By Jamelle Bouie
If President Biden’s “Build Back Better” bill dies in Congress, it will be because moderate Democrats killed it.
Over the past month, those moderates have put themselves at the center of negotiations over the $3.5 trillion proposal (doled out over 10 years) for new programs, investments and social spending. And they’ve made demands that threaten to derail the bill — and the rest of Biden’s agenda with it.
In the House last week, a group of moderate Democrats successfully opposed a measure that would allow direct government negotiation of drug prices and help pay for the bill. One of the most popular items in the entire Democratic agenda — and a key campaign promise in the 2018 and 2020 elections — federal prescription drug negotiation was supposed to be a slam dunk. But the moderates say it would hurt innovation from drugmakers. Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona has likewise announced her opposition to direct government negotiation of the price of prescription drugs.
Similarly, a different group of moderate Democrats hopes to break the agreement between Democratic leadership and congressional progressives to link the Senate-negotiated bipartisan infrastructure bill to Biden’s “Build Back Better” proposal, which would be passed under the reconciliation process to avoid a filibuster by Senate Republicans.
The point of the agreement was to win buy-in from all sides by tying the fate of one bill to the other. Either moderates and progressives get what they want or no one does. Progressive Democrats have held their end of the bargain. But moderates are threatening to derail both bills if they don’t get a vote on infrastructure before the end of the month. “If they delay the vote — or it goes down — then I think you can kiss reconciliation goodbye,” Representative Kurt Schrader of Oregon, one of the moderates, told Politico. “Reconciliation would be dead.”
Moderate Democrats want Biden to sign the bipartisan infrastructure bill. But it seems clear that they’ll take nothing if it means they can trim progressive sails in the process, despite the fact that many of the items in the “Build Back Better” bill are the most popular parts of the Democratic agenda.
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