Not waiting around: Progressive Caucus already working on next stimulus package
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. | Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call via AP

WASHINGTON (PAI)—The almost evenly split Senate is still wrangling over Democratic President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package, but the Congressional Progressive Caucus is looking ahead to the next one, its chair says.

And while Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., didn’t throw out any numbers in her Zoom session with Our Revolution Board Chair Larry Cohen and the organization’s members, she said it will be huge, concentrating on infrastructure—and strengthening workers’ wages and rights in those projects.

Jayapal gave that outlook as she described the “inside-outside” strategy the progressives, now the largest group within the House’s ruling Democrats, are using to push their agenda through on Capitol Hill, despite a 50-50 U.S. Senate.

“It is critical, now more than ever, that we keep the heat on,” she urged. Without it, she said, Democratic leaders could easily succumb to corporate pressure and dump key items, such as the $15 minimum wage and Medicare For All, that progressives—including worker-backed progressives—have run and won on.

“We’re not sure about the entire scope of the (next) rescue plan,” Jayapal admitted. “In the first one, we prioritized popular items to champion: The $15 minimum wage and survival checks,” referring to the $1,400 payments, as well as added federal jobless benefits.

“One of the popular things that could be in the next bill is to lower prescription drug prices” by giving the federal government power to force drug companies to accept lower prices from Medicare, which accounts for a significant share of their revenues.

There would also “be limits on price-gouging and (drug) price spikes,” as in a House-passed bill, HR3, last year. Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., killed it.

Jayapal predicted Biden’s next economic rescue bill will include a massive infrastructure plan to rebuild the nation’s roads, subways, bridges, railroads, and airports while expanding broadband coverage nationwide.

“It’ll have good union jobs,” building the new infrastructure, especially green infrastructure, she predicted. There will also be Davis-Bacon Act coverage protecting construction workers’ prevailing wages and language strengthening collective bargaining for those workers, too, she said.

The progressives will also push another “green” cause besides construction: Levelling the playing field between renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power and traditional sources such as oil and gas. Their method: “Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies,” which will also increase revenue.

The International Monetary Fund calculated last year that direct and indirect federal subsidies to oil and gas alone totaled $650 billion, according to Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., who introduced legislation in October to eliminate 11 of the most obvious ones. It died at the end of the last Congress without a hearing.

Eliminating those subsidies jibes with Biden’s goals of enacting pro-green infrastructure legislation and pushing the U.S. to zero net carbon emissions. Those emissions, from burning coal, oil, and natural gas, are considered key contributors to global warming.

Still, such a plan would face a tough fight from the rich energy lobbies. OpenSecrets.org reported the American Petroleum Institute alone spent $12 million on lobbying in 2019-20 and gave $5 million to a GOP party committee and $217,000 to individual candidates.

That led Cohen, the former Communications Workers president, to call eliminating fossil fuel subsidies “hard but not hopeless.”

So Jayapal used the saga of the $15 minimum wage as an example of how the progressives’ new strategy to ensure lawmakers vote on their causes works. One part of it is to craft progressive provisions in such a way and with specific tax and budget goals that fit into a “reconciliation” bill, which is what Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan officially is.

The second part of their strategy is outside lobbying, which is where organized labor, Our Revolution—the old Bernie Sanders supporters—and allies come in. The third is to wield the Progressive Caucus’s collective clout to ensure their causes reach the House floor.

Two days before the House Education and Labor Committee, which handled the $15 minimum wage, was to work on its share of Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan, the wage hike wasn’t in it, Jayapal revealed. That’s where the inside clout came into play.

The Progressive Caucus, which now has around 95 of the House’s 222 Democrats, officially endorsed it, after briefings and discussion. An official endorsement of an issue needs a two-thirds vote of all caucus members, she said—and it binds the entire group to vote as a bloc for it, and to threaten to walk if leaders don’t include it.

With that endorsement in her pocket, Jayapal went to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., saying the $15 minimum wage was a make-or-break issue for her members. Meantime, workers and their allies put outside pressure for the wage on the E&L Democrats. Committee chair Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., got the word, and yielded.

But just in case, Jayapal, an E&L committee member, had a Raise The Wage amendment ready to offer if Scott ducked. That vote would have put everyone—Democrats and Republicans—on the record.

In future struggles, she added, the progressives will craft their provisions to fit into budget bills, especially reconciliation. That way, she hopes, parliamentary roadblocks—such as one that derailed Raise The Wage in the Senate—will fall.

The Progressive Caucus will use that leverage and those tactics for its other causes, said Jayapal, a longtime community organizer in her hometown of Seattle.

But it’ll have another type of leverage, too, said Paco Fabian, Our Revolution’s Director of Campaigns.

He helped lead an Our Revolution rally outside the White House for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“I think it’ll be a key for Democrats in 2022,” he said of next year’s off-year election. “Walk away from Fight for 15 and you’re turning your back on your base. And it’ll have more repercussions in 2024 for any Democratic candidate who is not for it.

“It’ll be a litmus test.”


CONTRIBUTOR

PAI
PAI

Press Associates Union News Service provides national coverage of news affecting workers, including activism, politics, economics, legislation in Congress and actions by the White House, federal agencies and the courts that affect working people. Mark Gruenberg is Editor in chief and owner of Press Associates Union News Service, Washington, D.C.

Comments

comments

TOWN HALL May 2 – Confronting the COVID Economy: Women Fight Back

MOST POPULAR TODAY