Progressives: We endorse Biden's reconciliation framework in principle -- but we're not passing the bipartisan bill today

A surprisingly newsy announcement from lefty leader Pramila Jayapal after House progressives met with Pelosi this afternoon.

But is there less here than meets the eye?

The clip is long and I doubt many readers will watch it all, so read on for the takeaways.

One, notably: Progressives agree “in principle” to the $1.75 trillion framework Biden announced this morning.

Two: They’re no longer insisting that the Senate pass a reconciliation bill before the House acts on the bipartisan bill. The House is willing to go first on reconciliation so long as Biden promises them that Manchin and Sinema will vote yes when the bill arrives in the Senate.

Three: Despite those positive notes, they’re not prepared to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill today, as Biden asked them to do this morning.

Lefties are still insisting that the two infrastructure bills pass the House together, as a package, which means there needs to *be* a reconciliation bill before anything happens with the bipartisan bill. That’s the one thing Jayapal and her caucus aren’t budging on. “We intend to vote for both bills when the Build Back Better Act is ready,” she told reporters in the clip above. Squad member Cori Bush reiterated that point after the meeting with Pelosi:

They need to have a reconciliation bill before anything passes. Once it’s ready, Pelosi can put both bills on the floor and they’ll pass both, sending the bipartisan bill to Biden’s desk and the reconciliation bill over to the Senate.

What’s really going on here, though? For weeks progressives have held out and groaned as Manchinema has stripped one core program after another from their reconciliation package. Biden’s new framework is short on all sorts of lefty priorities like Medicare expansion, the feds negotiating drug prices, and paid family leave. Bernie Sanders grumbled that the framework needed to be “improved” not long before Jayapal emerged from the Pelosi meeting and shocked everyone by announcing that House progressives agreed to the framework “in principle.” That’s … strange.

I think it’s strategic. Manchin and Sinema were out of the chute early this morning when they announced they were encouraged by the progress made in negotiations but conspicuously didn’t announce that they support Biden’s new framework. That was an opportunity for Jayapal and House progressives to position themselves as the more reasonable party by aligning themselves with Biden. We do endorse the framework, they declared. Manchinema is the stumbling block to a deal, not us.

That is to say, I think Jayapal and her colleagues believe that the $1.75 trillion framework is going nowhere and are now angling to ensure that they don’t take the rap when it goes down. They want more than what’s in Biden’s bill, but if they can’t get it because their Senate colleagues won’t give it to them then they at least want voters to blame the centrists for failure, not the left. That perception will put more pressure on Manchin and Sinema to bend. Hence progressives suddenly sounding as agreeable as possible: Why, of course we accept what our wonderful president has proposed. Don’t our Senate colleagues accept it?

The term “in principle” may be loaded too. Lefties may have accepted that certain programs like paid family leave won’t make the cut and that Biden’s framework will decide what’s in and out of the bill. But that leaves them room to keep haggling over numbers. If they’ve agreed “in principle” to having some sort of climate change program in there, maybe they can negotiate the amount upward. That’s why the bipartisan bill won’t pass today. They want more time to keep bargaining.

What if Pelosi calls their bluff, though, and puts the bipartisan bill on the floor anyway? Could it pass with Republican help? Probably not:

There was an argument last month that House Republicans should help Dems pass the bipartisan bill, partly so that they can take credit for the infrastructure improvements that will result and partly because passage would have increased tensions among Democrats. Progressives would have been furious that their “leverage” over the reconciliation bill had suddenly gone up in smoke thanks to the GOP and would have blamed Pelosi for allowing it to happen. Centrist Dems, having already passed the bill they care about, might have walked away from reconciliation entirely. A month later, though, with Dems flailing to try to resolve their standoff, I’d guess there won’t be nearly enough GOP votes to replace the progressives who’ll vote no if the bill hits the floor this afternoon. Republicans may feel they’re better off keeping the Democratic agony from this endless stalemate going. GOPers can always vote yes on the bipartisan bill if/when Dems finally iron out their differences on reconciliation.

Which is not to say that no Republicans will vote yes if it hits the floor today:

I’ll leave you with this, a silly video that has lefties enraged on social media. That’s Mitt Romney in his Ted Lasso costume for Halloween having fun with a colleague whom progressives blame for (almost) singlehandedly derailing their agenda. On a day when Sinema’s in the eye of the Democratic storm, the perception that she’s not taking her job seriously won’t help her with her base.