Jayapal puts a happy face on social spending infrastructure bill despite losses for progressives

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Compromise is a bad word for progressives in Congress. Rep. Pramila Jayapal has her work cut out for her to try and convince her fellow progressives that the social spending infrastructure bill is a great win for them. The Biden administration is desperate to put a legislative win on the board before he heads to Glasgow for the climate summit. There is still plenty of wrangling to do but Jayapal is trying to keep the Progressive Caucus members happy.

The behemoth social spending bill began with a price tag of $3.5T and has been whittled down as the negotiations continue, largely due to opposition from Senators Manchin and Sinema. Bernie Sanders, chair of the Senate Budget Committee, hoped for a bill that was more in the $6T range because of course, he did. Progressives continue to make demands as though they have a mandate in Congress though there is only a slim majority of Democrats in the House and a 50/50 split Senate. Progressives don’t want anything taken out of the $3.5T version so it’s up to Jayapal, who has turned herself into the leader of the progressives, to soothe bruised egos. Progressives are holding up the bipartisan infrastructure bill in the House until there is a bill on social spending to bring up for a vote.

“It is, as you know, a bit of a messy process. I don’t think we’re in disarray. I don’t think we’re in drift. I think we’re about delivering, and that will happen. We will get it done,” Jayapal said of the negotiations. “We all play on the same team.”

“We do believe that you can significantly cut down on the price tag by funding some of these programs for a shorter period of time. Make sure that the benefits are universal and accrue to people immediately, not in three years or five years, but something that people can tangibly feel right away.”

She and Pelosi have begun to say that they will accept what is agreed upon now and then go back later for the rest of it. Pelosi is now telling Democrats to “embrace it” and Jayapal is playing clean-up for Pelosi. They hope to at least get a vote on the Build Back Better bill before Biden leaves on Thursday. Will progressives back down and cooperate on voting on it before the social spending bill is finished and ready for a vote? Pelosi wants the optics of a win right now.

In a private caucus meeting Monday night, Pelosi told Democrats to “embrace this” and “have a narrative of success.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) added: “If we don’t act like we are winning, the American people won’t believe it either.” Their comments were seen as a nod to progressives’ disappointment that many of their top priorities will be dropped from the final package amid opposition from the Senate centrists. And progressives are apparently heeding Pelosi’s and Hoyer’s advice, touting what they see as their big wins.

Jayapal assured Democrats that the “vast majority” of their initiatives will be in the final bill. She acknowledged that a 50/50 Senate is a reality. One big disappointment is on the subject of immigration reform, though. Senator Durbin is still trying to find a way to include it into the social spending bill despite the Senate Parliamentarian’s judgment that it cannot be included. Democrats are floating the idea of simply overriding her ruling and doing as they please with the reconciliation bill.

Current law allows an undocumented immigrant who entered the United States before Jan. 1, 1972, to apply for legal status. The new strategy would update the date to clear the way for millions of longtime undocumented immigrants to gain permanent residency.

But the plan faces a major roadblock: The Senate parliamentarian told Democrats that changing the registry date cannot be included under the budgetary maneuver known as reconciliation, according to a document obtained by The Washington Post on Sept. 29. Democrats are using reconciliation to bypass Republican opposition and pass their bill with a simple majority.

The decision marked the second time that Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough had rejected Democrats’ efforts to include permanent legal residency in the bill, judging that its impact would extend well beyond its budgetary implications. Lawful permanent residency, also known as a green card, is the precursor to U.S. citizenship.

The proposal gives illegal immigrants and those with provisional immigration status a pathway to citizenship – blanket amnesty. Durbin is looking for a way to give those with the protected status protection that allows them to work legally, pay taxes and live without fear of deportation. Frankly, I can’t imagine any of them worrying about deportation right now, given Biden’s assistance that ICE freeze almost all deportations. Pelosi is said to be offering up an idea where those who arrived in the U.S. before 2010 would be allowed to apply for a green card. She’s going with the half a loaf is better than no loaf approach, the same strategy the progressives in the House repeatedly refused to cooperate with during negotiations. The current law allows illegal immigrants who entered before January 1, 1972, to apply for legal status. The new provision would update the date in order to allow millions of longtime illegal aliens a path to permanent residency.

The White House sounds hesitant to weigh in to support the Democrats who want to go around the parliamentarian. Biden still supports immigration being put into the reconciliation bill, though, so you can draw your own conclusions.

“In order to overrule a parliamentarian, it is not just waving a magic wand,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Oct. 8. “It requires a majority of votes in the Senate, and it requires the vice president. So, I would say that’s a legislative process. I would point to Leader Schumer and others to ask the question of whether there is the opportunity or the appetite to do that.”

Pelosi is voicing optimism that a vote will be held in the House on Wednesday on the bipartisan infrastructure bill. We’ll see if progressives fall in line and go along without being able to vote on the reconciliation bill, too. We’ll find out how effective Jayapal is in keeping the Progressive Caucus together. She has certainly embraced her time in the spotlight as its chairman.