Progressives won a huge victory Friday: they blocked a stand-alone vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill, because it violated promises President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer made over the summer that the bill would proceed in tandem with a budget reconciliation bill, one passed with only Democratic support. That second bill would enact much of the agenda Biden ran on last year: expanded support for child care and elder care, paid family leave, shoring up the Affordable Care Act and expanding Medicare, climate change mitigations, and more.
In one moment of drama, we heard that Biden himself was heading to Capitol Hill late Friday afternoon, and it wasn’t clear whether it was to strong-arm progressives or ally with them. Ally he did. He blessed the decision to postpone a vote on the bipartisan bill. “I’m telling you, we’re going to get this done,” he said after meeting with both moderates and progressives. “It doesn’t matter when. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in six minutes, six days or six weeks. We’re going to get it done.” He left the meeting clasping hands with Pelosi, a show of support for her decision to postpone the vote.
How did The New York Times depict the moment? “Biden Throws In With Left, Leaves His Agenda In Doubt.” It’s amazing how many things one paper can get wrong with so few words.
First of all, Biden’s “agenda” was in doubt because obstreperous moderates rejected an existing deal to tie infrastructure to a robust reconciliation bill. Had the House passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill alone, it’s unlikely the reconciliation bill would pass, since conservative Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema say they oppose it and haven’t shared what concessions might change their minds.
Second, it’s not the left’s agenda; it’s Biden’s. It’s exactly what he proposed during the 2020 campaign. The “left’s” version of the reconciliation bill totaled $6 trillion; it was already cut back to $3.5 trillion, with Biden’s encouragement. In fact, Manchin and Sinema even voted to proceed to debate that $3.5 trillion bill, while making clear that they still had some issues with it (and still not making clear what those issues were). The actual “left agenda” includes Medicare for All, free college, an ambitious Green New Deal, higher tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy… and so on. Biden’s not with them on a lot of that agenda.
The Times piece also claimed that candidate Biden “had little in the way of firm policy plans.” Excuse me? Guys, the Biden 2020 Web site is still up. It includes this page outlining a plan to “Build Back Better,” as well as this promise:
Joe Biden will soon announce a plan to make it far easier to afford child care and to ensure aging relatives and people with disabilities have better access to home and community-based care; to elevate the pay, benefits, and professional opportunities for caregivers and educators; to create millions of good-paying new jobs in these areas with a choice to join a union; and to free up millions of people to join the labor force and grow a stronger economy in return….
To see this agenda through, Joe Biden will make new, bold investments and speed up the timetable for many of the 10-year investments he has already announced. He will pay for the ongoing costs of the plan by reversing some of Trump’s tax cuts for corporations and imposing common-sense tax reforms that finally make sure the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share.
That’s all in the reconciliation bill, folks. That’s why Biden wants it passed.
So it’s actually the progressives who have compromised; they are the pragmatists. The so-called “moderates”—let’s call them Conservadems; they’re anything but moderate—are in fact the whiny, take-it-or-leave-it babies here. In short, alliance with progressives is the only way for Biden to achieve his agenda; it is the Conservadems who put it at risk.
Whiny baby—oops, he prefers the term “Problem Solver”— Representative Josh Gottheimer blasted out a statement blistering both Pelosi and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “This far-left faction is willing to put the president’s entire agenda, including this historic bipartisan infrastructure package, at risk…. They’ve put civility and bipartisan governing at risk.” Note to Gottheimer: Your statement was anything but civil, and put off kind of a “do as I say, not as I do” vibe. And again: they are protecting “the president’s entire agenda”; you’re risking it.
Why can’t the media get this story right? It’s not just the Times—that headline was just too awful to ignore—it’s the media generally that is screwing up this story, repeatedly. For too long it’s been conventional wisdom that moderates have the winning Democratic message, and Democrats are being pulled to the loopy left by “the Squad” and Senator Bernie Sanders. They can’t get straight that Biden won on this very agenda they insist is somehow unpopular—even though most of its components poll better with the American public than some of the infrastructure bill.
Now, it’s also true that in the 2020 election, House Democrats lost some seats. But reasons vary, from mediocre candidates to a questionable decision not to canvass or hold in-person events during the pandemic. Democrats did win the Senate, narrowly, and Georgia’s two new senators along with Arizona’s Mark Kelly are on board with the reconciliation bill.
Is there any hope our leading media institutions will someday get it right? Maybe. On Monday morning the Politico Playbook, a leading font of centrist wisdom—it even gave the House “moderates” a cool nickname, “the Mod Squad”—saw some hope that Biden’s move will let him enact much of his agenda. Headlined “How Democrats could still get it done,” the story noted that leading progressives like Representative Pramila Jayapal know they’re going to have to trim the $3.5 trillion bill—not to Manchin’s proposed $1.5 trillion, but significantly. “While it is hard to make the case that Democrats are fully in array—we keep hearing all sides talk about trust issues—the path to a…deal this month seems possible.”
If it’s possible for Politico to pause its cynicism, even for one day, it’s possible for other big political media.