The upside-down world of peacock progressives who want to kill historic COVID relief


The largest economic stimulus in American history is on the verge of becoming law, and predictably, peacock progressives are upset.

After both the Senate and the House passed versions of the American Rescue Plan, clocking in at $1.9 trillion worth of assistance in what is being hailed as the largest single-piece anti-poverty legislation since the New Deal, the House is poised to take up the Senate bill and pass it on Wednesday, avoiding the need to reconcile the differences between the versions the two chambers passed. Democratic leaders in Congress promised that massive economic stimulus to rebuild from the pandemic would be enacted before previous unemployment extensions run out on March 14, and President Biden seems poised to sign legislation well before then.

The American Rescue Plan represents a major sea change in the priorities of government. At $1.9 trillion, the package carries carries roughly the same price tag as the Trump-Republican tax cuts in 2017, but while the richest Americans were the greatest beneficiaries of the Trump tax policies, with bottom 20% of income earners getting just 1% of the benefits, the Biden-Democratic plan reverses the focus and delivers nearly three-quarters of its benefits to the bottom half of income earners.

The Biden bill is so good that even usual critics of the president from the left appear stunned at how progressive it is. Bernie Sanders's former national campaign chair and the Deputy Whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Ro Khanna said the bill - the Senate bill without the minimum wage increase and a slightly lower unemployment benefits - scored an 8/10 on his personal happiness scale. Khanna stressed the $3,000-$3,600 per child per year cash payment (or in fancy government-speak, a 'refundable tax credit') to every middle class family.

Bernie Sanders himself called the bill 'the most significant piece of legislation for working people that has been passed in decades.'

House Progressive Caucus chair Pramila Jayapal, who had been communicating with the Senate Democratic leadership as the bill was advancing through that body to make sure that the Senate did not send back to the House a bill progressives could not back. called the legislation, even without the minimum wage provision, 'a big progressive win.'

Yet, some on the supposed left are angry about the bill's smooth sailing and want it killed. They argue that by allowing the Senate bill to become law, progressive lawmakers are failing to assert their power within the thin Democratic majorities in Congress. Progressives in the House should vote down the entire bill, they say, to protest the fact that the Senate failed to include a $15 minimum wage, because of procedural reasons but also because there simply was not enough votes. They are already warning of impending doom in the 2022 elections for Democrats if this bill survives.

Although on the surface, these critics say that the bill should be stopped because it does not include a $15 minimum wage, the main fervor of their argument rests not on a policy position but on an offensive posture. The energy, if it is to be judged from social media and public appearance, is behind a more abstract idea that the concessions made in the Senate bill to secure moderate votes represents a intraparty 'defeat' of progressives that should not be allowed to stand. The Senate needed all 50 Democratic votes to pass the final package and Sanders was able to secure just 42 for his minimum wage amendment. Moderates have outsized influence, the talking point goes, because they are willing to walk away from a piece of legislation if their demand isn't met, while progressives are deprived of clout because they are not.

Here's what a so-called left media mogul - funded by Republican money - had to say about this.

This is peacocking at its dangerous worst.

For one thing, this line of logic buys into the frame that using power destructively is more desirable than using it constructively. If progressives tank massive amounts of assistance for people at the bottom half of the income ladder, the logic goes, then the Democratic 'establishment' will come to fear progressives and give them whatever they want, the way people like Cenk Uygur believe it now treats moderates. Like the far right, people like Uygur believe that fear is the only form of power that matters.

More importantly, this is an upside-down understanding of the bill. It isn't progressives - at least not if 'progressive' is defined as people who want progress rather than simply set things on fire - who are being dragged, kicking and screaming, to vote for a bill that is mostly moderate or conservative. It is moderates who have agreed to support a massive piece of progressive legislation and asked for relatively few concessions for their support.

It would have been enough to let the testimonials from Khanna, Sanders, and Jayapal stand on their own on the progressive bone fides of this legislation, but here's a short review of what progressives would be walking away from if they were to follow the advise of the likes of :

The American Rescue Plan will increase the income of the poorest 20% of Americans by over $3500 and cut child poverty by more than 50%. After-tax income for low-income (those making $25,000 or less) households with children will be boosted by almost $8,000. This bill will eliminate health insurance premiums for families making under $40,000 a year and significantly increase subsidies to purchase health insurance for everyone else, and will allow 1.3 million people who couldn't afford health insurance before to do so. It will complete a $2000 direct payment to almost 90% of Americans, and extend $1300 a month of additional unemployment benefits in September.

Not only is $350 billion in state and local aid - which has been a major progressive priority that Republicans had successfully kept from being included in aid packages for almost a year while they controlled the Senate - included in the legislation, but it is distributed based on need rather than sheer population size. The distribution formula is based on the number of unemployed people in each state, making sure that the assistance is better focused on states that have put saving lives first and have the greatest need for assistance.

There's $130 billion to safely reopen schools, $86 billion to short up pensions for union workers, $40 billion in emergency aid for colleges (at least half must be spent directly assisting students), $35 billion in housing assistance, and $5 billion in assistance for the homeless, including $800 million to support homeless youth (something that was added by mean moderate Joe Manchin).

When Republicans say that the COVID relief legislation is a liberal wish list, they are not entirely off base. This package is structured with big, bold, active government initiative to make people's lives better and send direct assistance to the poor and the middle class, something diabolically opposed to the GOP's economic priorities. Democrats have used the budget reconciliation process to deliver massive amounts of support for progressive priorities, the effects of which are likely to grease the engines of the American economy far beyond the end of the pandemic.

There is hardly a thing in this package for progressives not to like, and this is all possible only because moderate Democrats who are likely less than comfortable with the dollar amounts attached to many parts of the bill nevertheless are doing the right thing and voting for the most progressive economic legislation in a century.

Most progressives in Congress know this, and that's why, even though they had grumbled earlier about potentially withholding their votes, they now appear ready to hold the united Democratic front to deliver on this historic victory.

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