Oct 3, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Progressives open to program limits

Rep. Pramila Jayapal is seen during a news conference in July.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal addresses a rally in July. Photo: Shannon Finney/Getty Images for Green New Deal Network

Progressives have shown they won't budge on what they want. But how they get there is now up for negotiation, the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus said Sunday.

Why it matters: Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said her group may not get the $3.5 trillion in social spending it held out for last week, but it's also not settling for the $1.5 trillion pushed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). Adjusting the durations of some new programs — rather than cutting them altogether — may bridge the gap.

  • "What we have said from the beginning is, it's never been about the price tag; it's about what we want to deliver. The price tag comes out of that," Jayapal said on CNN's "State of the Union."
  • "Our idea now is to look at how you make [programs] funded for a little bit of a shorter time."
  • Clean-energy standards may have to be financed for a 10-year period to encourage business investment, she said. Other programs like free child care and community college may be funded for shorter terms that future presidents and Congress' can extend.

There's a broader debate inside the Democratic Party about whether to trim the scope of individual programs, cut some altogether or, as Jayapal suggested, dial back their duration. That's a way of establishing services that can then be continued down the road.

  • Critics argue it's better to fund a few programs for longer periods than dilute the government's ability to deliver too many services.
  • "We will consult with Congress," Cedric Richmond, a senior adviser to President Biden and a former lawmaker, said when asked about the intra-party debate on NBC's "Meet the Press."
  • The $3.5 trillion bill that fell apart in the House is aimed at "soft" infrastructure, including a massive expansion of the federal safety net. It would be a companion to a $1.2 trillion "hard" infrastructure bill — already passed by the Senate — that's primarily focused on improving roads and bridges.

Jayapal hasn't gotten the ink of Manchin and other lawmakers but she's been equally setting the terms of the infrastructure debate. She refused Sunday to get drawn into giving a top-line price tag for the progressives' priorities.

  • "I don't feel the need to give a number, because I gave my number. It was $3.5 [trillion].
  • As for the $1.5 trillion favored by Manchin: "Well, that's not going to happen," she said.
  • "It's going to be somewhere between $1.5 [trillion] and $3.5 [trillion]. And I think the White House is working on that right now, because, remember, what we want to deliver is child care, paid leave, climate change, housing."

The congresswoman was clear on two other points.

  • She won't support means-testing for expanded benefits, arguing it creates unnecessary bureaucracy.
  • She also won't submit to Manchin's demand that any final bill prohibits federal funding for abortion.
  • "That is nobody's business. It is our business, as people that carry the babies," she said.
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