Progressives angered by Biden’s early deals to keep Democrats together
“I know you all make little compromises and I want to thank you, thank you for the work you have done,” he said during a virtual caucus meeting. “People are going to remember how we presented ourselves.”
For some plays on the other end, the trade-offs don’t seem so small.
Despite a constant hotline between the White House and progressive members of Congress, liberal discontent persists with how the Covid-19 bill has moved forward. The influence of moderate Democrats in the Senate to make or break the package has left some wondering if their priorities are being overlooked.
“That’s a reason why people came out on the streets,” Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California said of the wage hike. “That’s the one they voted on. And I think it would be a colossal political mistake to go into the midterm elections without having brought in a meaningful minimum wage increase.”
Khanna said he and his progressive colleagues have had direct conversations with White House officials on the issue of salaries, on which Biden aides insist he remains in favor of going beyond the Covid-19 relief plan. 19.
“They take our calls, but what does that mean? Khanna said. “There just doesn’t seem to be a strategy to raise the minimum wage.”
White House officials say they are still figuring out how to move forward on the minimum wage after it was removed from the Covid-19 relief plan for procedural reasons. That could include talks with Republicans on a phased approach, officials said, which is unlikely to satisfy progressives keen to see Biden deliver on his promise to raise pay to $15 an hour.
When asked Thursday if moderate Democrats are being asked to compromise on the bill, even as progressives see their papers stripped, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden had been “steadfast” on the size of the package and its inclusion of $1,400 checks and state and local funding.
“He emphasized that the scale of the challenge requires this size of a package and to deal with these twin crises that we are facing, it must include these key elements,” she said.
In an apparent attempt to build support for the measure within their party, Senate Democrats said Thursday they had secured a number of provisions for the bill, including funds for homeless services. , infrastructure, rural healthcare providers, education, the arts and Amtrak. , among other things. It also makes all Covid-19 student debt relief tax-free.
Yet after being applauded for its outreach to progressives during the campaign, some in the movement are now upset that key demands are being dropped from the bill.
Focused for now on economic relief, the differing wishes of progressive and moderate Democrats could become even clearer as legislation looms on infrastructure spending, gun control, immigration, issues of equality and the right to vote.
The different dynamics at play in the House where Democrats hold a slightly firmer majority and in the Senate, where Biden cannot afford to lose a single Democratic vote, have complicated matters. And Biden’s own view of his executive authorities — including, for example, a limited scope on student loan forgiveness — has at times put him at odds with his party’s liberal wing.
For now, the president’s goal is to unify the Democrats behind the Covid-19 relief plan to ensure its passage before unemployment benefits expire on March 14. He held phone calls and virtual meetings with Democrats every day this week, including with a group of moderates on Monday. and the entire caucus during their lunch on Tuesday. He spoke Wednesday with House Democrats, some of whom have become highly critical of changes to the Covid-19 relief bill they passed last month.
“A diverse caucus is not a divided caucus,” he told them, insisting that once the bill passes, Democrats must push for it strongly.
Still, Biden’s efforts haven’t stopped members of his party from speaking out. On Wednesday, a move by moderate Democrats and endorsed by Biden to phase out stimulus checks for Americans at higher income levels drew skepticism from progressive Democrats.
“Conservative Democrats fought to get Biden’s admin to send fewer and less generous relief checks than Trump’s admin,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, tweeted. “It’s a decision that makes little or no political or economic sense, and targets an element of relief that is most concretely felt by ordinary people. An own goal.”
More than anything else, however, the fight against the minimum wage has exposed progressives’ limited patience. The White House said Biden wanted the pay rise included in the Covid-19 relief, but he acknowledged it was unlikely to pass Parliament because the bill follows a process called reconciliation which has strict requirements for what can be included.
White House aides have been less clear about how Biden hopes to see the minimum wage rise in the future.
“He’s going to have conversations, and we’ll be on many levels with members of Congress, with their staff, about the best vehicle to move forward,” Psaki said this week. “But we don’t have a clear answer on what that looks like at this stage. It remains a commitment and something he will use his political capital for.”
This lack of strategy and reluctance to engage has left progressives concerned that it could be a sign of what is to come.
“That’s going to be a harbinger of a whole bunch of other promises that the Democrats have made. People are only going to give us a few swipes to see if we’re really going to hold up after they deliver us, the House, the Senate and the White House,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, who chairs the House Progressive Caucus.
Jayapal, along with other like-minded Democrats, argued that using reconciliation — which limits what can be included in a bill — to circumvent filibusters requiring 60 votes to break could be circumvented by eliminating completely filibusters, another debate pitting moderate Democrats against more liberal members of the party.
The filibuster issue also continues to be a pressure point between the White House and liberal members of Congress, who want Biden to encourage Vice President Kamala Harris in her role as a Senate tiebreaker. both to quash the parliamentarian’s decision and to quash the filibuster.
Whether either of those issues reached a 50-50 vote that Harris would break remains doubtful; moderate Democrats such as Manchin have stated adamantly that they oppose eliminating the filibuster.
Still, progressives remain adamant on the issue, saying the rules have been exploited by Republicans to scuttle issues that a majority of Americans voted for.
“The filibuster is something that gives Mitch McConnell veto power. And that has to stop,” Warren said. “We’ve seen him use it under the Obama administration and he’s already using it now under the Biden administration. We weren’t elected to come here and be a debating society, which gives Mitch McConnell a veto on every bill that is needed to help American families.”
Both Warren and Sanders, an independent who caucus with Democrats, have called on Harris to skip or cancel the congressional minimum wage.
Harris, who served in the Senate until his election as vice president, has yet to weigh in personally. But Biden has repeatedly said his administration will abide by Senate rules.
This includes respecting the parliamentarian’s decision and maintaining the filibuster. Sticking to that position likely means a slew of Democratic priorities, from health care to immigration to police reform, could be held hostage by a 60-vote threshold. Progressives want Biden and Harris to be the ones pushing Senate Democrats to change the rules of the game.
“A lot of us tell the administration, especially Vice President Harris, that the people back home don’t really understand how these things are done here, and they don’t care how it’s done. as long as it’s done,” Rep. Rashida said. Michigan Tlaib.
But congressional leaders have defended Biden’s approach. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed the idea that the White House was not doing enough to propel legislation of consequence.
“The White House was there very early on with this,” Pelosi said of her role in the fight against the minimum wage. “We have nothing to complain about.”
Pelosi also dismissed the idea that there wouldn’t be other opportunities to pass a minimum wage hike. But other progressives aren’t so sure.