House on verge of votes on infrastructure, budget, voting rights
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, against the demands of nine so called "moderates," is standing firm on her plan to have the House consider the Budget Reconciliation plan before it takes up the bi-partisan infrastructure plan. AP

WASHINGTON—With heavy lifting scheduled in the U.S. House next week on infrastructure, the budget, and voting rights, progressive groups and their allies are scrambling to put pressure on the majority Democrats to stand by party priorities on those issues.

Those priorities include provisions to battle climate change, tax the rich, permanently enact paid family and medical leave, and impose high fines on labor law-breakers, among other things.

All would be prioritized, avoiding future GOP Senate filibusters if the House passes the budget “reconciliation” bill. It will top the agenda when lawmakers reconvene in D.C. on August 23 for a jam-packed—and contentious—session. Reconciliation will come up first, on August 24, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says.

With no GOP support expected on voting rights, the For the People Act—which also may be on the agenda—or reconciliation, the weight falls on the Democrats to shepherd all of them through. And with only a 220-212 lead in seats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., cannot afford many defections.

But Pelosi faces that defection threat, from two directions.

One threat from “moderates”

One threat comes from a small group of nine “moderates” who say the $3.5 trillion reconciliation budget bill is too big and too controversial.

That blueprint, largely crafted by the Biden administration and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt.,  would open the way for the tax hike on the rich, the family leave, comprehensive immigration reform, expanding and improving child care, the higher labor law-breaking fines, laws to battle climate change, and other priorities.

The “moderates” threaten to vote against it unless the $978 billion five-year infrastructure bill comes up first. They want to vote for that bricks-mortar-roads-subways-buses-airports construction bill.

But the Congressional Progressive Caucus, at almost 100 members the largest such House group, demands votes on reconciliation first. Their fear is if the “moderates” get their way and infrastructure passes, that small group will then walk—sinking progressive priorities. Then the progressives will walk on infrastructure, they declare.

Pelosi is trying to thread the needle and make sure both groups vote for both bills.

Which is where public pressure comes in. Some examples:

@womensmarch tweeted: “This Thursday, women across the country will demand Congress pass the bold $3.5T infrastructure bill we need–without cuts to climate action, care, jobs, and justice! Join us at a #SealTheDeal event near you, or host one yourself: http://sealthedeal2021.com

“#NotOnePennyLess for climate in budget,” MoveOn.org texted about rallies on August 19. To find one, under #SealTheDeal it added another URL: http://mvn.to/2su/5t162z

Our Revolution, the group Sanders backers founded after his 2016 presidential run, plans rallies in various cities. As of August 18, the first two posted on its website are in Richmond, Va., on August 25 and at the office of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., in Columbia, a day later.

“The current reconciliation package IS THE COMPROMISE. Our people and the planet need MORE, so we cannot stand for bad-faith negotiations. The Virginia Democratic delegation must not defect from the people’s budget,” Our Revolution declares.

Public Citizen is pushing for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore and strengthen the 1965 Voting Rights Act—arming restoring the power to both prevent GOP-enacted voter repression legislation or to sue if states and localities with repressive histories enact it.

Based on an extensive record

“The legislation is based on an extensive record that should demonstrate…the need to restore the federal protections undermined by prior Supreme Court decisions,” Public Citizen said.

“We are witnessing in real time a nationwide, nakedly racist effort to block people of color from voting. The denial of voting rights—a fundamental element of equal citizenship—to Black people and other people of color is one of the greatest stains on our nation’s history. Any revival of this shameful history is unconscionable and cannot be permitted.

“The House is expected to move expeditiously to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Senate must follow immediately after returning from recess. If Republicans insist on filibustering the John Lewis Act, along with the vital voting and democracy protections in the For the People Act, then the filibuster must be set aside.

“The choice between protecting the filibuster and protecting our democracy is no choice at all. These bills must be sent to President Joe Biden’s desk and signed into law.”

In her letter to colleagues, Pelosi put the reconciliation bill, officially a budget resolution, first. She called it “key to unlocking the 51-vote privilege of the reconciliation path for our transformative Build Back Better” party agenda, following Biden’s blueprints.

“Recognizing that, the House must pass the budget resolution immediately,” Pelosi declared. Doing so would give House Democrats maximized leverage in bargaining with the 50-50 Senate, “empower our committees to quickly report our Build Back Better priorities to the Budget Committee…and most importantly, preserve the privilege of 51-vote passage in the Senate.”

That’s a polite way of saying reconciliation legalizes avoiding GOP-planned filibusters against detailed legislation to follow it: The For the People Act, the Protect The Right To Organize (PRO) Act, the John Lewis Act, paid family leave, and measures to combat climate change, among others.

“Again, any delay in passing the budget resolution could threaten our ability to pass this essential legislation through reconciliation.  This jeopardizes the once-in-a-generation opportunity we face to enact initiatives that meet the needs of working families at this crucial time,” Pelosi wrote.

And she plans to have the John Lewis Voting Rights Act immediately follow reconciliation and infrastructure to the floor.

“This year alone, 18 states enacted 30 dangerous voter suppression laws, while the (Supreme) Court continued its assault on the Voting Rights Act with its shameful decision” in an Arizona elections law case, she explained on August 17. That’s when Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., an African-American whose district includes Birmingham and part of Montgomery, formally reintroduced the bill, HR4.

“Congress has not only an ironclad constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility to enact HR4 to combat destructive and discriminatory voter suppression,” Pelosi continued. “A brazen, partisan campaign of voter suppression silences voters of color across the nation and  threatens to erode our democracy.”

Another vote on HR1, the comprehensive voting and elections reform bill, the For the People Act, could tag along at the end, Pelosi added.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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