Rep. Pramila Jayapal

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)

House Progressives to Pelosi: Reject Divisive Means Testing in Favor of Universal Benefits

"We can choose to strengthen the bond Americans have to one another by proposing universal social insurance benefits that broadly benefit all Americans."

Leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus on Wednesday reiterated their top-level priorities for the nascent reconciliation package and urged their fellow Democrats to pursue universal programs instead of "complicated methods of means-testing that the wealthy and powerful will use to divide us."

"The CPC agrees that President [Joe] Biden has made a compelling case to the American people that government can, and should, be a force for good in this country, and we agree that bold investments in good-paying union jobs, climate action, immigration reform, and caregiving are essential to uplifting families and building back better," reads a letter that the CPC's executive board sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif). "This is our moment to make the president's vision a reality."

The letter--signed by CPC chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and 26 other progressive lawmakers--goes on to outline the "five core priority areas" that the caucus has chosen to emphasize during ongoing negotiations over the reconciliation bill:

  1. Strengthening the care economy with child care, paid leave, and investments in home- and community-based care;
  2. Investing in affordable housing;
  3. Reforming Medicare to lower prescription drug prices, while expanding the earned benefits to include vision, dental, and hearing benefits for our seniors;
  4. Meaningfully tackling the climate crisis; and
  5. Keeping our promise to pursue necessary immigration reform that benefits our economy and budget.

The CPC leaders also put forth the caucus' broad vision for how such programs should be crafted, pushing back against right-wing efforts to impose work requirements, income limits, and other restrictions that would limit the number of people who qualify for benefits.

"Much has been made in recent weeks about the compromises necessary to enact this transformative agenda," the CPC members write. "We have been told that we can either adequately fund a small number of investments or legislate broadly, but only make a shallow, short-term impact. We would argue that this is a false choice."

Instead of slashing the funding of key programs in order to extend their duration over 10 years and appease conservative lawmakers' demand for a lower price tag, the CPC executive board contends that Democrats should "make robust investments over a shorter window."

Speaking to reporters earlier this week, Pelosi indicated she is open to that approach.

"This will help make the case for our party's ability to govern, and establish a track record of success that will pave the way for a long-term extension of benefits," the CPC's letter reads. "We cannot pit childcare against housing, or paid leave against home- and community-based care."

The progressive Democrats also deliver a sharp warning against limiting benefits on the basis of income, a route some right-wing lawmakers--including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)--have advocated during recent negotiations over the Build Back Better package.

"We strongly believe that this is the moment to demonstrate to the American people that regardless of geography, race, gender, or class, Democrats believe that everyone has a right to affordable child care, pre-K, clean water, and a community college education," the CPC letter states. "We can choose to strengthen the bond Americans have to one another by proposing universal social insurance benefits that broadly benefit all Americans."

"This bill," the letter concludes, "offers us a chance to fundamentally transform the relationship between the American people and their government."

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