The House Dem Centrists Hit a Wall

Apparently the Democratic “centrists” still haven’t read the memo. Rachael Bade and Rylan Lizza write at Politico,

— What senior Dems thought was going to happen: President JOE BIDEN was coming to the Hill to support Speaker NANCY PELOSI’s efforts to rally the party behind his historic $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan ahead of a Friday vote.

— What ended up happening instead: Biden told them he wanted to hold off on BIF until there was a reconciliation deal — even if that means delaying the vote for several more days or even weeks.

As I wrote last week, the Democratic House “centrists” seriously believed President Biden should bring the hammer down on progressives to force through a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Instead, the President is taking the progressive position, that the reconciliation bill is the important one and cannot be left behind.

By all accounts, some of the centrists are still stunned. That is not what they expected.

The House Democratic centrists are led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, a Clinton acolyte from way back. I’ve written about him before; see House Moderate Democrats Are the Bad Guys on Infrastructure from August 16 and “Moderate” Troublemakers Still Threaten to Derail Biden Agenda from August 25. Gottheimer and his crew of eight other Dems are closely aligned with big money groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and No Labels (billionaires into capital management, equity firms, hedge funds, etc.). The Nine have worked hard to de-couple the bipartisan bill from the reconciliation Build Back Better bill. It’s possible they don’t really care if the bipartisan bill passes; they just want to use it to weaken if not stop the bigger bill.

Do read Ryan Grim at The Intercept, How Rep. Josh Gottheimer Got Outmatched by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Late yesterday Gottheimer released a statement complaining about how a “far-left faction” was trying to destroy the President’s agenda, never mind that the President’s agenda is wrapped up in the bill Gottheimer has been trying to destroy. It may be significant that Gottheimer was the only member of the Nine to sign the statement.

But come Friday, Gottheimer was the lone name on the statement after, according to Politico’s Heather Caygle, no one else from his “unbreakable nine” would sign on. Later that evening, a Republican representative said one angry Democrat called Pelosi a “fucking liar” for not putting the bill on the floor, and there was little question about the identity of that angry Democrat.

This was the plan:

The goal of Gottheimer’s group had been to pass the infrastructure bill and then train their fire on the bigger bill. Free the hostage, then blow up the insurgents. Their demand went against the grain of the Democrats’ two-track strategy, but Pelosi conceded by giving them a date for the infrastructure floor vote: September 27.

Gottheimer and some of his allies then huddled with the dark-money group No Labels, which finances their campaigns and was instrumental in organizing the opposition. “You should feel so proud, I can’t explain to you, this is the culmination of all your work. This would not have happened but for what you built,” Gottheimer told them, according to a recording of the conversation obtained by The Intercept. “It just wouldn’t have happened — hard stop. You should just feel so proud. This is your win as much as it is my win.”

Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., former chair of the right-wing Blue Dog Coalition, celebrated that the victory would let them focus next on fighting the reconciliation package, which he told the group he opposed. “Let’s deal with the reconciliation later. Let’s pass that infrastructure package right now, and don’t get your hopes up that we’re going to spend trillions more of our kids’ and grandkids’ money that we don’t really have at this point,” Schrader said.

Until very recently, like maybe this week, the pattern has been that Conventional Wisdom automatically sided with the centrists, and all of the pressure in Washington would have come down on the progressives to back off. Ryan Grim continues,

But House progressives quickly responded, vowing to block the bill — to hold the line — if it came to the floor without the broader spending bill. Gottheimer remained confident over the next several weeks, saying privately that he was sure the progressives would fold. On September 27, it was clear that there weren’t enough votes to pass the bill, and Pelosi pulled it from the floor, rescheduling it for a September 30 showdown.

On CNN Thursday, Gottheimer gave the bill a “1,000 percent” chance of being passed that day. He never got close, and the bill was pulled again, leaving Gottheimer to meekly argue that the House had not been technically adjourned. Friday would still be the same “legislative day,” he tweeted, and negotiations were ongoing and he was grabbing Red Bull and Gatorade and — hey, where’s everybody going?

The times, they are a-changin’. President Biden has made it clear he agrees with the progressives — if the bipartisan bill is allowed to pass by itself, the reconciliation bill will be destroyed. That’s been the entire purpose behind coupling the two bills; factions supporting one will have to support the other also.

The progressives have been clear that they have agreed to that plan, and that they will vote for the bipartisan bill to secure passage of the bigger bill. It’s the centrists who are trying to break the deal.

Greg Sargent:

In the through-the-looking-glass media coverage of the Democrats’ brutal slog to pass President Biden’s agenda, the story has often been that radicalized progressives are threatening to derail the whole thing, because they refuse to accept the “reality” that the final package must be in sync with what the conservative faction of Democrats says is “possible.”

But this gets the story wrong. In fact, the progressives’ stand on Thursday makes successful passage of Biden’s agenda more likely, not less. To be clear, it’s very plausible the whole thing could still implode. But if so, that lefty stand won’t be why.

By refusing to help pass the infrastructure bill, progressives helped secure more space for negotiations on the reconciliation framework. 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.

The centrists are the ones who oppose passing this agenda.

I’m still seeing news stories and commentary that make the progressives out to be radical bomb throwers who are trying to stop what’s practical and possible. But after President Biden’s visit to the House yesterday, perhaps there will be less of that. We’ll see.

Paul Waldman:

The savvy journalist’s view of politics is based in part on the assumption that ideologues are problematic — they’re inflexible, they’re impractical, they care more about purity than that most noble of objectives, Getting Things Done.

Centrists and moderates, on the other hand, supposedly understand the real world and are willing to work with others to solve problems. Which is why, for instance, a bipartisan group of House centrists named themselves the Problem Solvers Caucus.

But what if all those ideas are backward? What if it’s the ideologues who are able to get things done, and it’s the centrists who stand in the way of solving problems while they knuckle under to special interests who don’t have the welfare of the country at heart?

The current Democratic attempt to pass President Biden’s agenda is demonstrating just that.

A lot of us have been saying that for years; it’s the centrists holding us back, not the progressives.

Waldman goes on to say that while Joe Biden wasn’t their preferred candidate, progressives worked hard to elect him. And progressives are not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good; they are accepting compromises to get something from their agenda passed. Failure is not an option. But for the centrists, failure is an option. If both bills go down in flames, they can live with that. The centrists are centrists because they are comfortable with the status quo and aren’t on fire to make big changes.

That general lack of urgency about addressing issues may be one reason that the Problem Solvers Caucus, which was formed in 2017, can’t say it has actually solved any problems. On their website, these lawmakers tout a few areas of agreement among themselves, but they haven’t managed to use their alleged problem-solving prowess to push any legislation to passage.

And that, children, is why we can’t have nice things. But maybe something can be salvaged from this.

Josh Gottheimer, left, and some other guy.


11 thoughts on “The House Dem Centrists Hit a Wall

  1. Yes, let's hope that some real good stuff gets salvaged.

    BTW:  I'm happy with the guts the progressives are showing.

    They stuck to their (our) beliefs, and they have some say in our future.

    And over the last couple of decades, progressives/liberals have done a really good job of gaining power within the party.

    Just twelve years ago, if the progressive group could have had the same power as this new crew, I bet Obama would have been moved further left than he ended up actually being in his presidency.

  2. Sinema is pissed. She's sounding like a typical repuglican congress critter who got caught in some illicit behavior with her vowing her fidelity to the concerns of the people of Arizona. It seems to me that she is sounding more like a political hack who has been defanged of her ability to reek havoc and promote her brand. She can no longer play her ' Trump' card of being the spoiler.

  3. Real credit has to go to Biden too. Just as with Afghanistan, I think a younger more inexperienced president would have buckled to conventional wisdom. Instead, he has, once again, ignored the press and focused on the goal: getting legislation passed.  

    Just want to add, it is notable that Clyburn has refused to whip the BIB. Congressional leadership wants to pass the president's plan, even if it is not as large as hoped. 

  4. Until very recently, like maybe this week, the pattern has been that Conventional Wisdom automatically sided with the centrists, and all of the pressure in Washington would have come down on the progressives to back off.

    First, I object to referring to the Corporately Owned Democrats as 'centrists'. 

    Second, there are 222 members of the House Democratic Caucus;  95 of them are part of the Progressive Caucus.  The Progressive Caucus is NOT a minor fraction of the House Democrats;  it is the largest caucus of which very few of the House Democratic Leadership are members which describes the real problem the Clintonized House under PayGo Pelosi’s leadership had become a long time ago.

    Third, 'Conventional Wisdom' is a glorified name for 'Inside the Beltway Corporately Owned Media Groupthink'.  Conventional Wisdom got us into Little George Bush's Iraq invasion.  Conventional Wisdom is regularly incorrect and seldom wise.

    • Framing matters.   Refer to them as "conservative Democrats".   Do it consistently for 2 decades and eventually "moderate" or uninformed voters that always vote "R", will start considering voting for "D".    

      • Truth matters more…

        They are Corporately Owned Democrats with the exception of the few who are part of the No Labels Caucus.  They bypass the corporations and go straight to the billionaires.

  5. Blessed are the ducks who do not get in a row is not a part of the sermon on the mount.  Obstruction for the sake of obstructionism is not virtue and having a real good explanation for why you are not in the row is a real vice.   The only thing  I have learned so far about the Biden administration is that they too can't multi-task.  They claim they can chew gum and walk at the same time but so far we have had little hard evidence of that.  More reason to adhere to my old adage, Multi-tasking is just a way to screw up several things at once.  So what is job #1?

    Well job #1 on day # 1 was and still should be getting the COVID problem under control.  You remember, the job the previous guy botched up totally.  The data show not only has the rate of increase of cases in wave #2  or should we call it the Delta wave has stopped, and the actual number of cases per day is on a bit of a decline.  I could link to a graph, but I have learned that a good percentage of people just flat cannot read a graph.  Fewer yet can compose a graph from data.  

    Still we have a long way to go to catch up to Portugal.  They have achieved a vaccination rate of 98% for all over the age of 12.  I live in a county that is below my state's average I found with a little data surfing today.  No Lake Wobegon county here.  Even the best county in the state is not close to a 98% rate of vaccinations for even the most vaccinated, those over 65.  A retired Doc. I work out with said the rate in old age homes is 95% which is still below what Portugal has done for all eligible age groups. Sad story here. 

    So are we better off than we were with the old guy?  Yes by a large measure.  But by many measures way behind Portugal and not a world leader in virus control by any measure except probably the one we always excel at, that of cost per citizen.  We can always get quite a bit less at the highest cost.  

    This is what is amusing about so called moderate Dems.  They are the Caucus of the penny wise and pound foolish, which I guess translates to penny wise and dollar foolish in the American version of the King's English.  Why can there not be a reasonable discussion of program need and program value?  I would contend one penny is too much for programs that are of no value or even negative value.  On the other hand, to skimp on essential social infrastructure, with only an eye towards the grand total cost of all programs on the wish list, just leads toward more penny wise, pound/dollar foolish spending which we already overachieve at doing.  Blessed are those who get less and pay too much is also not a part of the Sermon on the Mount.  Why then do moderate Democrats adhere to it religiously?

  6. SUPPOSE. Suppose you are working a job where you earn 17K per year. You are promised a job in the future with a nearby company for 200K per year, BUT the new job is contingent on staying with the old job for a while, You see, you're in a position in the old job to steer enormous benefits to your future employer. Your value to your future employer requires you stick it out in the old job and your future benefits will depend on how effective you are in making your new employer rich from your position in the old job. 

    That describes the relationship between Congress and lobbying. Just multiply the numbers by ten. Over half the retiring members of Congress will get jobs just six blocks from the US Capitol Building on K Street (or working for special interests in some form.) The going rate for a former Senator – 2 million per year. 

    There is no three-dimensional chess in the motives of Kyrsten or Manchin or the "Centrists." There's no guiding philosophy to discover. As long as the revolving door between Congress and lobbying spins freely, the "Centrists" will sell us out – on climate change, on energy, on tax policy…. 

    • This explains Manchin, but I don't think Kyrsten Cinema (sic) will have any bankable influence in Congress when she loses her seat in 2026.  I expect her to wind up on TV, not K Street.  Less money, but more attention…

      • K Street will pay off if Kyrten self-destructs on their behalf. (Gets the boot in 2026) Lobbyists pay off on their bribes or Congress-critters would not line up to be bribed. (It's like welching on a bet – nobody will bet you.) 

        Kyrsten can get the boot in 2026, and not lose a dime of bankable influence on Capitol Hill. If she's getting paid two million per year and she sacrificed herself on the altar of Wall Street greed, the message is clear – selling out the public interest pays well. 

      • The good news is that Sinema was elected to the Senate in 2018, which means she's up for re-election in 2024, not 2026. 

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