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Rep. Pramila Jayapal speaks at a press conference

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) participates in a news conference in the Capitol on June 16, 2021. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

Jayapal Says There's Nothing 'Moderate' About Tanking Medicare Expansion, Climate Action

"This is the Democratic agenda, it's the president's agenda, and it's what we promised people across America. Now we must deliver."

Jake Johnson

Addressing the nine conservative House Democrats threatening to vote down their party's $3.5 trillion budget resolution, Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington said Sunday that there's nothing "moderate" about tanking an effort to expand Medicare, invest in green energy development, and establish long-overdue paid family and medical leave programs.

"We can't call people moderate Democrats if they vote against child care, paid leave, healthcare, and addressing climate change," Jayapal, chair of the nearly 100-member Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), wrote Sunday. "This is the Democratic agenda, it's the president's agenda, and it's what we promised people across America. Now we must deliver."

Jayapal's comments came days after a group of nine House Democrats—almost invariably described as "moderates" in press coverage—sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declaring that they will not consider voting for the Senate-passed budget resolution until the lower chamber first approves a $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill, which has been widely criticized as inadequate and potentially damaging to the climate. The Senate passed the bipartisan bill last Tuesday.

The conservative Democrats' letter on Friday augured a stand-off between the right wing of the House Democratic caucus and the chamber's progressives, many of whom have committed to withholding their votes for the bipartisan infrastructure bill until the Senate also passes a sweeping budget reconciliation package that includes their priorities.

"Our caucus is clear: the bipartisan bill will only be passed if a package of social, human, and climate infrastructure—reflecting longstanding Democratic priorities—is passed simultaneously through budget reconciliation," Jayapal said last week.

In order to begin crafting a reconciliation bill that can pass Congress without Republican support, both the House and Senate must first approve an identical budget resolution that sets the spending boundaries of the legislation. Last week, the Senate passed a $3.5 trillion budget resolution, and the House is expected to take up the measure when members return from recess next week.

Pelosi, who has said she will not allow a vote on the bipartisan bill until the Senate greenlights a reconciliation package, wrote in a "Dear Colleague" letter on Sunday that the leadership's "goal is to pass the budget resolution the week of August 23rd so that we may pass Democrats' Build Back Better agenda via reconciliation as soon as possible."

In an apparent attempt to placate the nine conservative Democrats threatening to revolt, Pelosi added that she has "requested that the Rules Committee explore the possibility of a rule that advances both the budget resolution and the bipartisan infrastructure package."

"This will put us on a path to advance the infrastructure bill and the reconciliation bill," Pelosi wrote. "When the House returns on August 23rd, we will proceed in a way that builds consensus in our caucus, promotes the values of our party and advances the President’s transformative vision to Build Back Better."

But in a joint statement Sunday night, the conservative group led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) rejected Pelosi's proposal, arguing that "we should vote first on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework without delay and then move to immediate consideration of the budget resolution."

Given Democrats' narrow control of the House and the GOP's unanimous opposition, Pelosi can only afford three defections from the budget resolution. And progressives likely have the votes to block the bipartisan infrastructure bill, depending on how many House Republicans support it.

Progressives believe that keeping the bipartisan infrastructure bill tied to the reconciliation package is necessary to ensure that both ultimately pass Congress. In an appearance on MSNBC late last week, Jayapal said members of the CPC are worried that approving the bipartisan infrastructure bill first would free conservative Democrats to sink the reconciliation measure, which represents the cornerstone of President Joe Biden's social spending and climate agenda.

"We want to deliver both bills to the president in September and have him sign them into law so we deliver for the American people," said Jayapal. "The best way to keep the urgency and momentum up is to do both bills together, and to make sure that everyone understands that whatever their priority is—whether it's in the infrastructure bill or whether it's in the Build Back Better reconciliation package—the way we get them done is to move them at the same time to the president's desk."

"Without that," Jayapal added, "you're going to have a lot of people trying to push for one piece and not voting for another piece."


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