The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) made what, in retrospect, was a strategic error last Nov. 5. Their leader, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, in negotiations with Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Chair Joyce Beatty and President Joe Biden, agreed to vote for the Senate’s hard infrastructure bill, decoupling it from the Build Back Better (BBB) plan and ending months of strategic efforts to get a win for everyone. Everyone, that is, but the corporate dark money forces ruling Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.
The CPC and Jayapal are still trying to keep Build Back Better and the commitment President Biden made in it to America alive. They’re facing the same foes. Manchin and, less publicly, Sinema. Last November, progressive lawmakers ultimately decided to put their trust in President Joe Biden, who, in negotiations the night the infrastructure bill passed, insisted that he had Manchin in hand and that an agreement on Build Back Better was near.
No one was prepared to recognize just how treacherous Joe Manchin would be. After all, he had just tweeted his seeming support for Biden and the package. “President Biden’s framework is the product of months of negotiations and input from all members of the Democratic Party who share a common goal to deliver for the American people.” By all indications, that was Manchin saying he was on board.
The CPC had kept the fight for BBB alive for months by then, by keeping it tied to the hard infrastructure bill Manchin and Sinema had worked on with Republicans. “I want to be very clear that I believe it was our insistence on holding the line that got Senator Manchin to commit to a framework negotiated by the president that I don’t think Senator Manchin ever wanted to do in the first place,” Jayapal told The Intercept in December.
“I believe we were able to put him in a box with that framework where he would either have to uphold his commitment to the president or—and I do believe the president when he said to us and to me personally that he got a commitment from Senator Manchin—or he’d have to go back on his word,” she continued. Which is precisely what Manchin did, on Fox News, no less.
Jayapal and the CPC nonetheless have been pushing since. At the end of December, Jayapal penned an op-ed in the Washington Post urging Biden to do as much as he could in executive actions to “improve people’s lives.” They are working on recommendations for “lowering costs, protecting the health of every family, and showing the world that the United States is serious about our leadership on climate action.”
Last week, the CPC called for a renewed effort to get Build Back Better passed in the Senate by Mar. 1, “so the President can use the power of the State of the Union platform to share with the nation the relief that people will soon receive.”
“There is agreement among Senate Democrats on significant parts of this bill: climate action, the care economy, taking on Big Pharma’s price gouging, and lowering health care costs,” Jayapal wrote on behalf of the CPC. “There is agreement on the need to reduce rising costs facing ordinary Americans—and that is exactly what Build Back Better does,” she wrote.
“This is both achievable and necessary,” Jayapal said. “There is agreement among Senate Democrats on significant parts of this bill: climate action, the care economy, taking on Big Pharma’s price gouging, and lowering health care costs. [….] The White House and Congressional Democrats confronted the crisis of the pandemic to pass the historic American Rescue Plan as well as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, creating millions of jobs. It’s past time to bring that same commitment to delivering Build Back Better.”
But Speaker Nancy Pelosi seems to feel less urgency in getting the bill done, saying she doesn’t “subscribe to any particular date” and that Mar. 1 is “an aspiration,” nothing more. “We will pass the bill when we have the votes to pass the bill, and we cannot stop pressing for that,” Pelosi said. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki answered, “No, we have not set a deadline. No,” when asked about it.
Not all leadership is so dismissive, however, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC), told CBS Sunday that they could figure out and deal with Manchin’s opposition to the child tax credit and get it done. “We can do that by Mar. 1. You can do it next week,” Clyburn said. “I’m talking about [it] could be done in several days, if not several hours.”
House Natural Resources Chair Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), is going to use his committee to start pushing bills containing pieces of the BBB proposal, “including ones that would promote environmental justice, create a Civilian Climate Corps, restrict offshore drilling, and aid Native American and Indigenous groups.” He explained, “How I’m approaching it with the committee is that our push is going to be back to concentrating on those individual pieces of legislation and putting the Senate on the spot.”
Other House Democrats, including some of the old Sabotage Squad group that helped Manchin and Sinema derail BBB in order to pass the hard infrastructure bill have decided not acting on BBB is hurting them. A large group of these vulnerable members wrote to Biden this week, asking for a renewed push to get the bill done. “In the two months since the House passed the Build Back Better Act, mid-December tornadoes killed at least 78 people in Kentucky and late December wildfires destroyed 1,000 homes in Colorado,” the members wrote. “The time for you to work with the Senate to finalize and pass the strongest and most comprehensive version of the Build Back Better Act that can get 50 Senate votes is right now.”
But Senate Democrats say they’re not feeling that pressure. “We’ll vote … when we have the votes,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI). “It might be sooner than Mar. 1, it might be after Mar. 1,” Schatz said. “I don’t know when it’s going to be. But I think if there’s one thing we learned from last year, it’s that artificial deadlines make us look silly.”
Both Senate Environment and Public Works Chair Tom Carper (D-DE) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, told E&E Daily that they are talking with people about the bill “every day” and continuing meetings, but “were noncommittal about whether they can or will meet House progressives’ challenge to advance the centerpiece of President Biden’s domestic agenda in time for his State of the Union address on Mar. 1.”
That lack of pressure from his colleagues has got Manchin feeling his oats. So much so that as of Tuesday, he was going around telling reporters the whole effort is dead. “What Build Back Better bill?” Manchin said Tuesday. “There is no, I mean, I don’t know what you’re all talking about.” Asked if he’d had any talks about it, he added, “No, no, no, no. It’s dead.”
That’s a change from the day before, when he indicated that he was more than open to keep talking about ways to salvage the bill. “I’m open to talk to everybody, always have been,” he said Monday. “I just want to make sure we find a balance and something we can afford, and do it and do it right.”
Maybe his corporate overlords got to him overnight, reminding him that they hadn’t just dropped $300,000 in his campaign coffers right after he tanked BBB just for the hell of it. That’s one interpretation of the situation, anyway.