Journalists slam the ‘suicidal illogic’ of centrist Democrats' threat to derail Biden's agenda

Journalists slam the ‘suicidal illogic’ of centrist Democrats' threat to derail Biden's agenda
Vice President Kamala Harris walks into the House Chamber of the US Capitol for President Biden's Joint Address to Congress, Wednesday, April 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Although a bipartisan group of U.S. senators passed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill earlier this week, liberal and progressive Senate Democrats have been working on a more comprehensive $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill. It remains to be seen what will happen to the $1 trillion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, but this week, nine centrist House Democrats sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi pressuring her to hold an immediate vote on the $1 trillion bill so that she can get it onto President Joe Biden's desk for signature sooner rather than later. And that letter is drawing strong criticism from two liberals journalists: Jonathan Chait in The New Yorker and Greg Sargent in the Washington Post.

Chait and Sargent both fear that the $1 trillion bill would, at this point, fail in a House vote because it wouldn't get enough votes from liberals and progressives. House progressives — as well as Pelosi and Biden — have signalled their intention to make passage of the $1 trillion bill contingent on Senate Democrats passing the larger bill. Since progressives Democrats are more committed to the larger package, and conservative Democrats are more committed to the smaller bipartisan package, insisting on passing them both is seen as a crucial way for both wings of the party to achieve their priorities.

In their letter to Pelosi, the nine House Democrats wrote, "Some have suggested that we hold off on considering the Senate infrastructure bill for months — until the reconciliation process is completed. We disagree. With the livelihoods of hardworking American families at stake, we simply can't afford months of unnecessary delays and risk squandering this once-in-a-century, bipartisan infrastructure package. It's time to get shovels in the ground and people to work. We will not consider voting for a budget resolution until the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passes the House and is signed into law."

The nine House Democrats were Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia, Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, Rep. Filemon Vela of Texas, Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, Rep. Ed Case of Hawaii, Rep. Jim Costa of California, Rep. Vicente González of Texas and Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon.

Democrats on the left wing of the party fear these members' demand would undermine the push for the $3.5 trillion bill and give conservatives in the party less incentive to cooperate.

The $1 trillion bill enjoyed 69 "yes" votes in the Senate, but the $3.5 trillion infrastructure package is being called a "reconciliation bill" because the only way it is going to pass the Senate is through the process known as "budget reconciliation."

Under the rules of the filibuster, a bill needs at least 60 votes in order to pass in the Senate — and although Democrats have a narrow Senate majority, they don't have a 60-vote majority. Budgetary bills, however, are an exception to the filibuster and can be passed with a simple majority. But Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, one of the centrist Democrats who worked closely with Republicans on the $1 trillion bill, has come criticized the size of the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. The GOP senators who Sinema and centrist Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia worked with on the bill included Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, among others.

Chait, in New York Magazine, argues that the letter to Pelosi was poorly reasoned.

"The moderates' desperation to pass the infrastructure bill is perfectly understandable," Chait writes. "It's a popular bill that has wide Republican support and the perfect issue to support their message that they can work across party lines. But the only way for them to actually get that bill signed into law is to work cooperatively with their party's liberals and find an agreeable deal to pass Biden's signature domestic legislation."

Chait notes that the $1 trillion bill "needs liberal Democrats to pass" and that a "failed infrastructure vote does nothing to help the moderates."

"The suicidal illogic of the demand may explain why only nine Democrats signed the letter," Chait argues. "The most famous Democratic members representing purple districts — Elisa Slotkin, Abigail Spanberger, and many others — are absent from the list, which is heavy with Democrats focused monomaniacally on protecting the bank accounts of their funders."

Like Chait, Sargent contends that the nine House Democrats' letter to Pelosi is harmful to Biden's Build Back Better Agenda.

Sargent, in his Washington Post column, writes, "A handful of centrist Democrats issued a stark threat on Friday morning: If the House does not hold an immediate vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate, they will withhold support for a procedural measure that's necessary to pass the larger reconciliation bill. Let's be clear: This is a threat to tank the entire process that has been carefully constructed to ensure that President Biden's full agenda makes it to his desk."

Sargent points out the main differences between the two infrastructure bills.

"The 'budget resolution' is what the House must pass to lay the groundwork to eventually pass the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill that Senate Democrats are now assembling," Sargent observes. "The bipartisan bill is the $1 trillion in 'hard' infrastructure that recently passed the Senate. So, this is a threat to scuttle the process needed to pass the 'human' infrastructure bill — including big investments in combating climate change, supports for children and families, expanded health care, and much more — to force immediate passage of the 'hard' infrastructure package."

Sargent adds, "This would completely disrupt the two-track process that Biden and Democratic leaders want. Under it, Pelosi will delay House passage of the bipartisan bill until the Senate sends over the reconciliation one, then hold votes on both. This locks in each side: Moderates back the reconciliation bill to get progressives to back the bipartisan bill, and vice versa."

The Post columnist offers some more reasons why "this move by centrists makes zero sense."

"First, as a Democratic aide pointed out, even if the House did vote on the bipartisan bill today, it wouldn't pass, because the votes are not there without completion of the reconciliation bill," Sargent explains. "That's because progressives wouldn't vote for it. So, Pelosi all but certainly will not hold this vote."

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