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It’s Time For Progressives to Keep Their Promises

The congressional left has to put its money where its mouth is and block the infrastructure bill.

Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal on Rachel Maddow's show.
Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal.

On Monday night, Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a dramatic announcement to the House Democratic caucus: she was officially junking her plan to pass the Democrats’ two big spending bills in tandem. From NBC News:

“I told all of you that we wouldn’t go on to the [infrastructure bill until] we had the reconciliation bill passed by the Senate. We were right on schedule to do all of that, until 10 days ago, a week ago, when I heard the news that this number had to come down,” Pelosi said, according to the source. “It all changed, so our approach had to change.

“We had to accommodate the changes that were being necessitated. And we cannot be ready to say until the Senate passed the bill we can’t do BIF,” she said, using a shorthand for Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, the source said.

In doing this, Pelosi is siding with the right wing of her caucus, which has demanded that they be allowed to pass their cherished (and very corrupt)  infrastructure bill even if the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill that progressives are clamoring for is still in limbo. For weeks and weeks, progressives have vowed to block any attempt to do exactly this, because if conservative Democrats get what they want with no strings attached, they then have no incentive to help progressives get what they want. Pelosi has set a Thursday vote for the infrastructure bill. There are whispers that right-wing Democrats could make some vows about their future support for a reconciliation bill, but unless those assurances absolutely cannot be wriggled out of, progressives have no choice but to keep their promise and vote the bill down if it comes to the floor.

There is every reason for the left to stand firmly against this legislation. For one, their theory that the right will move to destroy the reconciliation bill makes a great deal of sense, because conservative Democrats keep sending giant signals that this is exactly what they want to do. On Tuesday afternoon, for instance, Kyrsten Sinema is hosting a fundraiser with corporate lobbying groups who want to kill the bill. This is not subtle. The biggest weapon the left has is to withhold support for the infrastructure bill. To toss that weapon into the sea would be an act of tremendous folly.

What’s more, it might be pretty easy to block the bill, because House Republicans might not be there to help Democrats get it over the line: 

Progressives are also being pinned to the wall based on a false prospectus. Pelosi is trying to steamroll them by portraying the Thursday vote as a make-or-break moment, saying that if the infrastructure bill doesn’t pass it will jeopardize crucial federal highway funding. But The American Prospect’s David Dayen, who would know, wrote on Tuesday morning that this is nonsense:

Surface transportation reauthorization has expired before for short periods of time. It would certainly be undesirable. But Congress can easily extend the current authorization on a short-term basis, until negotiations on a new authorization conclude. That mirrors the situation right now, as negotiations on the broader Biden agenda are ongoing.

How common is it to do a short-term extension? Extremely. Per a Hill source, the Congressional Research Service has identified 28 different short-term extensions of surface transportation authority since 2003, a rate of over one per year.

So there is no major crisis being averted on Thursday; conservative Democrats very clearly cannot be trusted; and it would only take a few progressives to block the infrastructure bill, which can be brought back to the floor the second progressives have a deal on the reconciliation bill. These are all good reasons to block the bill. But the biggest reason is that progressives have been promising to do this for months. Some are still promising it:

It is time for these people to put their money where their mouth is. Time and again, the story of the congressional left is a story featuring a group of people who talk a big game and then fold in the face of the right’s intransigence, thus demoralizing their supporters and showing everyone that they are not a threat to be taken too seriously. Now we have a situation in which they can muscle up without doing any major damage. 

Progressives have already bowed to a severe watering down of the reconciliation bill on multiple occasions. They have compromised a great deal. They need to draw the line somewhere, actually keep the promises they have been making, and vote against the infrastructure bill.

Update, 3:10 p.m. ET: OK, they say they’re not bluffing. We’ll find out!