WASHINGTON — Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, says she has pushed President Joe Biden to hold the line and keep his ambitious social spending plan closer to $3 trillion instead of the $2 trillion range that he has floated to Democrats in recent days.
Jayapal told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday that she had told Biden that his suggestion for compromise was “too low, and I said that I would really like to be closer to three.” The original amount for the package of Democratic initiatives — including expanded child care, health care, education and environmental programs — was $3.5 trillion.
The Washington state Democrat has emerged as a top negotiator in the talks on Capitol Hill, using the clout of her liberal caucus — and its nearly 100 members — to thwart a group of House moderates who demanded a vote last week on a $1 trillion infrastructure bill.
Biden tacitly endorsed the progressive caucus’ strategy last week, insisting that the spending package full of longtime Democratic priorities be linked to infrastructure. But he also floated trimming it back to a range between $1.9 trillion and $2.3 trillion, drawing pushback from Jayapal and others.
Jayapal said the conversation is ongoing and she isn’t “drawing any red lines” in the negotiations.
“The president knows” that progressives are pushing for the higher amount, Jayapal said. “I said it directly to him; I also said it to his top aides.”
In only her fifth year in Congress, Jayapal is holding her growing caucus of liberals firmly together, marshaling influence that the left wing of the party hasn’t had in years. In doing so, she is hoping to help Biden win passage of his agenda, which includes a slate of social programs that Democrats have desired for decades.
A small group of moderate House Democrats hoped to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill alone and work on the social spending package later. But fearful that moderates would sink the larger bill, Jayapal and her members insisted that the two remain linked. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi abandoned a planned vote on the infrastructure measure after it became clear they lacked support to pass it.
Jayapal says she’s “proud of this moment” not only because she is a woman of color at the negotiating table — she emigrated from India at age 16 and became the first Indian-American woman to serve in the House when she was elected in 2016 — but also because her caucus has stayed unified.
“We are fighting for something that will benefit the entire country,” she said.
But enactment of Biden’s agenda is far from certain. There are bigger obstacles in the Senate, where the support of moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona will be needed for anything to pass. Both want the proposal scaled back.
The liberals’ stance risks dividing a party that remained mostly united through Donald Trump’s presidency.