How progressive Democrats can still save Biden’s agenda and keep it from ‘crashing down’

How progressive Democrats can still save Biden’s agenda and keep it from ‘crashing down’

In early May, the Democratic National Committee had reason for optimism when an Associated Press/NORC poll found that President Joe Biden had an approval rating of 63%. But polls released in late September weren't nearly as encouraging, with Biden's approval rating at only 40% (YouGov), 46% (Ipsos) or 49% (Morning Consult). Liberal Washington Post opinion writer Greg Sargent, this week in his column, warns Democrats that Biden's Build Back Better agenda is in trouble — although he stresses that it isn't too late to turn things around.

With Biden's poll numbers having taken a nosedive after U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban seized control of that country, Democratic strategists have been hoping for some big legislative victories. But there has been considerable tension between liberal/progressive and centrist Democrats over two infrastructure bills: a $1 trillion bipartisan hard infrastructure bill that centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona helped negotiate with Senate Republicans, and a $3.5 trillion "human infrastructure" reconciliation bill that liberals and progressives are pushing. Sinema believes that the latter is too costly, and some progressives in the House have said that they won't vote for the $1 trillion bill unless Sinema and another centrist, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, bargain with them in good faith.

Sargent, in his column, has been arguing that it isn't progressives who have been rigid and dogmatic, but Sinema and Manchin.

"So, where does this all lead?" Sargent asks. "There are two obvious ways this all comes crashing down. One would be that Manchin and Sinema only prove willing to support a reconciliation framework that is so gutted that progressives reasonably can't support it. The brinkmanship on the infrastructure bill continues, and neither passes."

The columnist continues, "The second would be that Manchin and Sinema get behind a framework that's well short of $3.5 trillion but isn't all that unreasonable. Progressives might keep opposing the infrastructure bill to try to leverage them up, centrists could balk — and the whole thing could implode. In that latter scenario, progressives will have located their power but arguably overplayed their hand. That would be a terrible outcome for everyone."

Sargent, however, emphasizes that progressive Democrats are right to fight aggressively for the $3.5 reconciliation bill, as its elements are vital to Biden's Build Back Better agenda.

"The reconciliation bill is the Biden and Democratic Party agenda: It's made up of all the climate provisions, economic infrastructure and tax reforms designed to secure our decarbonized future and rebalance our political economy after decades of upward skew," Sargent explains. "The centrists are the ones who oppose passing this agenda."

David Dayen, executive editor of the American Prospect, also believes that progressive Democrats are wise to fight for elements of their "human infrastructure" bill and not cave into centrists like Sinema and Manchin easily.

In an article published this week, Dayen argues, "Holding the line…. gives something the (Congressional) Progressive Caucus has not had much of in its history: respect. They have established themselves as a force in this Congress. Success on the Biden agenda runs through them. That doesn't guarantee success; from this point on, it only gets harder. But the CPC will have to be taken seriously in the Capitol — by leadership and perhaps even more importantly by the media — for perhaps the first time. This is a prerequisite to winning the ideological argument and setting priorities within the party. In the long run, that's the most important potential outcome — more important than any infrastructure bill."

On Twitter, Dayen posted:

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