The Sausage Making: Progressives Jockey To Keep Their Beloved Programs Off The Chopping Block

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 28: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) chat (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
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October 12, 2021 6:02 p.m.

While Congress is in recess this week, we’ll be watching negotiations on the infrastructure bill and presenting them to you in an evening briefing. Check in here to find out how the sausage-making is shaping up. 

Congress is in recess this week, with the exception of a quick House vote Tuesday evening on the debt ceiling extension passed by the Senate last Thursday. 

Progressives are wasting little time publicly advocating to protect their favored programs — everything from universal pre-K to affordable housing to robust climate provisions — against the specter of draconian cuts forced by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). 

They want to keep the package’s top line as high as possible. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has not yet publicly accepted that the two senators will force it to come down, though other Democratic leaders have suggested the package might end up in the neighborhood of $2 trillion. Emphasis on the probably. As Sanders keeps reminding reporters, Democrats still don’t know exactly where Manchin and Sinema’s hard lines are, and they’re not about to start negotiating against themselves. 

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Pelosi Prepares Caucus For Painful Cuts 

  • While Sanders is still indignant at the idea of further progressive concessions on price, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is bracing her caucus for sacrifices.  
  • Key quote: “The fact is that if there are fewer dollars to spend, there are choices to be made,” Pelosi said.
  • Progressives like AOC are publicly drawing lines in the sand to ensure it’s not their favored programs that get the axe.  

Bad Cop Bernie Never Takes A Break 

  • Even during recess, Sanders is keeping his foot on the necks of his two most recalcitrant coworkers. 
  • Key quote: “The time is now long overdue for Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema to tell us exactly… where do they want to cut?” Sanders said on a press call with congressional progressives today. “Do they want to cut childcare, do they not want to negotiate with the pharmaceutical industry and have Medicare negotiate prescription drug prices? They don’t want paid family medical leave? Do they not want us to be aggressive in terms of climate or affordable housing or community colleges? What do they want?”

Laying Down Hard Lines 

  • Democrats hope to use reconciliation to strengthen the healthcare safety net, particularly with Medicare dental, vision and hearing benefits. So far, it’s a hard line for progressives.
  • Key quotes: “This to me is not negotiable,” Sanders said on the call of maintaining the provisions. “That is the position of the House progressive caucus,” added Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA).

Coming Soon: 1.5 Months Of Debt Ceiling Procrastination

  • This evening, the House will vote on the debt ceiling extension that came from a deal between Senate leaders Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY). It’s expected to pass. 
  • Many members, cozily back in their home districts, are expected to vote by proxy, with the  representatives who live closer to DC taking one for the team.
  • Republicans will pretend that hiking the debt ceiling is adding to the debt; it is not, it is paying for things we’ve already bought. 
  • Pelosi said today that she thinks a proposal from House Budget Chair John Yarmuth (D-KY) — that the Treasury Secretary raise the debt ceiling with congressional power to disapprove it — “has merit.” 
  • BofA Securities and Wrightson ICAP estimate that the Treasury Department could scrounge up the money to last beyond the date Congress has set with the extension bill, potentially into January.

Fake Deadline Watch 

  • Democrats have assigned themselves a deadline (perhaps to mollify the Gottheimers of the world) of October 31 to pass the bipartisan infrastructure plan, which would coincide with a bill that temporarily extended the funding for some highway projects. Like the first deadline for this bill, it’s pretty arbitrary — and don’t expect House progressives to be any more willing to vote for it this time, without, at the very least, a beefy reconciliation framework at that point.
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