Thursday evening, progressives finally flexed their muscles and stymied Pelosi and House moderates. They refused to go along with a clear cut betrayal in the form of Senators Manchin and Sinema having agreed to support $3.5 trillion of spending over 10 years that included climate change and social spending programs. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had to postpone a vote which had been scheduled for Thursday evening. The fact that the sure-footed Pelosi very clearly signaled that she didn’t have the votes amounts to a statement that this is not her problem to solve, that someone needs to get significant movement from the Senate before she can proceed.
As most of you know, the Senate had crafted a $1.5 trillion “infrastructure” bill largely from the original Biden scheme, and insisted the House pass it with no negotiation and no commitment to the other parts of the original program. Manchin and Sienna doubled down on their sabotage. Manchin issued as statement Wednesday that amounted to “$3.5 trillion over my dead body” and also refused to roll back some of the Trump tax breaks for businesses. Oh, and he wants the Hyde Amendment passed too. From the Washington Examiner:
Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal said Manchin’s statement “has created a bunch more votes on the House floor,” against the infrastructure bill.
Even before Manchin threw down his gauntlet, many commentators normally of the “Lie back and think of England” school of legislative hardball were supporting the progressive wing nuking the vote.
One question is how many of the House refusniks, like AOC, have specifically sworn off DCCC funding? As Tom Ferguson explained long-form in 2011, House Democrats run what amounts to an explicitly crooked operation where representatives who are supposedly voted in to represent their district instead are told to spend hours a day, every day, fundraising on behalf of the party and then kicking nearly all the dough into the DCCC, which in turn gives representatives “support” in terms of access to publications and research, talking points, and most important, funding when they are up for re-election. Alan Grayson, who as a freshman representative had amassed the most progressive voting record in the House, was denied re-election funding by the DCCC.
Critically, appointment to committee chairs in the House depends solely on donations to party coffers. There is no reason to think anything has changed since this 2011 post aside from the price tags:
Let’s first look at how crassly explicit the pricing is. Ferguson cites the work of Marian Currander on how it works for the Democrats in the House of Representatives:
Under the new rules for the 2008 election cycle, the DCCC [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] asked rank-and-file members to contribute $125,000 in dues and to raise an additional $75,000 for the party. Subcommittee chairpersons must contribute $150,000 in dues and raise an additional $100,000. Members who sit on the most powerful committees … must contribute $200,000 and raise an additional $250,000. Subcommittee chairs on power committees and committee chairs of non-power committees must contribute $250,000 and raise $250,000. The five chairs of the power committees must contribute $500,000 and raise an additional $1 million. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip James Clyburn, and Democratic Caucus Chair Rahm Emanuel must contribute $800,000 and raise $2.5 million. The four Democrats who serve as part of the extended leadership must contribute $450,000 and raise $500,000, and the nine Chief Deputy Whips must contribute $300,000 and raise $500,000. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi must contribute a staggering $800,000 and raise an additional $25 million.
Ferguson teases out the implications:
Uniquely among legislatures in the developed world, our Congressional parties now post prices for key slots on committees. You want it — you buy it, runs the challenge. They even sell on the installment plan: You want to chair an important committee? That’ll be $200,000 down and the same amount later, through fundraising…..
The whole adds up to something far more sinister than the parts. Big interest groups (think finance or oil or utilities or health care) can control the membership of the committees that write the legislation that regulates them. Outside investors and interest groups also become decisive in resolving leadership struggles within the parties in Congress. You want your man or woman in the leadership? Just send money. Lots of it….
The Congressional party leadership controls the swelling coffers of the national campaign committees, and the huge fixed investments in polling, research, and media capabilities that these committees maintain — resources the leaders use to bribe, cajole, or threaten candidates to toe the party line… Candidates rely on the national campaign committees not only for money, but for message, consultants, and polling they need to be competitive but can rarely afford on their own..
This concentration of power also allows party leaders to shift tactics to serve their own ends….They push hot-button legislative issues that have no chance of passage, just to win plaudits and money from donor blocs and special-interest supporters. When they are in the minority, they obstruct legislation, playing to the gallery and hoping to make an impression in the media…
The system …ensures that national party campaigns rest heavily on slogan-filled, fabulously expensive lowest-common-denominator appeals to collections of affluent special interests. The Congress of our New Gilded Age is far from the best Congress money can buy; it may well be the worst. It is a coin-operated stalemate machine that is now so dysfunctional that it threatens the good name of representative democracy itself.
AOC has been clear that she is not playing this game and is not spending half her time on party fundraising allows her to do more independent research on issues and spend more time on constituent servicing. I have no idea how many other members of the progressive caucus is following her model, but if they too are not part of the DCCC racket, they are an independent bloc that cannot be cowed by Pelosi. Do readers have any clue on how the rest of them stand?
In the meantime, the press is all a tizzy over this show of intransigence. The Hill called it a civil war:
…the gloves really came off.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) in a CNN interview dismissed younger liberal lawmakers as newbies who don’t understand how Washington works.
“They haven’t been legislators, most of them, for a very long period of time, and a lot of them have been activists,” he said.
“My car is older than quite a few of the progressives,” Cohen added, criticizing the left flank for not compromising….
She laughed when asked by a reporter if a $1.5 trillion budget plan goes far enough to address the country’s problems.
“For one year?” the New York progressive asked rhetorically….
“Right now they are demanding also a vote on an infrastructure bill that they have authored demanding that the House not conference it, demanding that every House member rubber stamp it with no House amendments,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
“That essentially their bill, authored as is, go straight to the president’s desk without any amendments, they have no top line number for negotiations. I mean, we need to be serious,” she added…..
“Many people are misinformed,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) in a brief interview after he addressed dozens of grassroots activists. “Or maybe they misunderstood the progressive movement.”
“The thing about the progressive movement is we’re challenging how Washington historically has worked,” he added. “We’re pushing back and saying ‘hell no.’ ”
Pelosi intends to keep negotiating Friday, but the two sides look too far apart and too dug in for there to be a route to a compromise. But the Democrats haven’t even been able to get the Senate holdouts to split the difference. From Politico:
Democrats with knowledge of the discussions said party leaders had hoped to convince Manchin and Sinema to agree to a $2.1 trillion topline target for the broader package, without success.
The press has not given any helpful clues on what the real deadline is, but Politico said that the failure to agree to terms on Thursday mean some transportation programs would lapse. While the dollars involved would presumably be reinstated, 4000 workers would be furloughed. It’s still not clear what other than silliness is this finesse, again per Politico:
Pelosi agreed to send lawmakers home shortly after 10 p.m., but party leaders will use a procedural maneuver to avoid starting a new legislative day — a nod to moderates who had insisted on a vote Thursday.
Pelosi is pushing to have a deal Friday, but merely a careful reading of the Politico story says this is wishful thinking. Manchin and Sinema were being worked over by Schumer, Sanders (!!!) and White House representatives Thursday evening. The effort was to get the two hostage-takers to agree to a total number and commit to key provisions on family prorgrams like child care and paid leave; health care; and climate change. But Manchin has dug in at his $1.5 trillion total and Sinema says she’s not open to broader spending talks if the infrastructure vote fails. Since they already rejected $2.1 trillion, any new number will be lower, and the progressives won’t swallow that:
But as those bicameral talks slid later into the night Thursday, progressives held a private call where Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) reiterated to her members that she was still demanding a Senate vote on the broader social spending plan — not just a framework.
Liberal Democrats expressed solid opposition to voting, with member after member speaking up to say they would oppose the bill, according to a person on the call.
Having been screwed once, the House progressives are correctly not going to accept a presumed bad faith handshake again. They might accept a compromise on the package, some number north of $2 trillion that includes their climate change, family support, and health care programs. But they will not accept anything less than the Senate passing that deal. And I don’t see how the two sides come to a compromise on process as well as content any time soon even with Manchin being harassed:
West Virginians are kayaking to Joe Manchin's yacht and demanding he explain why he's stopping the reconciliation bill from advancingpic.twitter.com/Q09OC1aEHo
— Eoin Higgins (@EoinHiggins_) October 1, 2021
The Politico piece includes what a Democrat-connected source told me days ago, that the business lobby was trying to flip some House Republicans to support the Biden infrastructure deal. Good luck with that:
Roughly 10 to 15 Republicans are expected to back the vote as of Thursday evening, according to GOP sources. That wouldn’t be enough to make up for liberal defections, however, with Jayapal reiterating that at least 60 Democrats are prepared to vote against the bill.
Notice that >60 is way more than the ranks of the progressive caucus, reflecting widespread disgust with the Senate bait and switch. Sanders is counseling a delay:
“[Negotiations] can take place tomorrow, they can take place next week. We should not get hung up on a date,” Sanders said as he left a meeting with Schumer and other top Democrats, adding that he hoped the House bill “would be defeated” if it received a vote Thursday night.
I am normally of the “wake me when it’s over” school when it comes to legislative sausage-making. However, I noticed a couple of weeks ago that the negotiations over Biden’s big spending package were dragging. As I remarked to Lambert, when it takes a long time to get a deal done, it begins to acquire an aura of failure. It smells even more like that now.