Unusual House coalition flips the script...New AOC endorsement...
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez jumped into another open three-way Democratic primary, endorsing Nabilah Islam in her quest to flip a suburban Atlanta seat. If you recall, I did a walk-and-talk with her on Capitol Hill when she came to D.C. back before the pandemic. She’s impressive, and if she wins the primary, she has a decent chance of flipping this district. AOC debated her own primary opponent last night and there was this one highly amusing moment.
Washington is still largely in denial about the economic damage being wrought by the pandemic, which is reflected in the phrase “re-open the economy,” and Mitch McConnell’s sole focus on obtaining immunity from liability for businesses who behave negligently during the pandemic. The fight over the Paycheck Guarantee Act, which Nancy Pelosi kept out of the most recent relief package, is another clue to how clueless Congress is. Even though policymakers around the world learned from the last economic crisis that it is much smarter, cheaper, and more humane to keep people on payrolls than lay people off and pay the unemployment benefits, the policy choice out of Washington has been to focus on relief for the unemployed rather than to prevent there from being so many unemployed. In most European countries, they’ve chosen to subsidize employment, and as a result, unemployment rates there are low, and they’re high here. It’s a choice.
I have a story up this evening about an unusual coalition of swing-district Democrats and progressives who have linked up to support the paycheck measure, authored by Pramila Jayapal. If they can successfully organize together, it could upend the power balance on the Hill. That story is here.
SWING-DISTRICT DEMOCRATS LINK WITH PROGRESSIVES TO BACK PAYCHECK BILL PELOSI REJECTED
AFTER HOUSE SPEAKER Nancy Pelosi excluded a plan to keep unemployment down by subsidizing firms to keep workers on payrolls from her relief package last week, dozens of progressives have banded together with 10 “front-line” Democrats from swing districts to introduce it as a standalone piece of legislation.
The Paycheck Recovery Act, authored by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., aims to make sure that paychecks are flowing from employers to workers during the coronavirus pandemic. A previous version, the Paycheck Guarantee Act, had been a priority of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, of which Jayapal is a co-chair. The bill subsidizes struggling companies’ payrolls in order to discourage layoffs and keep unemployment down. While Pelosi had said she was open to considering the idea, she ultimately kept it out of the HEROES Act, the coronavirus relief bill passed by the House on Friday, which includes an extension of unemployment subsidies. Jayapal confronted her on a private caucus conference call over the decision, and Pelosi aides later pushed back, criticizing the measure for not having official legislative text or Republican co-sponsors.
Jayapal ultimately voted against the legislation, along with eight other progressives, citing the exclusion of her program. They were joined by five front-liners, some of whom objected to the paycheck measure’s omission, others of whom opposed it from the right, complaining of a lack of bipartisan buy-in.
The stampede of front-liners toward Jayapal’s new bill, according to people involved in the negotiations, is driven by an intersection of policy and electoral concerns. The front-liners are concerned that Pelosi’s rejection of the paycheck bill, and her focus on unemployment, makes for poor politics, and they have complained that they are getting hammered at home by Republicans, who are dubbing Democrats the party of unemployment.
The alliance of swing-district Democrats and the progressive wing of the party represents a new threat to House Democratic leadership’s domination of the caucus. Because of the stark partisan divide in the House, Pelosi can’t rely on the few remaining moderate Republicans to push legislation over the top. Instead, leadership typically shapes legislation to appeal to the swing-district bloc of Democrats — there are 42 front-liners who the party considers in need of electoral protection — then bludgeons progressives into supporting it, arguing that whatever is being offered is better than nothing and promotes the necessary goal of maintaining the majority, without which progressives have no power at all. Efforts by progressives to organize enough no votes to extract leverage in negotiations over coronavirus relief have so far not come to fruition, but teaming with front-liners opens up a new potential strategy as the pandemic scrambles political calculations.
For years, Pelosi has insisted that if it were up to her, the party would go further left than it does, but that the imperatives of reelection require moderating legislation for the members she calls “majority makers.” But if those majority makers get out ahead of Pelosi, that rationale would evaporate, and the dictates of making and keeping a majority would militate in their direction.