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Rep. Pramila Jayapal speaks to reporters.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, speaks with reporters outside the U.S. Capitol Building on November 18, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

House Progressives to Senate Democrats: Work Through Holidays to Pass Build Back Better

"Delaying passage of Build Back Better until 2022 would have immediate and devastating consequences," warned Congresswoman Jayapal.

Jake Johnson

The Congressional Progressive Caucus on Thursday demanded that the U.S. Senate stay in session through its looming holiday recess if necessary to pass the Build Back Better Act, which is on the brink of total collapse as right-wing Sen. Joe Manchin refuses to support the bill—and attempts to gut it further.

"The House did our work, and now it’s time for the Senate to do theirs. They must stay in session."

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the nearly 100-member CPC, warned in a statement that "delaying passage of Build Back Better until 2022 would have immediate and devastating consequences," pointing to the fast-approaching lapse of monthly child tax credit payments, which have lifted millions out of poverty.

Allowing talks over the reconciliation package to spill into the new year, Jayapal noted, would also "postpone the Affordable Care Act subsidies and Medicaid coverage gap slated to provide 2.9 million Americans access to care beginning next year"; "delay inflation-busting investments to lower costs for families at the time they need it most"; "ensure the biggest corporations continue to get away with not paying their fair share"; and "further push off desperately needed action on lowering drug prices, expanding access to child and home care, fighting the climate crisis, and investing in housing."

"Progressives have worked diligently with the White House and Senate over the better part of this year to set up for this moment," the Washington Democrat said. "The version of Build Back Better we passed out of the House was agreed to by nearly every senator caucusing with the Democrats—and we sent it to the upper chamber based on the president's promise that he could deliver the 50 senators needed to make it law."

"We trust the president to follow through on that promise, and that he and the Senate will continue working until he can," she added. "We stand ready to work through the holidays and come back into session as soon as the Senate returns the bill to the House to ensure it becomes law."

The prospect of the Build Back Better Act dying in the evenly divided Senate—where one Democratic no vote would be enough to tank the entire package—has long been a concern of House progressives, who for months earlier this year insisted that the reconciliation package pass both chambers of Congress before they would vote for a separate bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Jayapal and rank-and-file CPC members stressed that their strategy—widely applauded by grassroots progressives—was aimed at preventing Manchin and other right-wing Democrats from killing the Build Back Better Act following House passage of their preferred bipartisan infrastructure measure.

But the dynamic changed last month when—with just six exceptions—CPC members agreed to vote for the bipartisan infrastructure bill before the Build Back Better Act had passed either chamber, citing assurances they received from President Joe Biden that he could secure 50 votes in the Senate.

"Tonight, members of the Progressive Caucus and our colleagues in the Democratic caucus reached an agreement to advance both pieces of President Biden's legislative agenda," Jayapal said in a November 5 statement that reportedly angered some CPC members, including the so-called "Squad"—which, according to the Washington Post, was not able to review Jayapal's statement before it was issued.

President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan plan into law days later as the reconciliation bill remained mired in negotiations.

"There were many, many promises made to get to Friday's passage [of the bipartisan infrastructure bill]," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who voted no on the measure, tweeted after Jayapal announced the deal.

"If those promises do not get fulfilled," Ocasio-Cortez warned, "it will make future passage of anything much more difficult."

Speaking to the American Prospect's David Dayen on Thursday, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.)—a CPC member—would not admit that House progressives made a mistake by agreeing to back the bipartisan bill prior to passage of the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act, which corporate Democrats have watered down dramatically from the original $3.5 trillion proposal.

"We had months of no progress. We had to act," said Khanna. "The president looked us in the eye, our caucus, he said, 'I give you my word, we have 50 votes in the Senate on the framework.' We took that to the bank."

Khanna went on to suggest that Biden "go to the Senate majority leader and say, 'I gave my word, the speaker gave her word, we have to have this vote,' and then say to the American people, 'I had the commitment of the House and the commitment of 50 senators. If they don't want to vote for this, they'll be betraying me and betraying the Democratic Party.'"

As negotiations with Manchin remained at an impasse, Biden suggested Thursday that it could take "weeks" to finalize the Build Back Better Act, which is still facing scrutiny from the unelected Senate parliamentarian.

"Senator Manchin has reiterated his support for Build Back Better funding at the level of the framework plan I announced in September," Biden said. "I believe that we will bridge our differences and advance the Build Back Better plan, even in the face of fierce Republican opposition."

In a statement released late Thursday, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.)—one of the six CPC members who voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill last month—said that "the Senate's failure to act now, during a pandemic, at a time when people are asking us to prioritize their quality of life, is tragic and exposes the fact that corporate Democrats are putting corporate profits before the well-being of the people we represent."

"The Senate and White House cannot allow the Build Back Better agenda to die," Tlaib added. "Our communities cannot wait any longer—the Senate must stay in session until they pass the Build Back Better Act.”


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