Top House progressive after meeting with Pelosi: If you think we won't tank this bipartisan infrastructure bill, try us

A morning update for you on the state of the Democratic civil war: Not only is it still raging, it might be getting hotter.

Pramila Jayapal is the leader of the House progressive caucus, the group that’s threatening to vote no if Pelosi keeps her promise to put the bipartisan infrastructure bill that already passed the Senate on the House floor next Monday. For lefties, that bill and the reconciliation mega-spending bill are a package deal. Either the House votes on both together or progressives will vote no and tank the bipartisan bill.

Which is a sticky situation for the Speaker, since Kyrsten Sinema has reportedly already told Biden that if the bipartisan bill doesn’t pass the House on Monday, she’ll tank the reconciliation bill.

Last night, after Jayapal’s “try us” comment, reporters scrambled to find members of the centrist House Dem group that convinced Pelosi to hold a vote on the bipartisan bill next Monday. How would they feel if the Speaker bowed to progressive pressure and canceled that vote because the Senate hasn’t passed a reconciliation bill yet?

Turns out they wouldn’t feel good. At all.

Someone has to cave here. Either progressives have to look like chumps by passing the bipartisan bill next week, surrendering their leverage over Sinema and Joe Manchin to pass a robust reconciliation bill, or centrists have to look like chumps by passing reconciliation later after Pelosi brazenly breaks her promise to them to hold a floor vote on Monday on the bipartisan bill.

How much of a crisis is this? Enough of one that the Speaker, famously so skilled at herding cats within her caucus, is enlisting the president to twist arms today. Joe Biden is going to make a simple appeal to both sides: My entire agenda is going down if we don’t figure this out right now.

Whether a guy with a 43 percent job approval rating can prevail upon either of them is the mystery du jour in American politics.

“I hope he is the secret sauce,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said of Biden. “The president of the United States is always a very influential figure, and I know he wants both bills passed.”…

“I don’t think the speaker is going to bring a bill up that is going to fail,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said after leaving a lengthy meeting in Pelosi’s office Tuesday. “Our position has not changed.”

But other Democrats, including some of Jayapal’s fellow progressives, are more skeptical that they’ll make good on the threat when the infrastructure bill finally hits the House floor — particularly after a personal plea from Biden. In addition, the reconciliation bill is far from finished, much less ready for a House vote next week…

Many in the caucus welcome Biden’s House huddles Wednesday after private complaints he’s been hands-off with the lower chamber. The former long-time senator held high-profile meetings with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) last week but several sources said he has had little role in pushing vocal House Democrats to fall in line behind the party’s strategy, particularly when it comes to the infrastructure bill.

Even though Biden has less credibility with the left than with the center, my guess is that he’ll try to pressure Jayapal and progressives into caving and passing the bipartisan bill next week instead of pressuring the centrists to give up on their hope of a floor vote on September 27. Biden wants to get at least part of his agenda passed and the heavy lifting on the bipartisan bill has already been done by the Senate. Rather than risk having both bills tank because lefties and moderates can’t together, he’ll want to get some points on the board ASAP.

And some (most?) progressives may agree. The only thing worse than a disgruntled lefty base for the Dems’ chances of holding the House next fall would be the perception that Dems can’t pass anything even when they control all of government. Biden will probably pitch them on those grounds — “let’s get the bipartisan bill done and then I’ll try to move heaven and earth to make sure that Manchin and Sinema do something on reconciliation this year.” In fact, a personal pledge from Manchin that he and other Senate centrist Dems will pass some kind of bill before New Year’s could go a long way to easing this crisis.

But Manchin has sounded iffy on doing reconciliation in 2021 lately. And even if he agreed to a deadline, he’ll still be dictating the scope of the bill. What if he agrees to do reconciliation this fall and then tells the left that he won’t agree to more than $500 billion in spending, say?

Either way, some progs are dead set on voting no next week on the bipartisan bill unless a reconciliation bill is attached:

Jim Newell of Slate had a smart take yesterday on how Dems arrived at this impasse. They’ve been so invested in getting something, anything, done in the context of infrastructure that they’ve kept pushing the legislative process forward without ever, uh, actually trying to resolve the substantive differences between progressives and centrists. What’s in the bill has always been secondary to simply advancing the legislation and bringing it closer to the finish line before the political will to pass a major package ebbs. Now they’re finally having to confront those substantive differences at an inopportune moment:

One reason Democrats have arrived at this point, sitting atop a mountain of threats with no clear way forward, is that the threats have filled a void of difficult decision-making. At so many steps along the way, the call has been made to keep the process moving while punting on the substance. The $3.5 trillion compromise on overall spending—it used to be higher—was not a compromise made between 218 House Democrats and 50 Senate Democrats. It was made between Senate Democrats on the Budget Committee, to find a way to get a budget blueprint out of committee. They never got sign-off from Manchin and Sinema, but they kept it moving anyway. Last week, one House committee hit a wall trying to advance a drug-pricing component of the big bill, so another committee approved it, just to, again, keep things moving forward even though there’s no indication the provision has the support to make it into law. This entire “two-track process,” of dividing the agenda into a bipartisan bill and a reconciliation bill, was not created because it’s what the best-practices literature suggests is the ideal way to pass legislation. It was the only way to keep things moving when two factions didn’t trust each other.

How many lefty unmoveables are there like AOC? The number is important because if Biden can convince all but a dozen or so progressives to vote for the bipartisan bill on Monday, it’s possible that Pelosi will be able to get it through with the help of Republicans. Even most centrist Republicans are prepared to vote no in the interest of handing Biden a stinging loss, it seems, but not quite all. As few as a half dozen or as many as two or three dozen, per Politico, could vote yes.

Would Pelosi dare put a bill as important as this one on the floor for a showdown vote knowing that she’ll need Republican votes to prevail but not knowing how many of those votes are coming? Having the bill go down would humiliate her and Biden, especially now that he’s getting personally involved in the negotiations.

Here’s Jayapal yesterday with Jake Tapper reminding Biden that massive social-welfare spending, which is what the reconciliation bill provides, was part of his own agenda. It wasn’t foisted on him by the left. She also claims that the gigantic price tag is fine since we’re going to pay for every last nickel by taxing the rich. Ahem.