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$3.5 Trillion Is Not a Lot of Money

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For weeks, the Democratic Party’s progressive and right-wing flanks have been locked in a staring contest over spending. The latter contingent is eager to pass the bipartisan infrastructure legislation that passed the Senate in August. The former cares less about that souped-up highway-funding bill than it does about the president’s broader agenda for green investment and welfare-state expansion. And the vehicle for enacting that agenda is the $3.5 trillion “reconciliation” bill — a special type of legislation that is immune from the Senate filibuster and that Democrats can therefore pass without Republican support.

Progressives do not trust their moderate colleagues to toe the party line on reconciliation. Specifically, they believe that once Joe Manchin and friends secure their coveted bipartisan infrastructure legislation, they’ll feel comfortable issuing ultimatums to the left about the reconciliation bill’s size. Which is to say: Having pocketed an anodyne legislative achievement, the moderates will be sufficiently satisfied with their governing record to tell progressives, “You can have $1.5 trillion or nothing” — and mean it.

Thus, to secure some leverage over the centrists, left-wing lawmakers have vowed to oppose the bipartisan infrastructure bill until Biden’s broader agenda is advanced through both houses of Congress. On paper, this is a credible threat. The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) may not be unified behind the gambit. But it doesn’t need to be. Less than a dozen House Republicans plan to vote for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, according to Politico. On Tuesday night, CPC chair Pramila Jayapal said that more than half of her caucus’s 95 members are prepared to vote against the bipartisan package unless reconciliation is done first.

Nevertheless, the moderate rebels think they can call the left’s bluff. Kyrsten Sinema and a critical mass of House Democrats have reportedly promised to kill any future reconciliation bill — no matter its shape or size — if the House does not pass their bipartisan infrastructure legislation next week. As Jonathan Chait argues, this is (almost certainly) a lie. If the bipartisan infrastructure bill fails next Monday, Sinema won’t stop wanting to pass it. Nor, presumably, will moderates’ preferred level of new social spending drop from $1.5 trillion to $0.

Still, Biden’s disloyal Democratic opposition may hold one genuine trump card. The notion that Sinema & Co. will oppose any reconciliation bill unless the bipartisan one passes next week is silly. But the idea that they would rather see the latter legislation die than support a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill is more plausible. As Politico reports:

A group of five to 10 House moderates have signaled to leadership that they would be willing to let the infrastructure bill fail rather than be held hostage by liberals over the broader spending bill. It’s a more attractive alternative to them than having to vote for painful tax increases to pay for an unrestrained social........

© Daily Intelligencer

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