A good window into all of this is provided by Rep. Susan Wild. She is one of the Democratic “frontliners” and faces a tough reelection campaign in her district, which includes Lehigh Valley and the Philadelphia exurbs.
In an interview, Wild was blunt about the folly of the conservative Democrats, who are led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey. Wild said their strategy has become “stupid” and that it’s “time to fold.”
This is revealing in a larger way, because Wild once agreed with the thinking of the conservative Democrats. They want an immediate stand-alone vote on the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate. They hope to present this as a big win right now, without it getting entangled with the politics of the larger $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill.
But this would wreck House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) two-track strategy, in which the House would pass the blueprint starting the process of doing the reconciliation bill now, and then pass both final bills after the Senate sends over a complete reconciliation one. The Sabotage Squad is threatening to tank the blueprint to force the infrastructure vote they want.
Wild told me that she also thinks a stand-alone vote on the infrastructure bill would be good politics for her district. But Wild has come to see why the two-track strategy is essential. As of now, the infrastructure bill alone won’t pass the House, Wild noted, because many progressives would vote against it.
Only under the two-track strategy can both bills pass, because it allows each faction to exert leverage over the other: Progressives will back the infrastructure bill to get moderates and conservatives to support a robust reconciliation package, and vice versa.
Wild told me that the Gottheimer group should accept that the infrastructure bill can’t pass alone. This means voting to move the reconciliation blueprint forward now, and accepting postponement of the vote on the infrastructure bill.
“Are you just going to dig your heels in and say, ‘I’m not doing anything’?” Wild asked pointedly. “That’s just stupid.”
This echoes what Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), another moderate from a tough district, said recently: that forcing the infrastructure vote now will “undermine” the goal of getting “both bills passed.”
Wild wants the reconciliation bill to pass in part because it contains her highest priority — curbing prescription drug prices — but also because it contains many other good things for her district. It includes extensive investments in “human infrastructure” and in combating climate change.
The larger point here is that, despite preferring a vote on infrastructure first — as the Gottheimer group does — Wild is showing flexibility on this point because it will benefit the Democratic caucus as a whole and allow it to unite behind a broader set of common goals.
“At some point, when it’s clear that the path that you prefer isn’t going to happen, then you have to think about the greater good,” Wild told me. “Let’s not sabotage everything because you didn’t get your way.”
Wild said a number of other frontliners and moderates who previously wanted a stand-alone infrastructure vote had moved on from that. This comes after other centrist groups — such as Third Way and the New Democrat Coalition, which includes dozens of moderates — have called for passage of the reconciliation blueprint now, effectively endorsing the two-track strategy.
That suggests the Gottheimer group is increasingly isolated. But late Monday evening, they and Democratic leaders were still negotiating over a potential deal in which the reconciliation blueprint would pass now, with an understanding that the infrastructure bill would get a vote at the end of September. That negotiating will continue Tuesday.
Wild noted that the Gottheimer group should accept the need for a process they might find distasteful.
“I didn’t come to Congress to take safe votes,” Wild told me, echoing private comments to Democrats. “You always need to know when to fold. And it’s time to fold.”
All this points to key dynamics. As Jamelle Bouie notes, the Sabotage Squad’s argument that passing infrastructure now is politically imperative is itself dubious: In this era of hyperpartisanship and negative polarization, parties rise and fall together; successfully delivering in unified fashion on a comprehensive agenda that truly meets the moment is Democrats’ best hope.
Importantly, however, the movement of people such as Wild suggests that many moderates also recognize this. The noisiness of the Sabotage Squad distorts the picture a bit, but broadly speaking, moderates and the party leadership are proving surprisingly willing to accommodate the fact that progressives are exercising a new level of influence from the inside, and see that this has the potential to be good for the party overall.
UPDATE: The House just passed the reconciliation blueprint, starting that, with Pelosi reaching a deal with House centrists to hold a vote on the infrastructure bill by Sept. 27. The conservatives won a concession in that there may still be a stand-alone vote on infrastructure. But Democratic leaders and progressives prevailed in that the centrists failed to force that vote, as they were demanding, and have now approved the reconciliation framework they threatened to block.