Frustrated progressives on relief package: ‘We’ll take the win’

Liberals in the House on Monday rallied behind the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that the Democratic-controlled Congress is set to send to President Biden’s desk this week, despite some frustration over changes made by the Senate to appease key centrists. 

House progressives signaled that they will still back the legislation following amendments adopted by the Senate to restrict income eligibility for stimulus checks and keep weekly unemployment insurance payments at $300, while ensuring that the first $10,200 of jobless benefits aren’t subject to taxes.

Another key progressive provision in the original version of the bill that the House passed earlier this month would have raised the minimum wage to $15 per hour, but the Senate parliamentarian ruled that it didn’t comply with the budget reconciliation process that Democrats are using to circumvent a Senate GOP filibuster. 

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Monday that she didn’t think the changes pursued by Senate centrists were “good policy or good politics,” but minimized them as “relatively minor in the grand scheme of things.” 

“Ultimately, given the makeup of the Senate, the House is always going to be more progressive than the Senate. That is actually our job, to make everything as progressive as possible in the House and then when it goes to the Senate to know that there are going to be some changes,” Jayapal told reporters in the Capitol.

“We’ll take the win. We believe it’s our work that made it as progressive as it is,” she added. 

The House was initially expected to take a final vote on the massive relief package on Tuesday. But Democratic aides said that the vote could be pushed to Wednesday as the House awaits bill processing papers from the Senate.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the vote would be Wednesday morning “at the latest.”

While the House had yet to officially schedule a vote on Monday afternoon, the legislation’s fate is not in doubt.

Progressive Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) acknowledged “a lot of frustration” about the minimum wage hike’s removal from the bill, but predicted that “every Democrat, most likely” will vote for it.

“Overall, no one wants to play games with people’s lives. People are suffering. And the fact this is going to get checks and money directly into the pockets of people, and cut child poverty, cut poverty, I think is going to be the overriding concern,” Khanna said on CNN’s “New Day.”

Democrats are moving swiftly to send the legislation to Biden before March 14, when current unemployment insurance benefits expire.

Biden said Monday that he will sign the bill into law “as soon as I can get it.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden will deliver his first prime-time address to the nation on Thursday night to commemorate the one-year anniversary since businesses and schools began closing down in an effort to contain the pandemic and terms like “social distancing” became part of the American lexicon.

It’s expected that Biden will be able to tout final passage of the relief package as he outlines the path forward.

“He will discuss the many sacrifices that the American people have made over the last year and the grave loss communities and families across the country have suffered,” Psaki said. “The president will look forward, highlighting the role that Americans will play in beating the virus and moving the country to getting back to normal.”

But greater challenges lie ahead as Biden seeks to rack up more legislative accomplishments. 

The infighting between the progressive and centrist wings on pandemic relief exemplifies the challenges ahead for Biden and congressional Democrats as they seek to enact their agenda with razor-thin majorities and, for most future bills, the constant threats of Senate GOP filibusters. 

And with no Republicans expected to back the pandemic relief bill, Democratic leaders have to maintain a delicate balance to avoid defections and still pass legislation on their own.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), whose push for changing the unemployment insurance supplemental payments and inclination to back a GOP amendment held up Senate proceedings for several hours on Friday, signaled that he’ll keep trying to maximize his leverage for future legislation.

Manchin said on “Axios on HBO” that he’ll block a climate and infrastructure package if Republicans don’t get to have any input in the 50-50 Senate.

“I’m not going to do it through reconciliation,” Manchin said, referring to the budget process that would allow Democrats to bypass a GOP filibuster. “I am not going to get on a bill that cuts them out completely before we start trying.”

But progressives are also flexing their muscles in a House where with their slim majority, Democrats can only afford up to four defections. 

Jayapal said she warned Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Friday morning after hearing that centrists planned to make changes so that the weekly unemployment insurance supplemental payments would remain at the current $300, rather than the increase to $400 in the original House bill.

That came after Democratic senators changed the eligibility for stimulus checks so that individuals with incomes between $80,000 and $100,000 who received partial payments in previous rounds wouldn’t qualify this time. Individuals earning $75,000 or less will still be eligible for the full $1,400 checks.

“I said, ‘It cannot get weakened more. We can’t weaken this thing any more or I don’t know what’s going to happen in the House,’ ” Jayapal recalled.  

Tags Chuck Schumer coronavirus relief COVID-19 direct payments Jen Psaki Joe Biden Joe Manchin Minimum wage Nancy Pelosi Pramila Jayapal Ro Khanna Unemployment

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