While Americans have become accustomed to leftist-driven political discourse in today’s click-bait-driven mainstream media, moderates in Washington have sustained the headwinds and now find themselves in possibly the most powerful position in recent memory. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds a three-vote majority in her chamber, much smaller than the 19-member House Democrat Blue Dog Coalition of moderates. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Speaker Pelosi’s left flank is already clashing with moderate House Democrats over issues like spending, environmental legislation, taxes, immigration, and more. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has zero margins of error in his tied 50-50 chamber. With this much power now residing in the center and 2022 on the horizon, how are moderates handling the far left’s agenda?
Everyone knew going into the 117th Congress that Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-NM) yielded enormous power. Less than two months into Joe Biden’s Presidency, Sen. Manchin first exercised that power. In March, Manchin delayed the COVID-19 relief bill, keeping a key procedural vote open for nearly twelve hours, over the continued extension of unemployment benefits. At that point, emergency and unemployment benefits had kept flowing out of the U.S. treasury for nearly a year and were set to expire. Naturally, progressive Democrats had wanted to extend those benefits in the COVID relief bill. However, Sen. Manchin helped to push for a negotiated earlier cutoff and more pay-for in the spending plan.
A clear display of the center’s power came in the middle of summer after months-long Senate bipartisan infrastructure negotiations. When a framework deal was announced, President Biden announced that the infrastructure spending package would be tied to the FY2021 budget reconciliation bill. Republicans and moderates revolted, talks were scuttled, and the deal hung in the balance. Biden and Schumer ended up walking back those comments, and negotiations continued. However, as the August recess approached, Sen. Schumer threatened to scrap the entire break and keep the chamber in session until the infrastructure bill was done on his terms. That didn’t sit well with Sen. Sinema, who reportedly told Schumer that she had no intention of missing her summer vacation, so the ball was in his court. The Senate passed the infrastructure vote bill on August 10.
In the House, news broke this week when nine House Democrats wrote to Speaker Pelosi saying, “We will not consider voting for a budget resolution until the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passes the House and is signed into law,” when the House reconvenes in two weeks for a rare August session. House liberals, led by Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramilla Jayapal (D-WA), see things differently and are urging the Speaker to tie the two measures in order to ensure moderates support both. The stakes have been raised for the House Speaker in a test she hasn’t yet faced.
Now, Sen. Manchin is throwing cold water on White House’s proposed $3.5 trillion budget plan as he recently expressed “serious concerns” over the price tag. The incredible power the West Virginia Democrat now holds has allowed him the political room and acceptance on both sides of the aisle to navigate the halls of Washington while keeping the cries of the far left in line. While these moderate Democrats often flip flop between holding the line and supporting their party’s agenda, Republicans should be glad they hold enough seats, too, but the brakes on the far left’s full steam ahead approach to governing. Even still, the party base’s extreme positions on a number of policy positions are likely to give moderate Democrats heartburn leading up to the 2022 midterms.
Internal jockeying within Democratic factions in the House have so far been somewhat tempered by Speaker Pelosi, but deep fissures in the party remain and are likely to become harder for the mainstream media to hide as the fall legislative season approaches. With 2022 on the horizon, Democrat leaders will want to showcase their ability to govern, and moderate Democrats know that hiking taxes and continuing the out-of-control spending will cost them at the ballot box as much as it will at the grocery store. Add a messy situation in Afghanistan to the mix of domestic issues facing Democrats, and you have the recipe for a huge swing in Congress after the 2022 elections.
Bob Carlstrom is President of AMAC Action