Their persistence forced Speaker Nancy Pelosi to delay a planned vote on the $1 trillion infrastructure bill. In the end, President Biden sided with their position.
By Luke Broadwater and Michael D. Shear
WASHINGTON — Progressive Democrats in Congress, who have long promoted a bold, liberal agenda but often shied away from using hardball tactics to achieve it, did something unusual this week: They dug in.
The nearly 100-member caucus refused to support a $1 trillion infrastructure bill that is a major piece of President Biden’s agenda, seeking leverage for a bigger fight.
Their stance forced Speaker Nancy Pelosi to delay a planned vote on the measure and ultimately prompted Mr. Biden to side with them in saying that there could be no vote on the infrastructure legislation until agreement on a far broader, multitrillion-dollar social policy and climate measure.
The maneuver drew plaudits from liberal activists who had watched with dismay in the past as their allies in Congress caved to pressure from Democratic leaders and surrendered in policy fights. And it signaled that the progressives enjoyed newfound influence, including the backing of a president long associated with his party’s moderates.
“Things only happen here when there is urgency,” Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said on Friday. “I’m just so proud of our caucus, because they are standing up for people who feel like they have not been heard in this country for a very long time.”
Still, while the progressives scored a tactical victory, negotiations continued to whittle down the size of the social policy and climate bill, which was already much smaller than the initial $6 trillion to $10 trillion that many of them had envisioned.
Their persistence also risked the collapse of both bills, angering moderates in the party who had delivered the slim majority to Democrats and are at the highest risk of losing their seats in the midterm elections.
Despite its growing ranks, the progressive caucus has struggled for years to enact its agenda of providing more robust health care services, taxing the wealthy, reining in military spending and addressing climate change. Activists have grown frustrated as they helped elect members to Congress, who then fell in line, voting for whatever Democratic leaders put on the floor.
In recent years, the caucus has tried and failed to cut military spending by 10 percent and struggled to enact major tenets of what it calls its People’s Budget. High-profile progressives protested this year over a lapsing eviction moratorium. But the effort failed to muster enough support for Democratic leaders to put legislation on the floor to extend it.
This week’s machinations buoyed the movement. During a private meeting of the progressives on Friday evening, lawmakers were celebratory as they discussed how they were able to “hold the line” for Mr. Biden’s agenda.
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