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.