Joe Biden’s partial victory over infrastructure

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Progressives winked.

For months, the exuberant left flank of the House Democratic Caucus insisted that it would not provide the votes to pass President Joe Biden’s $ 1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package until the Senate approved for the first time the rest of the president’s economic agenda. At the very least, progressives said, all 50 Senate Democrats – and in particular the two most centrist members of the House, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – should at least commit to Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan. . Twice the House Liberals backed up their tough speech with action (or more accurately, inaction) rejecting President Nancy Pelosi’s offer to vote on the infrastructure bill.

Then the out-of-year voters had their say. Three days later the Republicans swept Democrats in Virginia and nearly overthrown them in New Jersey, progressives released the legislative hostage they had held captive for three months and helped push through the bipartisan infrastructure package. Fearing a total collapse of the democratic agenda – and predicting that they would be blamed for its failure – they decided they couldn’t hold out any longer. They were, in a word, desperate.

In exchange for helping to send the Senate-approved infrastructure bill to Biden’s desk, progressives secured only one promise: that the House would eventually pass the much more expansive Build Back Better Act. from $ 1.75 trillion which provides universal kindergarten for 3 people. and 4-year-olds, increased childcare benefits, four weeks of paid family leave, and historic investments in the fight for the climate. When they arrived at the Capitol this morning, Democrats in the House believed they would vote on both the infrastructure law and the Build Back Better Act. But a small group of moderates – large enough to sink a vote on the party line due to of the tiny majority of Democrats – told Pelosi they would not vote for the broader proposal without a full estimate by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office of its impact on the federal government deficit.

The only vote that has occurred on the Build Back Better Act was a procedural move to start a debate later this month. The fate of the progressives – and Biden – agendaremains uncertain as ever.

“This is the mess of democracy with very narrow margins,” Representative Ro Khanna of California, a House progressive who last year was national co-chair of Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, told me earlier this week. a hint of resignation in his voice.

In truth, progressives had started moving days before this week’s election, and many had privately pushed for a change of course weeks ago. What ultimately changed their mind, however, was the deterioration of the Democratic Party’s political stance and the realization that their strategy of withholding one bill to get the other through had failed. Although Biden shared the progressives’ sense of urgency to deliver on their promises, Washington’s other most powerful Joe – Manchin – did not. The West Virginia Democrat refused to approve the framework announced by Biden last week. He has continued to negotiate, but he wants the party to slow down in order to implement such a large and costly program. Progressives got tired of waiting for it; Their message now, as delivered by Washington State Representative Pramila Jayapal, is that persuading Manchin is Biden’s job and they trust the president to win him over.

“I think it will be a longer process than I hoped and maybe I thought, but I think it will eventually come,” Khanna said. “In an ideal world, would it be nice if 50 senators publicly declared their support? Of course. Is there a risk that the things we want won’t make it to the final? [bill]? Of course. But am I confident that the final bill will be similar in substance to the framework proposed by the president? Yup. “

The Senate is a crowded graveyard of House-approved aspirations, whether it’s the main Obama-era climate bill that died there more than a decade ago, or the GOP’s long-promised repeal of Affordable Care Act. than the late Senator John McCain killed with his famous thumb down. Progressives’ acquiescence to a vote on infrastructure legislation means Biden won’t walk away empty-handed from his ambitious early spring gamble that he could win approval of both a significant bipartisan bill and a broader one. proposal of social spending and climate on a party vote. The passage of the bipartisan bill is good news for the president and even better news for the states, cities and towns that rely on his infusion of federal funding for new and repaired roads, bridges and rail systems, along with the works. of construction that come with it. But formally separating the infrastructure proposal from the larger $ 1.75 trillion bill increases the chances of the latter coming to a complete halt, which would represent a huge setback for progressives.

Progressives felt the Senate “had gone as far as possible,” Joseph Geevarghese, the executive director of Our Revolution, the advocacy group born out of Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2016, told me. “This is just a strategic decision. What they are reporting is that they are trying to align with the president to get things done. “

There is growing fear on Democrats among both moderates and progressives that the party has damaged its position with voters and is on the verge of wasting what could be a brief window of opportunity to rule. This week’s election reprimands in Virginia and New Jersey have just exacerbated this frustration. The moderates accused the progressives of delaying the final passage of the infrastructure bill, while the progressives accused Manchin and Sinema of delaying most of Biden’s agenda. When Biden signed the $ 1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in March, the president’s approval rate was 53%; snows under 43 percent, and a GOP Congressional victory in 2022 seems to many in Washington almost a foregone conclusion. “There is not much to show for the Democrats in power in Washington,” said Geevarghese, “and I think this is the message sent by the American electorate.”

House progressives haven’t been the only ones to change course in recent days. For weeks Pelosi had assured her members that she would not submit a bill to the House that could not also pass to the Senate; the pledge was aimed at vulnerable electoral lawmakers who feared Republicans would attack them for voting for liberal priorities which, because they would never become law, would not actually benefit their constituents. But the speaker shifted after Manchin refused to approve Biden’s painting. Pelosi ordered the House bill to include a provision requiring four weeks of paid family and medical leave, which Democrats had previously removed and which is unlikely to clear the Senate due to Manchin’s opposition. The move helped placate progressives, but it also served as a recognition that the bill in front of the house was just an initial offering, not an end product.

In the end, most House Democrats didn’t care much. While Pelosi worked to win over the last remaining resistant moderates for the “Build Back Better” plan, progressives were eager to vote for both bills. They failed to get the guarantees they wanted, although they insisted their strategy succeeded in bringing the Democrats to the brink of a transformative legislative victory. “The obvious message is [voters] I don’t want traffic jams, “Khanna said, reflecting on the election.” They want us to do something.

Once it became clear that the House would not vote on the Build Back Better Act today, progressives initially said they would again refuse to support the infrastructure bill. But they pulled out after a direct appeal from Biden and once moderate resisters pledged to vote for the larger bill if the cost estimate matched the party’s expectations. In the end, only six House progressives voted against the infrastructure bill. The measure passed in the House late Friday evening, 228-206, with the help of 13 Republicans who voted yes.

By finally voting for the infrastructure bill, progressives have given Biden something tangible to show in the final months of his negotiation with Congress. But they also revealed their desperation, and that, as a certain self-styled businessman who once became president observed, it can be dangerous. “The worst thing you can do in a deal is to appear desperate to do so,” Donald Trump wrote in The art of business. “This makes the other boy smell blood, and then you’re dead.”

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