U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., made the media rounds this week, warning moderate Democrats that nearly 50 members of her progressive caucus will defeat the bipartisan-negotiated infrastructure bill in Congress if a larger, more expensive "reconciliation" bill doesn’t win approval first.
Appearing Tuesday on both CNN and MSNBC, Jayapal – chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which includes 95 House members and one senator -- said she had made the group’s intentions clear to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a meeting earlier in the day.
To progressives, the larger reconciliation package, estimated at $3.5 trillion, represents the bulk of the Biden agenda that Jayapal said is what Democrats were elected to deliver to their voters, with the $1 trillion infrastructure bill representing only a portion of that agenda. Therefore, progressives want to pass the larger plan first.
"We have to deliver on the entirety of the president’s agenda," Jayapal told CNN. "We have to deliver on child care, we have to deliver on paid leave, we have to make sure people can go to free community college, we need to make sure we’re taking out climate change, we’ve got to address housing and immigration and Medicare expansion. These are critical priorities for the American people and if we wait … then it’s kids, it’s working class families, it’s people across this country that voted us in because they knew that this was what we had promised and now we’ve got to deliver."
She said progressives have pledged to support the infrastructure bill – regardless of objections some members may have with parts of the plan – if the larger bill is approved first.
"Originally … progressives did not want to split the bill up at all," she told CNN. "We wanted one bill to go through, we knew we could do it more quickly that way, we knew it would keep everyone together and united on the president’s vision and the decision was made to split it up into two bills. Fine. We didn’t like it but we ultimately agreed to it because it was a two-track strategy. And we were very clear, three months ago … that we would go along with that but only on the condition that we pass the reconciliation bill first."
Jayapal disagreed when CNN’s Jake Tapper suggested the progressives’ hard-line stand might ultimately hurt President Biden politically.
"What we are fighting for is the president’s agenda," she responded. "It’s actually what we all ran on."
She also claimed that in pledging support for the infrastructure bill, progressives were being "team players" despite that plan’s Democratic negotiators – including Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – not involving progressives in the talks.
"We had really no say in that bill at all," Jayapal said.
Jayapal also defended the size of the reconciliation bill, claiming the $3.5 trillion figure wasn’t "pulled out of a hat," but instead reflected the cost of the items proposed in the plan. But she argued the cost of the bill would ultimately be covered by tax increases that Democrats hoped to enact against wealthy Americans and big businesses.
The congresswoman made similar points during an appearance on MSNBC. But she claimed that House progressives had the tables turned on them as the bills made their way through Congress.
She claimed that Senate progressives Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts backed the bipartisan infrastructure bill only after receiving a commitment that Democrats would advance the two bills together.
"All of a sudden the tables get turned on us," Jayapal told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, "and we are now finding people are saying, ‘Oh no, just pass the infrastructure bill … and we’ll get to child care later. We’ll get to paid leave later.’"
On Wednesday, Warren offered support to House progressives, claiming on Twitter that at least 11 Senate Democrats have now agreed to push for the "entire Biden agenda" instead of just the bipartisan infrastructure bill.