In Weak, Empty Threat, "Progressive" Establishment Thirsts for Relevance

Nation 150th in Seattle - Pramila Jayapal 01

A week after their most high-profile primary loss since Bernie Sanders lost his second presidential primary in a row, gatekeeper progressives are trying to get back to their groove by doing something familiar: issue empty threats to derail President Biden's agenda.
The leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus - Reps. Pramila Jayapal, Ilhan Omar, and Katie Porter - wrote a letter to Speaker Pelosi and sent out a press release that read like a threat from an amateur hostage-taker. The letter, on the occasion of the Senate passing a groundbreaking bipartisan physical infrastructure bill by a 69-30 vote, threatens that the caucus could use its leverage to try to tank the bipartisan legislation, in a bit of a role reversal for people who have generally accused the Senate of being a legislative graveyard for bills the House has cleared. But reading between the lines of this machismo reveals that the caucus likely does not have the votes to make good on its threat.

The first part of their threat is completely laughable because the thing they say they want is already in the works and was at the time they released the letter. The Senate wasted no time after the triumphant passage of the bipartisan legislation to move swiftly to consider a budget resolution that will allow for a reconciliation bill that focuses on the President's human infrastructure priorities like child care, Medicare, and Obamacare expansions, and education. The Senate passed the budget resolution - which clears the way for the actual reconciliation package to be written - on a party-line vote on Wednesday early morning. Speaker Pelosi reiterated today that Congress would move on a parallel track because that's what she and the Democratic caucus, not the CPC, want.

So, the major part of the CPC letter is just "Democrats better do what they are already doing" clownery attempting to pat themselves on the back for events already in motion. It is a bit like claiming credit for making it rain when all you've done is say "It better rain" after seeing rain clouds fill up the sky.

But there's another part of their threat that is less clownish and more toothless: the demand that the reconciliation package award unspecified legislative ponies to the gatekeep progressive establishment, or else.

The Speaker would not make a declaratory statement that she did if she did hadn't counted the votes and knew, with certainty, that she has the votes to pass both. But what Speaker Pelosi did not say is just as instructive as what she did. That's the part where the "progressives" are unlikely to find happiness.

It was never in doubt that Democrats would move a budget resolution to enable reconciliation alongside the bipartisan infrastructure package. This much has been made clear from day one not only by Speaker Pelosi but by everyone's least favorite Democrat: Sen. Joe Manchin.

But neither Sen. Manchin has also made clear that the size and scope of the reconciliation package remain in flux, and Speaker Pelosi, the master legislator that she is, has drawn no ultimatums other than to say that there must be a reconciliation package to address human infrastructure priorities.

In their infinite amateur-hour wisdom, though, the CPC has.

We specifically asked whether members would commit to withholding a yes vote on the bipartisan infrastructure deal—Senate Amendment 2137 to H.R. 3684—until the Senate has passed budget reconciliation legislation deemed acceptable by the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The actual litmus test the CPC is attempting to put on the process, if they had the ability to enforce it, is not that a reconciliation package passes (that, as I mentioned, is a foregone conclusion) but that the one that passes meet the gatekeeper progressives' pony demands.

That is the line in the sand that is sure to be obliterated, and they know it.

But what makes me so confident that the CPC establishment knows it doesn't have any clout? The answer is simple: the letter fails to cite numbers to back up a credible threat.

This paragraph is the one that is meant to be the actual threat but in reality, gives away their weak hand.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) announced today that a survey of its 96 members showed that a majority of respondents will not vote for a bipartisan infrastructure bill until the Senate passes a robust budget reconciliation bill to fund the rest of the American Jobs and Families Plans.

Read that carefully. The strongest threat that CPC Inc. could issue is that "a majority of respondents" would hold the bipartisan infrastructure package hostage. Not a majority of the caucus, which, at 49 members or more, could indeed pose a challenge to the bipartisan bill's prospects in the House, but a majority of respondents. The CPC establishment does not say how many actually responded, and there is only one reason not to disclose that number publicly: not enough members responded to actually pose a threat.

But CPC Inc believes that their leverage comes from the rather thin majority Democrats hold in the House, where even a loss of a handful of Democrats on a piece of legislation can doom it provided that Republican opposition is unanimous. That leverage, it appears to believe, will pressure the Democratic leadership not only to push for a reconciliation package but push for one that passes muster with the hard left.

This is a miscalculation.

While the assumption that Republican opposition will be unanimous to a piece of legislation is generally a safe assumption in this Congress, that is not likely to be the case for the bipartisan infrastructure deal. For one thing, already 19 Senate Republicans, or nearly 40% of the Senate GOP caucus, including grim reaper Mitch McConnell, voted for it in the Senate.

Backing those Senate Republicans up are House Republicans in the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, made out of 29 Democrats and 29 Republicans. The Problem Solvers Caucus has backed the bipartisan bill from the beginning, and they issued a statement before the CPC could get its vapid survey out the door, convincingly making the case that a good majority of their Republican members, if not all of them, were ready to back the Senate-passed measure. In fact, the CPC scrambling is better seen as a response to the Problem Solvers.

Every Republican vote for the bipartisan measure makes the CPC establishment threat to upend it that much more untenable. Do they have some 35 or so votes they will need if there is Republican support on the level of the Problem Solvers Caucus membership? A bigger question: do they have 35 votes to upset the entire infrastructure apple cart after a reconciliation package - but not one that lights up AOC's Instagram feed - has been secured?

Not until pigs fly. And when they are unable to stop this massive victory for President Biden, some of us will be petty enough to remind them of their failures.

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