Dems in disarray: Contra Pelosi, progressives still want Senate to vote on a reconciliation bill before House passes bipartisan bill

It was almost exactly one month ago that I wrote about a split among House progressives on what it would take to get them to pass the bipartisan roads-and-bridges bill that’s languishing in the House. One faction, typified by Ro Khanna, was willing to pass the bipartisan bill if Senate Dems agreed to a written framework about what the reconciliation bill would contain. That was good news for Biden and Pelosi, as actually passing a reconciliation bill will take time. And with Virginia set to vote on November 2, time isn’t on their side.

The other faction was typified by Pramila Jayapal, head of the House progressive caucus. A framework wasn’t good enough for her. She wanted the Senate to actually pass reconciliation before the House moved on the bipartisan bill. That’s part of the staring contest between House lefties on the one hand and Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema on the other, with Sinema reportedly having told centrist House Dems that she won’t back reconciliation unless and until the bipartisan bill passes.

But as I say, that was a month ago. Plenty of time for Dems to iron out the spat over which chamber should go first.

It’s now a month later, just seven days before Virginia votes, and they still haven’t resolved whether the Senate needs to pass a framework to get the House to move or an actual bill. For Biden’s, Pelosi’s, and especially Terry McAuliffe’s sake, there had better be a lot more House lefties in the Ro Khanna group than the Pramila Jayapal group since there’s no time for the Senate to pass a bill before next Tuesday. The best they’re going to do is reach a framework.

And Pelosi can afford to lose only three votes on her own side.

She met with Jayapal today to see if they could work this out. They … did not. The progressives, or at least the Jayapal faction, are sticking to their guns:

Pelosi thinks a framework should suffice:

The Speaker is known for being a master of keeping her caucus in line but she has only three days or so realistically to iron out this dispute. And given Dems’ narrow House margin, the sheer number of hardline ideologues in the AOC mold might make it impossible to pass the bipartisan bill if the Senate doesn’t act first. If Terry McAuliffe were a progressive star, maybe the Squad would suck it up and pass the bipartisan bill before this weekend. But he’s a Clintonite establishment dinosaur. They don’t particularly care if he wins or loses. In fact, if he loses it lets them argue, as they always do, that he lost because he wasn’t progressive enough.

But surely Jayapal and AOC realize that if McAuliffe goes down, centrist Dems might turn ice cold at the idea of new spending. Reconciliation might implode. Instead of getting a $1.5 trillion bill they’re not crazy about, they’ll get a big zero and have nothing to show for total control of government. They need Virginia to stay blue to keep the moderates onside.

It’s *possible* that the House and Senate will agree to a framework in the next day or two…

…but, given the sheer number of issues still to be resolved, it’s also possible that they won’t:

Either way, Pelosi and her deputies understand that reconciliation is unlikely to pass the Senate before Virginia votes and so it’s time to pivot to accepting a framework instead:

She made that pitch to the caucus yesterday. Almost 24 hours later, the Jayapal wing is still holding out. Hoo boy.

It’s possible that Jayapal is driving a hard bargain on procedure in hopes of extracting more on substance. “The vast majority of our priorities are in, but there are a couple of areas where that’s still not the case,” she told reporters yesterday of reconciliation negotiations. Maybe she’d be willing to accept a framework in lieu of an actual reconciliation bill if that framework were a bit sweeter to the left’s agenda. Some progressives have decided that the current version is too sour:

“Progressives are troubled and deeply concerned with the cuts we’re seeing reported,” Rep. ILHAN OMAR (D-Minn.) told Playbook. “They are saying their votes need to be earned. And support for a deal that does not adequately fund their priorities is not guaranteed.”…

Progressive-aligned groups and outlets are watching this all play out with a sense of disappointment. Leaders at the Sunrise Movement told us Monday night they’re ready to press their Hill allies to take a stand if the bill doesn’t adequately address climate change. (“We cannot let up on the leverage that we have,” said group advocacy director LAUREN MAUNUS.)…

We’re starting to hear a bit of division among progressives over just how hard the left should fight. On Monday night, Jacobin Magazine — the socialist outlet popular among Justice Dems types — posted a rather scathing review of the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ negotiating tactics, and urged the group to play hardball.

I’m sticking with my prediction that they’re going to end up passing something and declaring victory only to find virtually everyone in the country pissed off in the aftermath. To progressives, the package will be a disappointment and squandered opportunity; to Republicans, it’ll be a case of insanely profligate spending; to independents, it’ll be a demonstration of Dems myopically pushing their agenda instead of solving the problems swing voters are actually worried about, like inflation. Maybe there’ll be a small niche of centrist-y Dems who consider passage of the bill a win. Hooray?

In any case, the party’s desperate need to help McAuliffe before Tuesday does give House progressives some temporary leverage over the process. If party leaders want the bipartisan bill to pass by the weekend, maybe Jayapal will help them make that happen *if* the reconciliation package ends up a little bigger than it currently is. Now all Biden and Pelosi need to do is figure out how to convince Manchin and Sinema to agree. Do those two care if McAuliffe wins or loses? Virginia turning red would probably strengthen Manchinema’s hands by convincing congressional Dems that the country’s moving right, no?

Given Jayapal’s and the Squad’s obstinance and inability to grasp that they have no real leverage to get what they want, I think it’s as likely as not at this point that nothing passes before Election Day next week. Good luck, Terry! I’ll leave you with this, from the newest Squad member.