“Much has been made in recent weeks about the compromises necessary to enact this transformative agenda,” wrote Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and other leaders of the 96-member progressive caucus in their letter, obtained by the Associated Press.
Progressive leaders in Congress are notice associates against a “false choice” over what to keep or scale as Democrats downsize President Biden’s multi-trillion-dollar bundle of social services and climate change strategies. In a letter Wednesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Biden and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, the heads of the Congressional Progressive Caucus contend that the bundle ought not just be limited as centrist lawmakers prefer, yet rather kept as the president’s greater vision yet for less than 10 years — “shorter, transformative investments” that could be begun rapidly and then revisited.
“We have been told that we can either adequately fund a small number of investments or legislate broadly, but only make a shallow, short-term impact. We would argue that this is a false choice.”
It’s a debate that has been raging behind the scenes and spilling into public as Biden and his allies in Congress have reached another stalemate, working to chisel what had been a sprawling $3.5 trillion package to the still sizable sum of about $2 trillion – to be paid for with tax increases for corporations and the wealthy.
With the calendar slipping toward a new deadline, Pelosi has warned “difficult decisions” must be made to reach consensus ahead of a self-imposed Oct. 31 deadline.
Republicans are dead set against the package. So Biden and his party are left to deliberate among themselves, with all eyes on two holdouts, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, whose votes are crucial in the divided Senate.
But that is leading to tough questions: Should Biden keep the sweep of his proposals – free child care and community college; dental, vision and hearing aid benefits for seniors – or scale back to a few key health and education programs that could be more permanent?
The progressives have held great sway so far in the debate, but unless Manchin and Sinema come on board, there is no clear path to a deal, risking its collapse.
In the progressives’ letter Wednesday, they said their constituents are depending on them to deliver on the far-ranging package of health care, childcare, family leave, education and other investments, including those to fight climate change. “If given a choice between legislating narrowly or broadly, we strongly encourage you to choose the latter,” they wrote.
The idea, the progressives said, is start the programs “as quickly as possible,” but for shorter durations, with lawmakers free to campaign in the future for renewal. “This will help make the case for our party’s ability to govern, and establish a track record of success that will pave the way for a long-term extension of benefit,” they wrote. They also argued against linking the programs to low or modest income levels, saying all Americans should be able to benefit.
Despite the rising ranks of progressives in the House, Pelosi has appeared to side with some of the more centrist lawmakers, who are among those most at risk of losing their seats, and the party’s slim hold on the majority, in next year’s midterm elections. “Overwhelmingly, the guidance I am receiving from members is to do fewer things well,” Pelosi said in her own letter this week to colleagues.
The moderate lawmakers have argued it would better to narrow the scope of the legislation and make any changes more lasting. Rep. Suzan DelBene of Washington state, chair of the New Democrat Coalition, made that case during a meeting of moderate lawmakers last month at the White House.
The group has focused on just a few main priorities, including two that emerged in the COVID-19 aid packages – extending the child tax credits that are funneling about $300 a month to most families but expire in December, and making permanent the higher health care subsidies that were offered during the pandemic to those who buy their insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Those moderates also want to expand the ACA into states, largely those run by Republican governors, that have rejected it under previous federal funding proposals. Time is growing short for the president on his signature domestic policy initiative, which has consumed much of his fitful first year in office.
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