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Progressives declare victory in spending bill fight

Progressives are declaring victory ahead of a possible vote Thursday on President Biden’s social spending and climate package, while saying they shouldn’t be blamed for their party losing the governor’s race in Virginia.

Liberals in the House for weeks have refused to allow a vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill approved by the Senate without also getting one on the larger budget package.

Now it appears the House is inching toward a vote on that legislation, with another on the infrastructure bill to follow on Friday.

Progressives led by Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) have seen the bill get whittled down from $3.5 trillion amid opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and House centrists, and they’ve had to agree to concessions on priority policies.

But the bill headed toward getting a vote includes once again four weeks of family leave, making it stronger from their perspective than the framework deal announced last week.

It’s possible that the family leave provision will be cut before a Senate vote, but the action by the House is intended to make it more difficult to remove it completely from the package.

After Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) signaled the possible vote, progressives inside and outside of Congress expressed their pleasure.

Asked if a vote would be possible tonight if left-wing members didn’t remain firm in their position, Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO), a progressive, said “no.”

“Oh, no,” Bush said. “This would have been a different situation if we would have kept going the way we were asked to go last week.”

Grassroots leaders also took note of the progress.

“I have definitely been encouraged to see just over the last 24 hours that there does seem to be a continued sense of excitement or momentum for actually passing the full — or as close as possible — to the Build Back Better agenda,” said Lucy Solomon, national political director at Indivisible, a grassroots network.

“There would be a universe in which we would wake up after the losses in Virginia and we’d see lawmakers moving away from passing legislation,” she added, “and I’m very encouraged to see that legislators seem to be cognizant of the fact that voters want them to take action.”

A number of lawmakers in the House and Senate have blasted progressives for holding up the infrastructure bill, arguing it hurt Democrat Terry McAuliffe in Virginia.

Democratic candidates throughout the state took a beating, and senior state lawmakers in New Jersey were also defeated in Tuesday’s off-year elections. Democrat Phil Murphy barely hung on in his reelection bid for governor in a near upset, reflecting the negative political winds for Democrats.

Centrists who had argued it would have made more political sense to pass the infrastructure bill weeks ago to boost Biden and Democratic candidates said the election losses were proof they were right.

“Mark and I told the caucus that this would happen if we didn’t act promptly, and it has in fact happened,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told reporters this week, referencing Virginia Sen. Mark Warner (D), as reported by NPR.

“I mean, only in Washington could people think that it is a smart strategy to take a once-in-a-generation investment in infrastructure and prevent your president from signing that bill into law,” Warner said this week.

But progressives are arguing there are other reasons for McAuliffe’s defeat, and that the degree to which inaction in Congress contributed is not just because the left demanded movement on Biden’s social spending agenda.

They note Manchin and other moderates were slow to negotiate on that more expansive legislation, which held up a deal. If anyone is to blame for the gridlock, it is these centrists, they argue.

“Psychologically, it’s moderates in denial. That’s what they have to do to defend their inaction in Congress,” said Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of Our Revolution.

“I think there’s always a lot of excuses and it’s never one thing,” added Kelly Dietrich, who runs the National Democratic Training Committee.

“People can say, ‘oh the progressives didn’t allow this.’ It’s not progressives holding up things in the Senate,” said Dietrich. “If we had 50 votes in the Senate to pass these things, this shit would be done.”

Biden himself said this week the infrastructure bill should have been approved before Tuesday.

“I think it should have passed before Election Day, but I’m not sure that I would be able to have changed the number of very conservative folks who turned out in red districts who were Trump voters,” the president said. “Maybe, maybe.”

Either way, both sides in the debate think it is smart to act swiftly now.

“If Democrats don’t want the past to be prologue, then they need to deliver on an economic plan that lowers costs so working people feel some real breathing room in their lives,” said Jesse Ferrguson, a longtime Democratic strategist. “That’s how you turn the environment around.”

Some Democrats were less quick to cast off Tuesday as a colossal failure, and said there was plenty of time to get things right before next year’s midterms.

“We’re just half-way through the cycle,” Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) told The Hill. 

“We have time to earn victory next November, but we need to spend the next year playing sharper, playing smarter.”

“That means passing bills that will meaningfully improve people’s everyday lives, and delivering real tax cuts for working families,” Schneider said. “That’s how we put the results in Virginia behind us and set Democrats up for success next year.”

Aris Folley contributed reporting.

This story was updated at 3:42 p.m.

Tags Brad Schneider Cori Bush Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema Mark Warner Nancy Pelosi Phil Murphy Pramila Jayapal Terry McAuliffe Tim Kaine

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