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Jayapal at the U.S. Capitol

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) speaks to reporters outside of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on September 23, 2021.  (Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

'A Deal's a Deal': Progressive Leader Holds Strong on $3.5 Trillion Social Investment Plan

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal says around 60 Democrats are willing to vote down a weaker bipartisan bill if the more sweeping reconciliation bill does not come first.

Jon Queally

"A deal's a deal."

"Instead of undercutting the president ahead of an election year, progressives are the ones keeping the full Biden agenda on track."

That's the message from Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), following word from Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the weekend that a vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill, slated for Monday, would be pushed back until later in the week.

While Pelosi said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" she would not bring a package "to the floor that doesn't have the votes," Jayapal has indicated strongly that progressives are largely united in their position that the larger investment package, known as Build Back Better, must come before the smaller bipartisan deal negotiated in the Senate and passed by the upper chamber earlier this year.

"We don't pass the infrastructure bill without passing the Build Back Better Act," said Jayapal, "investing in child care, climate action, paid leave, housing, health care, education, and a roadmap to citizenship. Let's get this done and deliver for the people."

In an interview with the Washington Post published Sunday night, Jayapal said she and her fellow CPC members are not bluffing and that support for their stance is only gaining strength as the tensions over the legislative calendar come to a head.

"It's actually increasing, and it's increasing from members who aren't just within the Progressive Caucus," Jayapal told the Post in terms of those willing to tank the bipartisan deal unless passage of the broader $3.5 trillion reconciliation deal is not secured first. Out of the 95-member caucus itself, along with some outside Democrats, she said she thought the number of Democrats on board is "probably somewhere around 60."

In a "Dear Colleague" letter Sunday evening, Pelosi said that while debate would begin Monday on the bipartisan package, known officially as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (BIF), a vote would not be held until Thursday.

As Common Dreams has reported for many weeks, progressives in the House—along with progressive members of the Senate, including Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—have been consistent in their negotiating strategy and the demand that the more sweeping social investment bill, opposed by corporate lobbyists and smeared for its efforts to increase taxes on the rich, must come first.

"Progressives in Congress have been flexible and constructive throughout this negotiation and continue to work to land a reconciliation deal," stated a coalition of outside progressive advocacy groups in a letter last week, "but they have also been clear: they will oppose passage of just the smaller bill by itself—because it doesn't contain the climate solutions and care, education, and economic investments we need. Passing just that small bill alone wouldn't be a compromise; it would be a capitulation."

According to Jayapal, those willing to vote in unison are "members of the [Congressional] Black Caucus, the [Congressional] Hispanic Caucus, the [Congressional] Asian [Pacific American] Caucus, some of whom are not members of the Progressive Caucus, who feel very strongly that this is really the only shot we have to deliver on the agenda that the president ran on."

As Politico reports Monday, progressives feel like this could be their best shot at achieving what so many of them ran on in 2020—and their best hope for securing the House in 2022.

The party-line spending bill was always important to the left, designed as a once-in-a-generation expansion of the social safety net. But as other legislation vital to liberal lawmakers stalled or collapsed, thanks in large part to the threat of a Senate GOP filibuster, the social spending plan acquired outsized importance to progressives. 

"Reconciliation is the ball game, at least this year. That and the infrastructure bill," said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), describing his years-long push for enacting immigration reform as an "uphill battle." 

Liberals started this Congress with high hopes, thanks to full Democratic control of Washington for the first time in a decade. They also had a lengthy to-do list: a pathway to citizenship for many immigrants, a $15 minimum wage, new gun control laws, expanding voting, new standards for racial justice in policing and scrapping the legislative filibuster. But with no substantial progress on any of those priorities, the stakes for the social spending plan couldn’t be higher for the left.

With tensions rising and the clock ticking, the Post notes in its reporting; it is "far from clear" House leadership will "be able to move fast enough to secure progressives' votes by Thursday."

In a strategy memo issued Monday by the Battleborn Collective, Sunrise Movement, United We Dream Action, and Justice Democrats, the progressive coalition argued strongly that Democrats holding the line must be supported while those members of the party opposed to the sweeping vision should be confronted for their betrayal and folly.

"By jeopardizing a piece of legislation this popular––and threatening to rob the president and the American people of a massive and much-needed win––weak Democrats are committing political malpractice," the groups wrote. "And it's hurting the party and the very people that elected them."

"While moderates in 2021 are repeating past mistakes, progressives have learned the right lessons," the groups concluded. "Instead of undercutting the president ahead of an election year, progressives are the ones keeping the full Biden agenda on track. The Democratic trifecta is precarious, and the best way to ensure that it has a fighting chance of survival is to head into next year with a robust list of accomplishments to show to voters and a popular president buoyed by successfully delivering results."


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