Leah here. You know that when it comes to legislative strategy, we try to give it to you straight. Our goal is to demystify what’s going on in D.C. so you can best strategize on the ground for impact. Well, we’ve gotten new intel that’s changing our analysis and shifting timelines, so we wanted to loop you in now.
The major takeaway is this: due to some Congressional shenanigans last week, there’s now a scramble to finish and pass Biden’s big recovery package by September 27. That means two things for us:
- Grassroots advocacy over the next month is going to be absolutely critical in winning an inclusive recovery package that fights climate change and makes peoples’ lives better;
- The showdown on democracy and filibuster reform that we’ve been preparing for is likely going to be delayed until after the reconciliation package is done.
The remainder of this email goes into the specifics of what the recovery bill is, why this shift occurred, what’s at stake, and what our role is in the coming weeks to increase the likelihood of success so we can head into October and November with the wind at our backs for democracy reform.
What is the recovery bill?
House Democrats are currently working on what could be a truly transformational bill. It’s called different things -- reconciliation, recovery, Build Back Better, and more (all those things refer to the same bill). It’s structured as a “Budget Reconciliation” bill, which means that it’s not subject to the filibuster and can pass the Senate with just 50 Democratic votes.
This trifecta is a generational opportunity for progressive policies. And so far, because House Progressives have stuck together and demanded it, the outlines of the legislation look really good. Among other things, it includes:
- Dramatic climate action, including a transition to clean energy
- Lower prescription drug prices
- Expanded Medicare
- A pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and essential workers
- Paid family leave and childcare
- Major support for affordable housing
No matter who you are, there’s something in this bill that could make a big difference in your life. And that’s what Democratic governance should be about -- passing bold policies that make peoples’ lives better.
But that’s only if it passes in its current, bold form. Right now, House Democrats are working to decide the details of what’s in the reconciliation package. Most of that work will happen in committees. This is the period when conservative Democrats will try to undermine the biggest and boldest parts of the bill, and we can’t let that happen.
How and when is this getting done?
The plan to pass this reconciliation package depends on another piece of legislation: the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill (BIF), which has passed the Senate and is currently sitting in the House.
Why is September 27 important? Because conservative Democrats love the BIF. They’re desperate to pass it. And they’re, at best, lukewarm on the reconciliation package. So our best leverage to pass the reconciliation package is to demand that it passes together with the BIF. If the BIF passes before the reconciliation package, there’s a real risk that conservative Democrats in the House and Senate will declare themselves satisfied, start fretting about “the deficit,” and refuse to move on a big reconciliation package. And that would be very, very bad.
Last week, a revolt by ten conservative Democrats forced a commitment by leadership to an up-or-down vote on the BIF on September 27. That means we need the reconciliation bill ready to go on the same timeline.
What does this mean for our fight for democracy?
We don’t like it, but the showdown for democracy is getting pushed back because the new deadline for recovery is going to suck up most of the oxygen on Capitol Hill for September. We expect that sometime in September, Sen. Schumer will bring Sen. Manchin’s compromise version of S.1 (the For the People Act) to the floor, and Republicans will once again filibuster it. This is designed to demonstrate to Manchin that there’s no room for compromise here -- the only way forward is filibuster reform. At that point, Senate negotiators will return to their talks about how to actually get to filibuster reform and pass S.1 in October.
Why doesn’t Congress take care of democracy before the recovery? Here’s the problem: Sen. Sinema and Sen. Manchin are the key waffling votes for both recovery and S.1. What we’ve seen so far is that the White House overwhelmingly prioritizes securing their support for this package over twisting their arms on S.1 and the filibuster. We don’t like that -- we think it’s terribly shortsighted. Every day that passes without S.1 is a day that gerrymandering is moving forward in Republican states, and that’s really bad. But that’s the political reality we face right now -- we think our best chance of winning involves Biden getting in the game to twist arms, and that’s unlikely to happen until after the recovery bill is done.
Our commitment is to tell you how you can have the greatest impact for justice at any moment -- and right now, there’s a huge amount at stake on recovery and democracy reform won’t be moving until after. So our plan is to fight like hell for recovery in September, and push Biden to join this fight for democracy once his top priority, the recovery package, is done.
OK, so how do we win a strong recovery bill?
Here’s what we have to do to ensure the recovery bill actually passes in its strongest form:
- Support House progressives to hold the line. We’ve gotten this far because progressive members of Congress have negotiated as a bloc. They’ve been clear that they will only vote for a bill that’s genuinely transformational -- and that they won’t vote to pass conservative Democrats’ top priority, BIF, until the recovery package is agreed upon and passes. That might mean going against leadership, if necessary -- which makes it even more crucial that they know they’ve got the support of the grassroots. In short, progressives are flexing their power -- and they need us to have their backs. If you have a Democratic member of Congress, click here to call them and tell them you support the progressive bloc, and expect them to support an inclusive recovery package, and to pass it before voting on the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
- Put the heat on conservative Democrats. You might be wondering why those ten conservative Democrats staged an internal revolt focused on delinking the BIF from the reconciliation package. It’s because their corporate and private equity donors want to kill the reconciliation package, especially its provisions that raise taxes on the rich. So it’s going to be crucial to hold them accountable for their obstruction and make sure they get in line for the final bill -- and from Hawaii to New Jersey to Oregon, Indivisible groups have been doing just that.
Here’s the list of Democrats obstructing this bill: Rep. Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05), Rep. Vincente Gonzalez (TX-15), Rep. Filemon Vela (TX-34), Rep. Henry Cuellar (TX-28), Rep. Jared Golden (ME-02), Rep. Ed Case (HI-01), Rep. Kurt Schrader (OR-05), Rep. Jim Costa (CA-16), Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux (GA-07), Rep. Stephanie Murphy (FL-07). If your representative is one of the conservative Democrats we’re worried about (list above), click here to call and tell them to stop their obstructionism and vote to pass the reconciliation bill.
- Work the committee process to protect our priorities. We’re going to be bringing together Indivisible groups whose members of Congress sit on key committees that have the power to determine what’s in the reconciliation package (Ways & Means, Energy & Commerce, and Education & Labor, for the congressional nerds among you). On all of the issues we’re fighting on -- climate investments, a clean energy standard, affordable childcare, Medicare expansion, lowering prescription drug prices, tax fairness, pathway to citizenship and more, we’ll fight off threats in committee to make sure that the bill that goes to the floor is as strong as possible. We need all the help we can get on moving this bill forward. Join us on September 9 at 8 pm ET/5 pm PT for a special combined Climate, Healthcare, and Econ Justice Working Group focusing on our strategy for passing this all-important recovery bill.
If we do these things -- protect the bill through the committee process, scare the obstructionist conservative Democrats into backing off, and hold strong as progressives -- then we can get the kinds of change we need.
We built a trifecta so our electeds could unrig the rules and deliver policies that would change lives. This fall -- if we keep the heat up -- we can do both.