not had much of in its history: respect. They have established themselves as a force in this Congress. Success on the Biden agenda runs through them. That doesn’t guarantee success; from this point on, it only gets harder. But the CPC will have to be taken seriously in the Capitol-- by leadership and perhaps even more importantly by the media-- for perhaps the first time.
This is a prerequisite to winning the ideological argument and setting priorities within the party. In the long run, that’s the most important potential outcome, more important than any infrastructure bill.