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Progressives Grudgingly OK Smaller Bill10/27 06:18

   Many progressives have started lining up behind an emerging social and 
environment bill that's neither as big nor as bold as they wanted, thanks to an 
outnumbered but potent band of party moderates who've enjoyed a 
disproportionate say in shaping the measure.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Many progressives have started lining up behind an 
emerging social and environment bill that's neither as big nor as bold as they 
wanted, thanks to an outnumbered but potent band of party moderates who've 
enjoyed a disproportionate say in shaping the measure.

   Democrats rolled past unanimous Republican opposition in August and pushed a 
10-year, $3.5 trillion fiscal blueprint of the plan through Congress. With 
talks continuing, the actual package -- it reflects President Joe Biden's hopes 
for bolstering health care, family services and climate change efforts -- seems 
likely to be around half that size. Prized initiatives like free community 
college and fines against utilities using carbon-spewing fuels are being 
jettisoned, and others are being curtailed.

   Moderates' clout flows from the fraught arithmetic of a tightly divided 
Congress in which Democrats need all their votes in the 50-50 Senate and near 
unanimity in the House. That's made centrist Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia 
and Krysten Sinema of Arizona power brokers who colleagues fear would vote no 
if they're dissatisfied, blowing up Biden's agenda and wounding the party's 
prospects in next year's midterm elections.

   With party leaders eager to cut a deal and start moving the legislation in 
days, progressives are grudgingly assessing whether it's time to be pragmatic, 
back a compromise and declare victory.

   An agreement would bring another bonus -- freeing for final House approval a 
bipartisan, Senate-approved $1 trillion package of road, water and broadband 
projects that progressives have sidetracked to pressure moderates to back the 
larger economic bill.

   "Of course I don't like it," said progressive Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, 
of the outsize influence moderates have had in compressing the package and 
erasing some of its provisions. "These are all things that we've been fighting 
for. For decades." But she said with Democratic unity needed, the party should 
use the bill to "open the door" to its priorities and then try extending and 
expanding them later.

   "At the end of the day we have to accomplish something, we have to deal with 
the reality in which we're living," liberal Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., 
chairman of the House Rules Committee and an ally of House leaders, said of his 
party's slender congressional margins. "So the question is would we prefer not 
getting anything, or would we prefer something that can at least be a down 
payment on some of the transformational programs that we want."

   Only a handful of House and Senate moderates are expressing qualms with the 
social and environment bill, prompting strong feelings by colleagues.

   "At some point, you have to realize that legislating requires respect for 
the rest of the people you're working with," Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., a 
progressive and chairman of the House Budget Committee, said of Manchin and 
Sinema. "And when you have forced a 50% cut essentially in a giant program, I 
think you've done a disservice to all the people you serve with."

   "I'm pissed off, man," said freshman Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., one of the 
party's most progressive members, singling out Manchin. "It's just unacceptable 
to me that one person from one state can have all this power and make these 
decisions that will crush my district and districts like mine across the 
country."

   Manchin has pushed to limit some of the bill's benefits to lower-earning 
people. He's also insisted on an overall price tag of $1.5 trillion, though 
Tuesday he told reporters he doesn't know "where it's going to end up." With 
West Virginia heavily reliant on coal production, he's forced Democrats to drop 
language fining utilities that don't move away from heavily polluting fuels and 
rewarding those that do, which was a pillar of their climate change plan.

   Sinema has insisted on limiting the bill's cost. She's also opposed 
Democrats' initial plan to finance much of the measure by raising income tax 
rates on the wealthy and corporations, prompting them to consider alternatives 
such as clamping new levies on billionaires' wealth. She did say she backs 
requiring large corporations to pay a minimum tax.

   Though many progressives have started touting the wins the measure will 
carry, they're not all finished. Many are waging late efforts to rescue or beef 
up teetering proposals like expanding Medicare and Medicaid coverage, providing 
paid family leave and letting Medicare negotiate lower drug prices from 
pharmaceutical companies.

   "The vast majority of our priorities are in," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, 
D-Wash., who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus. "But there's a couple 
of areas where that's still not the case. And so what we'll continue to do is 
push as hard as we can."

   The 95-member group's priorities include climate change, housing, child 
care, Medicare expansion and helping immigrants become citizens. Democrats have 
struggled to include immigration provisions and effots to add new dental, 
vision and hearing benefits to Medicare also encountered problems.

   The preference to keep fighting for a more robust plan is being reinforced 
by progressive outside groups.

   Leah Greenberg, executive director of Indivisible, the grassroots advocacy 
organization, said Manchin and Sinema are "enabling an agenda that's out of 
step with the Democratic Party." Ellen Sciales, spokesperson for the Sunrise 
Movement, a group of young environmental activists, said watering down climate 
change provisions would be "a death sentence for our generation."

   But Biden and top congressional Democrats are pushing to end the party's 
infighting and wrap up the measure. As if reading from the same script, some 
are even using similar catchwords.

   "We are on the verge of something major. Transformative, historic and bigger 
than anything else," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told Democrats at a 
closed-door meeting Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the session 
who would only describe it on condition of anonymity.

   "I kind of think that's transformative and historic," Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, 
D-N.Y., another member of House leadership, said of the measure's components.

 
 
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