Progressives May Have to Vote Against Infrastructure to Rescue Climate Spending

If you flipped on the news this morning, like as not you were greeted with scenes of catastrophic flooding, water up to the windows of houses, cars floating down streets. This was the work of Hurricane Ida, but the images of destruction were not from New Orleans or Mississippi. This was New York City. This was Newark, which looks for all the world like the Louisiana coastal communities that were all but washed away only days ago. In the city, 12 dead and counting

“The 3.15 inches that fell in Central Park in one hour broke a record set only days earlier by Tropical Storm Henri,” reports The New York Times. “Across the region, up to nine inches of rain fell in just a few hours. The National Weather Service, struggling to depict the level of danger, declared a flash flood emergency in New York City for the first time.”

For the Big Apple and the surrounding region, the future is now. Climate disruption arrived again in the U.S.’s largest city last night by way of a climate-charged storm that muscled up in the unnaturally warm, gruesomely polluted waters of the Gulf of Mexico, stomped into the South, and wasn’t finished until it had laid a beating on the Northeast all the way to New Hampshire. At present, the death toll stands at 45 total.

This is the new normal, but after 16 years since Katrina of biannual or triannual once-a-generation monster storms, it isn’t really even that new anymore. Nature has been brushing us back with inside pitches for years, and all of a sudden there are no more warnings — it’s throwing high heat at our heads: Unprecedented fires in the West, “heat domes” that ruthlessly bake entire regions, years of relentless drought serving as the engine for a climate feedback loop with no end in sight, and Brobdingnagian hurricane seasons like the very end of the world, every year.

The storm did particularly lethal damage in New York’s District 14, comprised of parts of Queens and the Bronx, which is represented by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). “I will be canvassing the district today assessing the impact from last night’s catastrophic flooding,” she tweeted this morning. “Tragically, we lost several community members last night. Please check in on your neighbors – especially those in low-level apartments.”

AOC, along with progressive allies like Bernie Sanders, has been out on the bleeding edge of the fight against climate calamity since the first breath she drew in elected office. The Green New Deal she has championed for years now is all over the $3.5 trillion budget currently being cobbled together in Congress. That bill, not to put too fine a point on it, could go a long way toward helping us as a species rescue us from, well, us. The “anthropogenic” in “anthropogenic climate disruption” translates to “human-caused.” Pogo was right.

AOC and the Progressive Caucus need to vote against the infrastructure bill if House Speaker Pelosi allows it to be decoupled from the budget-climate bill.

The only reason that sentence makes any sense is because we are talking about the United States Congress, worldwide distributor of illiberal illogic and hyperactive hypocrisy.

It goes like this: Both the infrastructure bill and the budget-climate bill have passed the necessary procedural votes, and will come to a final vote in both chambers once the legislation is finalized. The infrastructure bill has broad bipartisan support and is set to sail to passage. The budget-climate bill, however, is despised not only by the Republicans, but by the Manchin-Sinema quisling cohort in the Senate.

Because the budget-climate bill can expect zero Republican votes in the Senate, Majority Leader Schumer intends to pass it by way of reconciliation, a process that staples it to the previously passed budget bill and requires only 51 votes, i.e. no filibuster. This means every Democrat and Vice President Harris have to vote “Yes,” and at present, thanks to the Manchin-Sinema crew, those 51 votes do not yet exist.

Why?

“At this point, powerful industry groups have stripped down the infrastructure legislation so that it includes all the corporate goodies they want and almost none of the initiatives needed to avert an ecological disaster,” reports David Sirota for The Daily Poster. “These business interests purchase politicians through campaign cash, and they have now ordered them to pass this legislation and kill the separate budget bill that may end up including the stuff corporate interests hate — stuff like polluter taxes and fairer corporate taxes, an end to oil subsidies and provisions that would let Medicare negotiate lower prescription drug prices.”

Joe Manchin, leader of the “no” Democrats in the Senate, is so deep in the pocket of the oil industry that he may as well be lint. Still, Democrats believe the best chance of passing these bills is to lash them together for a single mega-vote. At present, that is the plan, but Republicans, the Manchin Democrats and a slew of energy interests are leaning hard on Pelosi to “decouple” the bills.

They desire this because doing so would spell the end of the budget-climate bill that the energy and pharmaceutical industries so despise. The watered-down infrastructure bill, if decoupled, would go first, and everyone would get their “bipartisan victory.” The budget-climate bill, now disconnected from the far more popular infrastructure bill, would die a lonely death in the Senate.

This is why the Progressive Caucus members need to vote against the infrastructure bill if Pelosi allows it to be decoupled from the budget-climate bill. They have promised as much already — “no climate, no deal” has been the position of the Progressive Caucus ever since the infrastructure bill was stripped of most of its climate-related elements. Those elements are now in the budget-climate bill, but if the two are decoupled, they’re gone all over again.

The only way to ensure these two bills are not voted on separately is if the Progressive Caucus keeps its word and votes down the infrastructure bill in the House. The caucus is nearly 100 members strong today, as influential as it has ever been to my personal recall, and this would be a moment to flex that influence. A defeated infrastructure bill would halt the process and force Pelosi to reconsider separating the two bills. Even the threat itself could accomplish this, if nobody blinks.

If the bills are not decoupled, there is still Manchin et al. to worry about, but he won’t matter nearly as much if the bills are voted on separately, because the budget-climate bill would die by more than his hand. The Progressive Caucus must hold the line on this, and these bills must be voted on together. “Only under that scenario,” continues Sirota, “will Manchin, Sinema and the Gottheimer Ghouls be compelled to vote for both bills in order to get the infrastructure legislation they crave.”

If anything threatens the viability of the budget-climate bill, if a decoupling is in the offing, it is to be hoped that other Congress members join Ocasio-Cortez and her progressive allies in voting “no” on the infrastructure bill if it comes up alone. Don’t blink.

This article has been updated to reflect the latest death toll numbers for the Northeast.