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Progressives Reject Watered Down Reconciliation Bill in Rebuttal to Sinema

The Congressional Progressive Caucus issued a warning that they would vote against a bill without their priorities.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal speaks at a "Go Bigger on Climate, Care, and Justice!" event on July 20, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

After Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) threw a bomb into the Democrats’ plan to pass a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, progressives are fighting back, saying that they won’t accept a bill that doesn’t include and sufficiently address their priorities.

“Progressives have been clear from the beginning: a small and narrow bipartisan infrastructure bill does not have a path forward in the House of Representatives unless it has a reconciliation package, with our priorities, alongside it,” said Congressional Progressive Caucus leader Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) in a statement on Wednesday.

Sinema said on Wednesday that she doesn’t support a $3.5 trillion bill and said she’d work in the coming months to negotiate the bill. But Democrats had wanted to pass the reconciliation bill in tandem with the bipartisan infrastructure bill before the Senate went into recess in early August, so Sinema’s opposition to the $3.5 trillion proposal as it’s written throws the Democrats’ plan for a loop.

The Arizona senator said that she would vote to adopt the budget resolution, which is the first step to getting the reconciliation bill passed. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), who has led the reconciliation bill effort, said Wednesday that the Senate has the required 50 votes needed to adopt the resolution.

There’s no guarantee, however, that the bill will pass the whole chamber from there as it is — and, with House progressives standing against watering down the bill, there’s no guarantee it will pass at all if Sinema is successful in shrinking it. The potential blocking of the reconciliation package also means that the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which passed a cloture vote Wednesday night, might be in jeopardy as well.

“The votes of Congressional Progressive Caucus members are not guaranteed on any bipartisan package until we examine the details, and until the reconciliation bill is agreed to and passed with our priorities sufficiently funded,” Jayapal said. “The investments we identified months ago are long-standing Democratic priorities, including affordable housing, Medicare expansion, strengthening the care economy, climate action, and a roadmap to citizenship.”

The reconciliation bill in its current form contains proposals to address all of these things. Sanders has said that though the bill is a step down from the $6 trillion figure he had originally proposed, the $3.5 trillion bill still contains everything he wants, just for a shorter period of time. Indeed, $3.5 trillion was already a compromise for progressives, many of whom stood behind a $10 trillion infrastructure and climate bill earlier this year.

Members of Congress like Representatives Mondaire Jones (D-New York) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) expressed frustration and threatened to pull their support for the bills on Wednesday. “Without a reconciliation package that meets this moment, I’m a no on this bipartisan deal,” Jones said on Twitter.

Ocasio-Cortez issued a scathing statement responding to Sinema’s announcement, saying “Good luck tanking your own party’s investment on childcare, climate action, and infrastructure while presuming you’ll survive a 3 vote House margin.”

Ocasio-Cortez also pointed out that the bipartisan infrastructure agreement was formed by all white senators. “A lot of times, ‘bipartisan agreements’ are just as defined by who people in power agree to exclude than include,” she wrote.

This isn’t the first time progressives have made threats to pull their support for the infrastructure and reconciliation bills. They have been emphasizing for months that they would not support a bill without provisions to address the climate crisis, for instance. They have said that, not only is now perhaps the only time President Joe Biden will get to massively cut emissions, but it’s also an opportunity to demonstrate to potential midterm voters that Democrats deserve to keep their majority in Congress.

But the White House is evidently celebrating the bipartisan infrastructure bill anyway, despite the fact that it’s only about a quarter of the size of Biden’s original proposal and excludes vital provisions on climate and raising taxes on wealthy people and corporations to fund the bill.

While Biden took a victory lap touting the infrastructure bill Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called the items cut out of the infrastructure bill “shiny objects.” But as even just the past weeks have demonstrated, action on climate is anything but trivial, which is why Democrats and progressives have been insistent on keeping addressing climate issues in the bipartisan deal.

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