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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: What was accomplished

by John Brummett | November 10, 2021 at 3:08 a.m.

New Yorker magazine touted by email its new online article.

The teaser headline asked what the "progressive" House Democrats had accomplished by holding up the infrastructure bill since August and tying it to a bigger social-spending bill until they stopped doing that Friday night.

That will be a short article, I thought, figuring it would report one word--"nothing"--or a few more words--"helping elect a Republican governor of Virginia."

But it was a long and detailed article, less an answer to that question--which turned out to be maybe something and maybe nothing--than a friendly and admiring insider blow-by-blow account of the supposedly noble maneuverings over the last several weeks of the "progressive" caucus leader, U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington.

(I put quotation marks around "progressive" because I don't accept that progressive and pointlessly obstructionist are the same thing.)

Jayapal is a clearly a nice, sincere and highly competent congresswoman who perhaps is an emerging star, at least for the future when the national demographic catches up to the hard-left politics of her caucus and tugs left what is now plainly a center-right country.

What I learned from the article was that Jayapal and her allies were not pleased, but suspicious, when 19 Republicans joined 50 Democrats in late summer to pass the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill in the Senate.

That is the problem. Bipartisanship reared its head in the Senate and a significant number of House Democrats thought it a bad rather than good thing.

What we had was a substantial and needed infrastructure bill, even if Mitch McConnell had a sinister plan in voting for it and freeing much of his caucus to do so. What we had was irrelevant to whether the broader social-spending bill should be passed.

But instead of hailing a major bipartisan accomplishment on crumbling infrastructure--something Donald Trump blathered about but never got done, and something hapless Terry McAuliffe was pleading for in Virginia--Jayapal and her allies calculated that Republican senators were trying to give the Democrats a bone so they would give in on the broader social agenda.

For that reason, these "progressives" made the major tactical decision to insist that the infrastructure bill not be passed--saying they wouldn't vote for it--until it was considered simultaneously with the $3.5 trillion and then $1.9 trillion and then $1.75 trillion thing they called Build Back Better. And that unwritten bill provided a smorgasbord of ever-changing offerings mainly composing a wish list of the Bernie Sanders agenda that Democratic primary voters had rejected only two times out of two chances.

But Democratic state legislatures have gerrymandered, too, drawing more safely liberal districts and facilitating election over the last decade of ... let's call them very liberal--I'll not say socialist--members of the House.

So, here's how all that flushed out last week. McAuliffe got beat in Virginia. A recently popular Democratic governor of New Jersey nearly got beat. President Biden decided he needed to make the layup on the infrastructure bill considered alone, all the while promising the progressives, as is his wont, that, if they'd give him an infrastructure vote, he'd go to the mat for the other bill when its turn comes next.

The infrastructure bill passed late Friday night with six of Jayapal's caucus--Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and pals--voting "no," only to be gloriously covered and then some by 13 Republicans who voted for the bill.

So, what now?

House Democratic moderates promised the "progressives" they'd vote for the social-spending bill--which now has some form of paid leave back in it along with some form of Medicare prescription-drug negotiation--provided the Congressional Budget Office assesses the cost of the bill in general line with what the White House calculations are.

Most likely, the House will pass a bill Jayapal and her friends like, even as it will be much less than what they really want.

But then it will go to the U.S. Senate, which is an entirely different chamber of the legislative branch--a superior one, it tends to think. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema will continue to pick at the bill, but won't be alone. Democrat Joe Tester of Montana is saying the House bill is certain to be changed by the Senate, where they'll need all 50 Democratic votes to pass it.

Then the differences will go to a conference committee.

In the end, House and Senate negotiators will fashion a compromise by which we'll have the infrastructure bill intact and a pared, streamlined social-spending bill.

That's the same thing that we'd have had if the House had passed the infrastructure bill when it came over from the Senate in August, even with those Republican votes the "progressives" deemed bad.

The mood of off-year voters last week in Virginia might have been just a tad better.

The Biden White House is signaling a move to the center reminiscent of Bill Clinton's calling in Dick Morris to help him "triangulate" and proclaim the era of big government over--which it wasn't--after he got spanked badly in the midterms of his first presidential term.

"Nothing" and "electing a Republican governor of Virginia" remain my answers to the question posed by the teaser headline in the New Yorker about what the "progressives" accomplished.

P.S.--U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, one of the center-right Republicans negotiating the infrastructure bill, warned "progressive" Democrats on Monday that, if they eliminate the filibuster in the Senate, they could well be inviting an unstoppable Donald Trump. That was good advice. An existential threat is still a higher priority than Bernie Sanders' wish list.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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