House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has announced that a planned vote on the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill has been postponed until Thursday. She hopes to broker an agreement in principle between centrists and progressives on the multitrillion-dollar social policy bill, in hopes that progressives will then agree to pass the bipartisan one.
Progressives want to wait until the Senate passes the social policy bill first — by a simple majority reconciliation vote — thus using their leverage to ensure that the latter is sufficiently robust.
But the centrists — or “moderates,” as some call them — now want Biden to bring down the hammer on progressives. Some centrists anonymously leaked to Politico Playbook that they’re “infuriated” that Biden has not yet pressured progressives to pass the bipartisan bill this week, before reconciliation is done:
Moderate Democrats expected Biden to start twisting House progressives’ arms during their White House meeting last week. But we’re told by sources in the progressive camp and another senior Democratic aide that the president has neither asked progressives to drop their demand that the reconciliation bill pass in tandem with [the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework], nor pressed them to accept a stand-alone vote on BIF this week — at least not yet.
As one moderate griped to Playbook: “The president needs to pick up the phone and call people.”
You see, from the point of view of centrists, this is an indictment of Biden. But this misses the point entirely. If anything, this shows that Biden does not see utility in pressuring progressives, at least not in this fashion, meaning this gambit is already backfiring.
I can report that the office of Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, confirms this to be the case.
“The White House has not asked progressives to change course,” Chris Evans, a spokesperson for Jayapal, told me. He noted there has been no pressure to vote for the infrastructure bill “before” the reconciliation one is “passed.”
“Like the overwhelming majority of Democrats, progressives support President Biden’s entire Build Back Better agenda and look forward to sending both bills to his desk,” Evans added.
Note that progressives are working hard to cast themselves as the true champions of Biden’s agenda. And it’s true: The reconciliation bill’s provisions on global warming, child care, paid leave, health care and education — offset by reforms making the tax code fairer, more progressive and less prone to elite gamesmanship — comprise the blueprint from Biden and the Democratic Party to secure our nation’s future.
Centrists are balking at some of these provisions. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) reportedly opposes higher taxes on the rich and corporations. Both she and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) have said the $3.5 trillion target is too high, without specifying what spending they will accept. Meanwhile, some House centrists oppose its effort to curb prescription drug prices.
If Biden is not pressuring progressives to vote for the infrastructure bill first, what now?
Two different possibilities seem plausible. One is that, by Thursday, agreement is reached on a broad general compromise on the reconciliation bill. At that point, Pelosi and Biden might find some way to reassure progressives that centrists will ultimately vote for that compromise, and progressives might agree to pass the infrastructure bill.
If so, at that point Biden would be pressing progressives to take a leap of faith. But for this to work, he would have to secure some sort of meaningful commitment from Manchin and Sinema and other centrists first, not merely strongarm progressives, as the centrists want.
The second possibility is that progressives are not reassured, and continue to signal that they will vote no on the infrastructure measure. Pelosi postpones that vote again, until the Senate finishes the reconciliation bill. Making this more plausible, Jayapal told The Post’s Early 202 that dozens of progressives are prepared to do this.
So if progressives hold the line, the vote really might be postponed. And you know what? That would be fine. If that vote were shelved until the reconciliation bill gets done, it would make it a lot more likely that Biden and Democrats succeed.
In the end, it will be on Biden to stage-manage all this in a way that enables all factions to get to yes. The best way to do this will be to give everyone the space to back down just a bit, each giving the other faction cover to do the same.
If we know one thing about Biden, it’s that he does recognize the need to be solicitous of the incentives and pressures tugging on lawmakers, to create pathways to get them to yes. But strong-arming progressives isn’t the way to do it. Any centrists who are angry at Biden’s “failure” to do this are only revealing their own inability to grasp what makes Biden so well-suited to this particular moment.