Thank goodness for Nancy Pelosi.
This week, Madame Speaker somehow hulked a slate of Democratic legislative priorities through the House of Representatives, staving off a half-masted mutiny from moderate members of her own party. And suddenly, it seems like several progressive wish list items are closer than they’ve been in recent memory to becoming reality.
At issue this week was a budget reconciliation bill and President Biden’s Infrastructure Plan. The Infrastructure Plan includes funds to repair and update “traditional” infrastructure projects—things that crews of workers in hard hats get paid to do, like fixing roads and bridges and improving broadband. That plan had already passed the Senate, with some Republican support.
The budget resolution that House Democrats are advancing includes up to $3.5 trillion to reinforce the social safety net and address “soft” infrastructure priorities, like establishing a federal paid family leave program, addressing climate concerns, and making childcare more affordable, all of which are just as—if not more—important for enabling people to get to work as tunnels and trains. Pelosi and progressive Democrats had insisted that they would not pass the Senate’s infrastructure bill unless the Senate advanced the House’s budget resolution. But a group of nine moderate Democrats threatened to blow all that up by insisting the House vote on the infrastructure bill first, or they would kill the budget resolution. (No Labels pretty much called them heroes!)
In the end, the moderates were out-maneuvered by Pelosi, who got her caucus in line and advanced the resolution in exchange for a pinky-promise that she would get the infrastructure bill passed by Sept. 27. Progressives in the House like Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington spoke optimistically about writing a budget bill that includes top progressive priorities in the coming weeks, and the Democrats who threatened to blow up the entire delicate negotiation process now look a lot like people who fucked around, and found out.
None of this would have been possible and this legislative moonshot wouldn’t be in reach if Nancy Pelosi hadn’t committed one of the most impressive legislative feats in recent memory, at 80 years old and in a news week dominated by high-profile foreign policy blunders and finger-pointing. She did it wearing heels that I wouldn’t dare wear as a woman in her thirties, and on a diet consisting of disturbing amounts of chocolate.
At this point, I would traditionally insert the obligatory cover-my-ass paragraph about how I don’t always agree with Pelosi on everything, and how, as a voter much more aligned with Bernie Sanders than Dianne Feinstein, she’s disappointed me in the past. But why does every discussion of Pelosi need to include a litany of gripes from more left-leaning voters? I’m not fangirling her. I know she’s not perfect. But she’s getting the job done here.
It’s hard to comment on politics for a living and not feel cynical about the functionality of government, and, in particular, Congress. It’s hard not to expect that even the most idealistic legislator will eventually sell out their constituents and their morals in favor of career longevity or short-term profitability, that those that don’t are exceptions that prove the rule.
Earlier this year, when the Biden administration released a list of infrastructure priorities that included support for caregivers and paid family leave, I was pleased that the decades-long work of longtime advocates like Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut was being acknowledged and elevated. Still, I was not hopeful that those priorities would survive the process of negotiating with moderates and Republicans. I was especially discouraged when Biden’s “soft” infrastructure proposals were detached from the “traditional” infrastructure bill, as though they mattered less because they benefited women more.
In legislative negotiations, it often seems like the priorities of the most marginalized people are the first that are deemed superfluous. This is a natural outcome of electing a Congress that looks nothing like the people whose interests they’re supposed to be serving. There is nobody more insulated from the consequences of decisions that primarily impact young people, poor people, single parents, and people of color than the mostly old, mostly white, and mostly rich (mostly) men who currently serve in congress.
Congress’s chronic inability to enact structural changes that actually lift people from the lowest rungs of poverty is a reflection of that.
How would West Virginia Senator and 74-year-old multimillionaire Joe Manchin be personally impacted if the U.S. continues to be one of two countries in the world without any form of paid family leave? He might get some mean tweets—but that’s pretty much it.
By standing her ground on the budget bill, Pelosi gave me reason to feel some hope that this Congress and this president are capable of advancing an agenda that would actually benefit people most in need.
When she was re-elected Speaker of the House, it was amid hand-wringing from members of her own party. The concern was that Pelosi would abandon issues that handed the House back to Democrats in favor of policy goals that would alienate voters. She placated her naysayers by agreeing to step down after 2022 to make room for new leadership.
This week, the people convinced Nancy Pelosi would set them adrift at sea could breathe a tentative sigh of relief that she didn’t abandon them during this crucial moment, followed by a gasp of mild panic that after 2022, we’ll have to find a new legislative leader capable of stepping up the way she just did.