What just went down in Congress, why it’s a big deal, and why we need you
By Leah Greenberg, Indivisible co-founder
Note: This email was sent out on Friday night.
I’m going to be honest: this is one of those weeks where if it’s not your job to pay attention to what’s happening in Washington, you might be confused.
But I’m writing because something really important and inspirational happened this week — progressives flexed their power to win. And I want to give you the inside account of how it went down.
Let’s set the scene. About six months ago, Democrats across the party spectrum agreed that they’d try to move their agenda through two bills: a bipartisan infrastructure bill (the BIF) and the Build Back Better Act. The idea was that Dems would work with Republicans on the (very small) areas of infrastructure where compromise was possible, and then we’d roll all the really big and important parts of the Democratic agenda — climate action, paid family leave and child care, lower prescription drug prices, a pathway to citizenship, and more — into one megabill, the Build Back Better Act, which could pass through the reconciliation process with just Democratic votes.
The idea behind linking the two bills was simple. Conservative Dems would get what they wanted (some headlines about bipartisanship, good vibes), and the rest of us would get what we wanted (THE ACTUAL DEMOCRATIC AGENDA).
And there was a simple reason the two bills needed to stay linked: because conservative Democrats (and their corporate donors) seemed suspiciously eager to just pass the BIF and then abandon everything else. Based on their behavior, we had every reason to suspect that if they got what they wanted first, they’d leave the Build Back Better plan high and dry.
In August, after the Senate passed the BIF, things started to get hairy. A revolt by conservative Democrats in the House forced Speaker Pelosi to schedule a vote on the BIF for the end of September. The conservative Democrats claimed they just wanted to pass the BIF as fast as possible — but it was painfully obvious that their real goal was to tank the Build Back Better plan by delinking the two bills (their corporate donors even confirmed it).
For the next month, conservative Democrats pretty much refused to bargain at all on the Build Back Better plan. Why should they? They figured they’d get what they wanted when the BIF vote happened. Progressives would fold, the bill would pass, and Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema could declare themselves done with legislating for the year and go hang out on their respective yachts and vineyards.
But that is NOT what happened this week.
Why? Because the Congressional Progressive Caucus, led by the fearless Representative Pramila Jayapal, was ready for this moment. They could see the writing on the wall, and they understood that if BIF passed *without* the Build Back Better Act, everything we care about — including the agenda nearly all Democrats ran on and voters elected them for — would be doomed. And so they did something big and brave. They organized, as a bloc, to temporarily withhold their votes for the BIF. More than 60 Democrats ultimately agreed that they weren’t going to vote for the BIF until the final version of the Build Back Better act was negotiated out and passed through the House and Senate.
The message was clear: if conservatives want their infrastructure bill, they’re going to have to work with the rest of the party to first pass the majority of the Build Back Better Agenda.
In short, progressives used their power to fight for all of us — and to save President Biden’s agenda. Because let’s be real: we are going to need to deliver on more than roads and bridges during this rare, crucial trifecta. Democrats campaigned on climate action, lower prescription drug prices, building an economy that delivers for working families, not just the rich and powerful, and more. The Build Back Better plan is the real heart of the Biden agenda; its passage or failure will define Biden as a President. And as a result of progressives flexing their power, we are now in a stronger place to win it.
So our next step is clear: we need to have progressives’ backs as they work to negotiate an agreement. They’re sitting at that table with two things: the ambition to deliver for communities, and the flexibility to land an agreement. The louder we are in backing them, and the more we keep pressuring the conservative Democratic holdouts, the better that final deal will be.
What’s next? Glad you asked:
TODAY: Take some time to decompress! The last few months have been a long, hard slog of legislation, and while there’s nobody we’d rather be doing it with, the good company doesn’t make it less exhausting! Light some candles, take a walk around the block, have a 60-second dance party, cook a great dinner with your loved ones. Whatever you do, make sure to enjoy this moment, because what we’ve done together, although it’s not finished yet, is a massive win for people all over this country.
TOMORROW: March for Roe! This weekend, activists all over the country will be marching to defend the right to abortion, spurred by the horrific new Texas anti-abortion law. Click here to find a march near you, dig out your protest signs, and don’t forget your mask. (This isn’t reconciliation-related, but it is important and should also be fun.)
MONDAY: Unfortunately, the fight to pass Build Back Better isn’t done. We still need to hold the line in the House and Senate and make sure both BIF and reconciliation pass, together. Click here to call your Member of Congress and then click here to call your Senators. Tell all three you expect them to support the reconciliation package and to vote to pass it before they move BIF forward.
None of this would have happened without Indivisibles who put work in for days, months, and years on end to build a strong progressive block in the House. None of it would have happened without the hundreds of phone calls we made to support the progressive bloc and ensure the conservatives knew we were watching them. None of it would have happened without YOU. Thank you.