Point break: Progressives gave up a lot of ground when they agreed to vote for the $1.2 trillion bill to improve the nation's infrastructure in exchange for a later vote on their top priorities.
Now, some of them are pretty pessimistic about the chances of getting their top priorities included in the larger, roughly $2 trillion social spending bill the leadership and moderates promised would follow. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi(D-Calif.) was only able to push through the infrastructure package after Democrats took a drubbing in last week's off-year elections and President Biden personally stepped in to lobby members. In the end, however, 13 House Republicans helped to pass that bill while six Democrats opposed it.
One of them was Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), who told The Early on Sunday that he was “hopeful and optimistic” that moderates would make good on their word to allow a vote on the spending package the week of Nov. 15 provided it doesn't add to the deficit but also expressed some skepticism.
Bowman said the commitment by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and four other moderates to support the reconciliation bill once the Congressional Budget Office scores the Build Back Better legislation was a “good sign, but it’s not a legal document.”
“What if the CBO score is not to their liking?” he said. “What if the lobbying efforts that have been taking place over the last several months continue and someone decides they no longer want to support the BBB at the current level — if at all?”
Other members of the liberal “Squad” made up the rest of the infrastructure “no” votes because the vote was decoupled from the Build Back Better Act: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Cori Bush (Mo.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.).
“There are too many unknowns,” Bowman said. “Too many things can go wrong and move in the other direction. Many colleagues of mine who don't believe that this sort of social spending in child care, in health care and other areas are going to be better for the economy. They may decide to not support the bill.”
“My fear is not that it won't pass but that it will go back to the Build Back Better Manchin framework,” another lawmaker told The Early on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly, echoing Bowman's concerns.
That lawmaker was referring to Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who — along with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — has blocked a larger top line reconciliation number and other progressive goals.
Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Sunday that Biden, House leadership and moderates made “many, many promises” to secure progressives' votes to pass the infrastructure bill.
“If those promises do not get fulfilled, it will make future passage of anything much more difficult," she warned.
Privately, aides to some Congressional Progressive Caucus member described their members as being downcast about passing the reconciliation bill in its current form.
"We're incredibly pessimistic and it's hard to project strength and fortitude as each caucus we are all a part of individually ran us all over on Friday night," a staffer for a progressive caucus member told The Early.
The Congressional Black Caucus played a key role in presenting and executing a plan to “pass the infrastructure bill immediately, then hold a good-faith procedural vote on the larger bill that would have to suffice before its final vote in mid-November,” the New York Times's Jonathan Weisman and Carl Hulse reported over the weekend.
But it did not go unnoticed that two moderates — Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and Jared Golden (D-Maine) — did not sign on to a statement committing to vote for BBB “in its current form other than technical changes.”
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) told The Early he's confident the reconciliation bill will pass the House but that it'll be up to the White House to carry things over the Senate finish line.
“I'm not worried about Abigail,” Khanna said, referring to Spanberger. “She's very good on climate and I'm very convinced she wants to get to a ‘yes.’ I'm confident of the House. But it's the Senate we don't have any sway over and that's where we will need the White House.”
Manchin and Sinema have withheld their support for the reconciliation bill and worked to pare it down from a proposed $3.5 trillion — and those cuts could continue.
For example: “In the days before the House finalized its bill — and held a key procedural vote late Friday to open debate — Pelosi and her top aides went as far as to add funds and programs to the measure that could draw Manchin’s ire," our colleague Tony Romm reported over the weekend. "That included a plan to offer four weeks of paid family and medical leave to millions of Americans, a widely supported program that the West Virginia senator previously has opposed as part of the package.”
"I am confident and optimistic that the [BBB] agenda will pass" Khanna said. “What we have to be vigilant about is that there is not a dilution of bold provisions and that there are no further cuts on Biden's provisions in the process.”
Another possible sticking point: immigration.
The latest version of the House bill would expand the administration’s ability to give five-year work permits to undocumented immigrants in the U.S. for at least a decade, protecting them from deportation. But it’s unclear whether the Senate parliamentarian will allow for such a measure in the reconciliation bill.
If the Senate strikes the immigration provisions, that could create new House obstacles.
“If [reconciliation] comes back stripped down of all the immigration provisions, this congressman will find it very difficult, very problematic to vote for Build Back Better,” Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.), one of three Democrats who've threatened to oppose the Build Back Better bill without immigration language.
Pelosi also committed in a meeting with Correa and the other two lawmakers, Reps. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-Ill.), to work to pass another immigration bill once the reconciliation package passes, Correa added.
Correa declined to comment on what he needs to see in such a bill, but said his commitment was reinforced on Sunday when he was approached by a young woman after Spanish-language mass at Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif., who urged him to keep pushing on immigration.
Asked what assurances Pelosi gave him that Democrats would take up an immigration bill after the reconciliation package passes, Correa said it came down to trust in a caucus in which “nobody trusts anybody” right now.
“There has to be a point where we as members look at each other in the eye and say, you know, ‘Madam Speaker, you will help us move this legislation,’” he said. “And she looks at you and says, ‘Of course I will, and we will work on that. And you have to take her word for what it is.”