The Left Thinks Congress Is Theirs, But Moderates Keep Dealing Them Setbacks

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Michael Ginsberg Congressional Correspondent
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Amid one of Congress’ busiest months in living memory, Democratic infighting has burst into the open.

Disputes over the size and scope of the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act, which the party hopes to pass through the reconciliation process, have turned personal, with Democratic Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar calling Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Democratic Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema Republicans. In response, Manchin accused left-wing members of the party of “fiscal insanity.”

Although the 95 member Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) is willing and able to tank legislation like the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), it does not exercise complete control over the Democratic Party.

CPC members temporarily delayed funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, dislodging it from a continuing resolution to fund the federal government. The $1 billion in military aid later passed the House 420-9 as a standalone bill, but not before Democratic Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib received bipartisan condemnation for remarks perceived as anti-Semitic. (RELATED: Ocasio-Cortez Explains Her Tears, Vote On Iron Dome Funding)

Instead of negotiating directly with moderates like Sinema, Manchin, and New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer, some members have taken to protesting their lack of support for the Build Back Better Act. Tlaib, New York Reps. Jamaal Bowman and Mondaire Jones, Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, and California Rep. Ro Khanna appeared at a rally outside the Capitol on Monday hosted by multiple left-wing groups, including Our Revolution, which was founded by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders following his 2016 presidential campaign.

“We’re supposed to govern from the perspective from humanity, but unfortunately that’s not always the case in Congress,” Bowman said. “I just get deflated and frustrated because we always seem to govern from the perspective of scarcity and from the perspective of winners and losers.”

“We can do so much more as a nation. We have a moral responsibility to do more as a nation,” he continued. “There’s white men taking trips into outer space, and people can’t pay their rent and get evicted and [are] sleeping in cars.”

Paco Fabian, the communications director for Our Revolution, told the Daily Caller that the rally was an example of an “inside-outside strategy” employed by left-wing members of the party, in which they protest outside Congress in addition to negotiating.

Fabian described the IIJA as “Joe Manchin’s baby,” adding that Manchin, “along with a lot of corporate Democrats on the House side, if they pass that, there’s no reason for them to vote for the reconciliation bill.”

Blocking the IIJA “is a way for progressives to demonstrate their power in a way that progressives haven’t had power in the House since the Civil Rights era,” he said.

The Build Back Better package is already a compromise position for left-wing members of Congress, according to Fabian.

“What Bernie [Sanders] was proposing as chairman of the Budget Committee was a number that was closer to six” trillion, Fabian said. He also cited provisions, such as a single-payer healthcare plan, that are not in the Build Back Better Act as an example of the bill’s nature as a compromise.

“Medicare for all is not going to come up for a vote anytime soon under a Biden administration,” he added.

Our Revolution supports a provision that offers Medicaid to residents in the 12 states that did not opt in to the expansion first included in the Affordable Care Act.

The top line Build Back Better number is likely to drop below the $3.5 trillion proposal, however. Pelosi offered Manchin and Sinema a $2.1 trillion package Thursday, Politico reported, with the proposal split into three main buckets: child care, health care and climate change.

“Childcare, renewable power, medical coverage, none of those things are in the IIJA. So if Democrats want to maintain control of the House, the Senate, and the White House in 2022 and 2024 they’re going to have to deliver on what they promised,” Fabian said.