Many progressives reluctantly accept a smaller economic bill

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WASHINGTON (AP) – Many progressives have started to side with an emerging social and environmental bill that is not as big or as bold as they wanted it to be, thanks to a group of outnumbered party moderates but powerful who had a disproportionate word in the development of the measure.

Democrats overtook Republicans’ unanimous opposition in August and presented Congress with a 10-year, $ 3.5 trillion budget plan. With talks continuing, the actual package – it reflects President Joe Biden’s hopes to bolster health care, family services, and climate change efforts – likely appears to be about half that size. Popular initiatives like a free community college and fines against utilities using carbon-spitting fuels are dropped and others are reduced.

The influence of the moderates stems from the heavy arithmetic of a tightly divided Congress in which Democrats need all of their Senate votes 50-50 and near unanimity in the House. This made the centrist Sens. West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Krysten Sinema are power brokers whose colleagues fear they’ll vote no if they’re not happy, blowing up Biden’s agenda and hurting the party’s prospects during the talks. midterm elections next year.

With party leaders eager to strike a deal and start pushing legislation forward within days, progressives reluctantly assess whether it’s time to be pragmatic, support a compromise, and declare victory.

A deal would bring another bonus – freeing up for final House approval a bipartisan, Senate-approved set of $ 1 trillion of roads, water and broadband projects that progressives have hijacked to lobby. on the moderates to support the bigger economic bill.

“Of course I don’t like it,” Progressive Senator Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said of the overwhelming influence of moderates in squeezing the package and erasing some of its provisions. “These are all things we fought for. For decades. ”But she said that with the necessary democratic unity, the party should use the bill to“ open the door ”to its priorities, then try to expand and expand them later.

“At the end of the day, we have to accomplish something, we have to face the reality we live in,” said Liberal Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., Chairman of the House Rules Committee and ally of the House. Bedroom. leaders have said about his party’s thin margins in Congress. “So the question is, do we prefer to get nothing, or do we prefer something that can at least be a down payment on some of the transformation programs that we want. ”

Only a handful of moderates in the House and Senate express qualms about the social and environmental bill, arousing strong feelings among their colleagues.

“At some point you have to realize that making law requires respect from the rest of the people you work with,” Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., Progressive and chairman of the House budget committee, said of Manchin and Sinema. “And when you forced a 50% cut basically in a giant program, I think you did a disservice to everyone you serve with.”

“I’m pissed off, man,” said freshman Rep. Jamaal Bowman, DN.Y., one of the party’s more progressive members, pointing to Manchin. “It is simply unacceptable to me that one person from one state can have all this power and make these decisions that will crush my district and districts like mine across the country. “

Manchin pushed for limiting some of the bill’s benefits to low-income people. He also insisted on an overall price of $ 1.5 trillion, although on Tuesday he told reporters he was unsure “where it was going to end”. As West Virginia relies heavily on coal production, he forced Democrats to abandon utilities with language fines that don’t stray from heavily polluting fuels and reward those who do, which was a pillar. of their climate change plan.

Sinema insisted on limiting the cost of the bill. She also opposed the Democrats’ initial plan to fund much of the measure by raising tax rates for the rich and corporations, prompting them to consider alternatives such as removing new taxes on billionaire wealth. . She said she supported the requirement for large corporations to pay minimum tax.

While many progressives have started to tout the victories the measure will bring, not all of them are over. Many are making belated efforts to salvage or bolster faltering proposals such as extending Medicare and Medicaid coverage, granting paid family leave, and the ability for Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices from drug companies.

“The vast majority of our priorities are in place,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Who heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “But there are a few areas where that’s still not the case. And so what we’ll continue to do is push as hard as we can. “

Priorities for the 95-member group include climate change, housing, child care, expanding Medicare, and helping immigrants become citizens. Democrats have struggled to include immigration provisions, and efforts to add new dental, vision and hearing benefits to Medicare have also encountered problems.

The preference to continue fighting for a stronger plan is reinforced by progressive outside groups.

Leah Greenberg, executive director of Indivisible, the grassroots rights organization, said Manchin and Sinema “allowed a program at odds with the Democratic Party.” Ellen Sciales, spokesperson for the Sunrise Movement, a group of young environmental activists, said diluting climate change provisions would be “a death sentence for our generation.”

But Biden and the main Democrats in Congress are pushing to end internal party bickering and complete the measure. As if they are reading the same script, some even use similar keywords.

“We are on the eve of something major. Transformative, historic and greater than anything else, ”House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Told Democrats in a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the session who did not say so. would describe that on condition of anonymity.

“I think it’s kind of transformative and historic,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, DN.Y., another member of the House leadership, of the components of the measure.


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