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As Negotiations on Infrastructure Drag on, Progressives Urge Dems to Go It Alone

Progressives warn that they may not vote for the president’s infrastructure bill if it keeps getting watered down.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) holds a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 01, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

Progressive and Democratic lawmakers are raising concerns that President Joe Biden may be making concessions on the infrastructure bill that would not only continue to fail to win over the GOP, but would also make the plan significantly weaker in addressing issues such as the climate crisis.

Biden has been in round after round of negotiations with Republicans, whose offers on infrastructure are paltry compared to the Democrats’ plan. On Friday, he rejected a plan from Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia), who is leading the Senate Republicans’ negotiations, that would add about $50 billion to the Republican plan that’s largely baseline spending. The gap between the plans in terms of new spending is about $1.4 trillion.

Progressives are warning that the concessions may be futile because Republicans have sworn that their only goal is to stop the Democratic agenda, as Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said last month.

“We know Mitch ‘100% of my focus is on stopping this new administration’ won’t be coming around on a deal,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington), leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, on Twitter. “Time to go big, bold, and alone.”

Democrats have also raised the concern that Republican attempts to drag out the talks and water down the infrastructure bill are part of a tactic to make it an increasingly divisive issue — just like they did with the Affordable Care Act under Obama, which they ended up trying to overturn anyway.

On the other hand, Jayapal warned in an interview with Reuters that progressives may not support Biden’s bill if it keeps getting chipped away, especially since there’s no guarantee of Republican support. Democrats and progressives have been energized by Biden’s infrastructure package, but with a greatly reduced package, all of the “momentum for doing something more goes away,” Jayapal said.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-New York) is one such progressive who has said that he might not support the bill if Biden allows Republicans to water it down. “If what I’m reading is true, I would have a very hard time voting yes on this bill,” he said on Twitter in response to Biden offering a $1 trillion bill. “$2 trillion was already the compromise. [POTUS] can’t expect us to vote for an infrastructure deal dictated by the Republican Party.”

Bowman reiterated his frustration with compromising with the GOP on Monday. “We compromised on the Civil Rights Act. We compromised on Social Security reform. We compromised on welfare reform,” he tweeted. “At every turn the people have been shortchanged. We cannot compromise on infrastructure now.”

Progressive organizations have been sending out the same message. “Every day that passes where we’re still sort of hopelessly pursuing a mirage of bipartisanship is a day that we’re not moving on to the priorities that Democrats were actually elected to do,” Leah Greenberg, co-founder of progressive organization Indivisible, told Politico.

Meanwhile, climate-focused Democrats and progressives have been raising concerns that spending less on infrastructure would mean not taking vital action needed for the ever-more-pressing climate crisis.

“I’m now officially very anxious about climate legislation,” wrote Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) on Monday. Biden’s infrastructure counterproposal largely eliminated climate spending from the bill. “Climate has fallen out of the infrastructure discussion, as it took its bipartisanship detour. It may not return. So then what?”

The “what,” climate activists say, could be increasingly worse climate disasters. As Grist wrote, the infrastructure plan is Biden’s best, and perhaps only, shot at achieving his goal of cutting carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030. Climate advocates, meanwhile, are frustrated that the president is negotiating with climate deniers to, supposedly, get the bill passed.

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