Who Would Win, Nancy Pelosi Or An Army Of Tiny Mike Ditkas?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is having a really fun week. She had a pretty simple goal: Bring the House back into session, pass the budget resolution that would start the process of moving forward with the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill that will contain a huge chunk of Joe Biden's agenda for his first term, and get back to the August recess while House committees got to work actually writing their parts of the actual reconciliation bill. But noooooo, a group of nine "centrist" or "moderate" or "conservative-leaning" House Democrats have blocked that plan, for the moment at least, because they do not like this tricksy "two-track" plan that the White House and all the other Dems in Congress have agreed to.
As you'll recall, those two tracks involved putting some of the physical infrastructure stuff from Joe Biden's American Jobs Plan into the trillion-dollar bipartisan infrastructure bill that finally passed in the Senate earlier this month. Most of the rest of what Democrats want — including child care, universal pre-K education, free community college, green energy and infrastructure, paid medical/family leave, and an expansion of Medicare to cover vision, dental, and hearing — will go into the reconciliation bill that will be passed only by Democrats, because Republicans are terrible.
The whole idea of the two-track plan is that the bipartisan piece and the reconciliation piece would have to be passed together. Progressives in both houses insisted that final passage of the bipartisan bill in the House would only happen once the reconciliation bill had been completed and passed by the Senate, essentially to prevent moderates in either house from just passing infrastructure and ditching the rest. And here's where this week's impasse arises: Those nine "moderates," led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-New Jersey), say they won't allow a vote on the budget resolution unless the bipartisan bill comes up for a vote first. They're mostly arguing that the infrastructure spending is needed right now, and shouldn't have to wait months until the reconciliation package is written and passed.
So you see the problem there. Complete opposite of the plan.
Last night, Pelosi tried to push through an initial "rules" bill that would set the rules for debate on both bills, but that got bogged down because of the Gottheimer Gang's opposition (they're also being called, variously, the "Mod Squad" (Politico) or the "Suicide Squad" (Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine). Get it? Because they're like the progressive "Squad," only moderates or suicide bombers who could blow up Biden's domestic agenda. These are important journalism matters.
As New York's Ed Kilgore explains, continuing to link the two bills "until the bigger, more significant budget votes are safely past is Politics 101 for Pelosi." The nine holdouts have various motives, as Kilgore notes; some just really never agree with Pelosi on anything, others have asked for pet priories to go into the reconciliation plan, and some seem worried about their 2022 prospects so they want to be seen standing up to those crazy progressives in the rest of their party, as if pretending to be a Republican ever really helps in a swing district.
For the budget outline bill to pass (remember, it's basically the outline that needs to be passed so that all the details can then be built into a real bill later), Pelosi can only lose three of those moderate votes, so she, the rest of House leadership, and the White House are pushing like crazy to win over at least six of the nine now. There are likely to be deals, you bet, from tweaks to the overall size of the reconciliation plan (which will probably be needed anyway to get support for the final bill from those two senators, you know who we mean), to promises of reelection campaign funding, to, as Kilgore notes, possible White House carrots/sticks like the promise of "post-congressional appointments" if some of the House members lose next year.
So how worried should we be that the whole thing will blow up and there'll be no agreement at all? Probably not terribly, though it is 2021, so there's still a chance the House may yet be invaded by homicidal robots bent on world domination. As we are constantly reminded, it's not usually a good bet to go up against Nancy Pelosi, so her track record of getting Democrats in line should be somewhat reassuring.
In meetings with the caucus and in messages to the nine members of the Dingus Deputation, Pelosi has emphasized that the two bills, together, represent what Biden and Democrats ran on in 2020, so it would be pretty goddamn stupid to just flush that away, although she tends to put it in more Majority Leaderish terms like "We cannot squander this majority and this Democratic White House by not passing what we need to do." She should also point out that if they want to get the infrastructure bill passed quickly, then getting going on reconciliation is the best way to speed it along.
Our money is on Pelosi, Biden, and the rest of the entire freaking Democratic Party overcoming this roadblock one way or the other, particularly once the phone calls start coming from the president himself. Arms will be twisted, deals will be made, and then it'll be on to the next crisis, like whether the coronavirus vaccine causes critical race theory.
We're not too worried. Pelosi has lots of experience moving her caucus from Shaka, when the walls fell, to Darmok and Jalad at Tenagra. She shouldn't have too much trouble dealing with Stupid of Nine.
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