House Moderate Democrats Are the Bad Guys on Infrastructure

At Washington Monthly, David Atkins writes, A Few House Moderates Are on the Verge of Scuttling Biden’s Presidency On Behalf of Their Donors.

Most of the Beltway narrative around Democratic intraparty infighting pits supposedly beleaguered moderates loyally supporting Democratic priorities and trying to hold onto frontline districts, versus disloyal progressives in safe seats making irresponsible demands that threaten the caucus majority. Per the most self-described savvy insiders, Squad-aligned politicians make noise that hurts the caucus, while the Problem-Solving New Dems do the hard work to carry legislation and protect unsafe seats.

This narrative is rarely if ever true: progressives in Congress usually stake out the more popular policy positions, do much of the nitty-gritty legislative work, do not scuttle important bills, and in any case have every right to represent their districts as faithfully as any other.

But nowhere does this tired narrative crash more heavily against the shoals of reality than now, when a collection of 9 House “moderates” are threatening to scuttle the entire Biden agenda—including any hopes Democrats might have of maintaining the majorities in the face of a likely difficult 2022 midterm election.

Very briefly, the Nine are trying to smash the “two track” strategy through which Biden and congressional Democrats would pass both the bipartisan and reconciliation infrastructure bills. As part of this strategy, Nancy Pelosi is sitting on the bipartisan bill that passed in the Senate until the reconciliation bill, containing many Democratis Party priorities, also passes. “Nancy Pelosi has insisted on passing both together in order to keep the entirety of the Democratic caucus onboard and to prevent backsliding by either faction,” Atkins writes.

The Nine want the bipartisan bill to be voted on immediately, which — whether it passes or not — would probably mean that the reconciliation bill is dead, because the “moderates” would have no reason to vote for it. Greg Sargent explains,

The threat came in a new letter from nine centrist House Democrats to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), which lays out demands for how the process should unfold from here.

“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,” reads the letter, which is led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and signed by other members of the House Problem Solvers Caucus.

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. 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.

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.

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.

An immediate vote in the House on the bipartisan bill would kill both bills, in other words. It would also kill the Democratic agenda.

Why would the Nine do this? Because that’s what their sponsors want. See Jonathan Chait:

Notably, the moderate House Democrats have been loading up the reconciliation bill with a series of conflicting demands. On the one hand, they have been complaining about its overall size and pushing to shrink down the headline number. On the other hand, they have been making their own costly demands. Josh Gottheimer, one letter signer, has been crusading for a restoration of the state and local tax deduction, a benefit for some of his affluent constituents. Jim Costa, another signer, wants to protect the heirs to massive fortunes from any taxation on their windfall.

These demands, notably, are not designed to protect the Democratic Party from the left’s unpopular baggage. Most of the broader debate has focused on the toxic brand damage of slogans like defunding the police and Green New Deal, but the moderate Democrats are, in this case, threatening to tank a highly popular agenda of taxing the very rich in order to give broad middle-class benefits. The moderate Democrats are the biggest obstacle to making the math work, simultaneously complaining about the size of the bill while ordering more expensive goodies for themselves.

“The suicidal illogic of the demand may explain why only nine Democrats signed the letter,” Chait continues. Somewhere in their muddled heads they seem to think they have leverage to force passage of the bills as they want them, but in truth what they are trying to do would probably kill passage of both bills. And this would do irreparable damage to the Democratic Party and the nation.

I heartily recommend reading all of Atkins, Waldman, and Chait to get the whole picture.

7 thoughts on “House Moderate Democrats Are the Bad Guys on Infrastructure

  1. This was like reading a high school students attempt at New Yorker plagiarization. Yikes on readability!

    • Maha posts stuff on her blog to educate and stimulate independent thought and discussion. Sometimes, the posts are 90% Maha expounding. Sometimes she has 80% relevant quotes on the topic which she brings together to make a larger point from the opinions of several pundits other than her.

      But she's NEVER plagiarized. You need to back up and apologize.

  2. As yogi Berra once said "It's deja vu all over again."

    While the specifics aren't the same, and my memory may be flawed, I seem to remember the two years after the 2008 Presidential Election there was a group of Democratic party congress people who became known as the "Blue Dogs" and were notorious for expressing their "reluctance" in getting on board with some of the more progressive agenda items such as the Affordable Care Act. 

    Infighting began immediately between the "factions" of the democrats and spurred the outfighting with the Republican side who were completely opposed.

    Long story short, a watered down version of the ACA was passed, 2010 elections saw gains by the Republicans, obstructionism being their weapon (Merrick Garland, anyone) that little was accomplished and opened the door to 2016 elections with Democrats trying to appeal only to centrists while marginalizing the progressive wing and the fascists orange god-emperor took advantage to lose the election and gain the white house.

    Of, course, it all might be coincidence.

  3. I’m like a broken record on one subject. It’s not that it’s the only issue or even the most important issue. It’s the first issue- the one we have to solve before we will solve any other.

    The first issue is big money in politics. Voters agree it’s an obscenity. Fix that and the donor class goes away. Or continue to fight each issue separately and lose.

    • How can big money be defeated until Citizens United v FEC is reversed?  I don't see that in the foreseeable future with the existing composition of the Supreme Court.

      • There's two groups promoting a Constitutional Amendment to reverse Citizens United and take the subject out of the Supreme Court forever.

        One group is

        The other is

        I don't consider other groups to be viable. If you haven't heard of either group, you're in the majority. But it can be done,

  4. Politics is ugly.  Right now for those who think the tenth or twelfth century was a great time to be alive Afghanistan is the new place to be.  For those a little more progressive than that, not so much.

    I am sure a group of Democrats want to position themselves a bit to the fiscally conservative side.  Such is politics, and the party must police themselves, as the Republicans show no sign of being able to even police even themselves in any sensible way.  So I guess honest feedback from the Republicans is not going to happen.  Oh I envy the British who can at least pretend to have a loyal opposition.  

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