Why progressives didn't cave in biggest intra-party fight of the Biden era
Why progressives didn't cave in biggest intra-party fight of the Biden era

Why progressives didn’t cave in biggest intra-party fight of the Biden era

The story of the Democratic Party’s progressive insurgency has, over the last five or six years, typically been told from the campaign trail.

But this week, the battleground centered on Capitol Hill, and the outsiders — now greater in number and more comfortable in power — fought the moderates to a remarkable stalemate that upset long-held assumptions and doubts over the left’s ability to impose its will in Washington.
Progressives are a long way from victory in the ongoing fight over the size and scope of a social spending package that would mark the largest expansion of the social safety net in more than 50 years — one that President Joe Biden hopes will be his signature legislative achievement. But in withholding their support for another bill — a smaller, bipartisan physical infrastructure deal struck in the Senate and heartily supported by moderate House Democrats — the left maintained its leverage in those ongoing negotiations.

This latest Democratic intra-party clash might appear arcane to the point of absurdity. But the underlying dynamics are actually pretty straight-forward. Months ago, Democratic leadership made a decision: The two bills would be linked. Progressives would vote for the infrastructure legislation — which they don’t particularly like — and moderates would support the social spending bill, which in its current form would cost $3.5 trillion over a decade.

They would sink or swim together. The need to pass both, said Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the Congressional Progressive Caucus chair, was at the core of Biden’s pep talk to Democratic House members during his visit to the Hill on Friday.

But that procedural understanding was upset in August when a small, rebel group of centrist Democrats threatened to kneecap the process if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not schedule a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure deal. Pelosi and the lawmakers eventually compromised, agreeing to hold it by September 27 — this past Monday — in exchange for the group’s support on a procedural vote to set the stage for the social spending bill.