President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package is expected to hit his desk later this week, as progressive Democrats tangle in frustration after taking a trio of blows from the Senate that knocked off far-Left provisions in the updated version of the massive bill.
House progressives, however, indicated that they will still stand behind the stimulus, despite Senate Democratic leaders reaching agreements last week to conciliate centrist demands. The legislation would extend the existing $300 weekly unemployment benefit through Sept. 6, as well as offer tax relief on the first $10,200 in jobless insurance for households making under $150,000.
The new version of the bill also has stricter income eligibility requirements for the $1,400 direct payments than the original bill passed by the House earlier this month.
“Ultimately, given the makeup of the Senate, the House is always going to be more progressive than the Senate. That is actually our job, to make everything as progressive as possible in the House and then when it goes to the Senate to know that there are going to be some changes,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters in the Capitol on Monday.
Jayapal added that the amendments made by centrist senators weren’t “good policy or good politics” but signaled that the changes were “relatively minor.”
“We take the win. We believe it's our work that made it as progressive as it is,” she said.
Liberals also saw another brutal defeat after the Senate parliamentarian ruled that a $15 federal minimum wage could not be featured as part of the reconciliation process, a legislative shortcut that Democrats are using to push through the federal relief without the need of a single Republican vote.
“If anybody thinks that we're giving up on this issue, they are sorely mistaken,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told reporters after the wage hike looked like it would hit a brick wall. “If we have to vote on it time and time again, we will, and we're going to succeed.”
“Conservative Dems have fought so the Biden admin sends fewer & less generous relief checks than the Trump admin did,” noted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a tweet on Wednesday afternoon. “It's a move that makes little-to-no political or economic sense, and targets an element of relief that is most tangibly felt by everyday people. An own-goal.”
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a far-Left member of the House, stressed that there’s “a lot of frustration” over the minimum wage increase’s removal from the final legislation but thinks that Democrats will vote for it eventually.
“Overall, no one wants to play games with people's lives. People are suffering. And the fact this is going to get checks and money directly into the pockets of people, and cut child poverty, cut poverty, I think is going to be the overriding concern,” Khanna told CNN’s “New Day.”
The House is expected to pass the bill Tuesday or Wednesday, sending it to Biden’s desk for approval. Aides, however, noted the vote could be delayed until Wednesday since the Senate is still processing the legislation’s paperwork.
Biden said Monday that once the bill reaches the White House, he will sign it into law immediately, considering current unemployment benefits will expire in just five days.
For progressives, the bill’s changes underline a bumpy road ahead, as Biden battles with intra-party divisions among the progressive and centrist wings with razor-thin majorities in both congressional chambers. Prior to the Senate agreements, progressives pressured Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to ignore the Senate parliamentarian’s rulings and jam through coronavirus relief with the $15 wage hike included.
“It is smart policy for the Biden administration and for the Democratic Party to not pander to the far-Left. While they may make the most noise, they don’t reflect the public. The reality is that the 2020 election made clear that Biden won not because he was a progressive, but rather because he was not Trump and also not an extreme leftist,” Pete Hatemi, a political scientist at Pennsylvania State University, said.
And despite Biden’s widespread success of moving swiftly on pumping more relief into the economy, the president, along with Democratic lawmakers, were faced with the decision over which wing of the party to appease, while trying to maintain a largely unified caucus in the absence of GOP support.
“The Biden administration did not get everything it wanted in this bill. But what they lost does not compare to what they did get,” Christopher Beem, an associate research professor and managing director at Penn State’s McCourtney Institute for Democracy, said. “Of course, without reconciliation or filibuster reform, prospects for such dramatic legislative action diminishes significantly, but my bet is that if the Biden administration could be assured that they would get that much unity from the Democratic side of the aisle on every bill they put forward, they would take it and run.”
Another progressive hurdle in the future will likely be Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a centrist Democrat, who’s voted with Republicans in the past. It was largely Manchin’s legislative agenda that halted the $400 weekly unemployment benefits that were included in Biden’s original proposal, which aligned with progressive demands. Instead, Manchin wanted $300 weekly benefits, as well as several other competing GOP amendments, to be included in the updated version of the bill.
“When it comes to maintaining control of both houses, there is zero chance the far-left wing of the party will defect, for all their bluster. Rather, pandering to them would likely put Senate and House seats in competitive states and districts at risk. The smart strategy is to do enough to minimize their grandstanding, and instead focus on good policy that is closer to the center. In some respects that seems to be the end result,” Hatemi said.
Rachel Bucchino is a reporter at the National Interest. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and The Hill.