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Progressive Caucus Must Go Ted Lasso: Forget Yesterday’s Loss – Ensure Tomorrow’s Victory

12 / 21 / 2021

It’s 2 a.m. and I can’t sleep. 

Joe Manchin’s machinations have brought my brain to the point of near spontaneous combustion. But that’s not why I can’t sleep. At this moment, I’m more concerned about the progressives’ next move in the House. 

Lest anyone misunderstand my motivation for writing the following, it is not ideological. You’re either for or against the Build Back Better plan, which would spend/invest somewhere between 1-2 trillion on priorities that most Democrats believe would create more opportunity for working class Americans. You may debate it at your leisure. But that’s really what elections are for. 

This memo is more of an old political hack’s humble (sort of) advice to U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Chair of the House Progressive Caucus, and its 96 members. And it is a very simple message:  

CUT A DEAL. GET WHAT YOU CAN GET. When it comes to resources, a piece of the pie is infinitely better than licking an empty pan. 

Chair Jayapal, please don’t get me wrong: I have huge respect, in a strategic sense, for what you’ve been able to accomplish for progressives. You changed the rules, leveraged the power of the caucus — which theretofore had none — and actually forced the Democratic Senate and White House to negotiate with you and your crew. In a real way. You were actually able to hold up a vote — for a month — on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that was the biggest no-brainer your party will ever come across. So popular that 19 GOP Senators voted for it. 

While President Biden and the Democrats’ poll numbers are ugly, they are poll numbers. A “snapshot in time.” And even if they’re the same in six months, Democrats should stop wetting themselves over it. You get elected to lead and do big things. And it’s not that often that a political party simultaneously holds the White House, the Senate, and the House. 

As most folks know who follow this stuff, the Dems barely hold onto that rare power edge, due to an evenly split 50-50 Senate. And due to that fact, the party of Biden has to go through all kinds of parliamentary contortions to pass anything — even when they bypass the moronic, unconstitutional 60-vote “filibuster” rule and go for the 50 votes plus one from Vice President Harris. 

Yet even under this threadbare power advantage and arcane rules structure, President Biden was able to sign two enormous bills of consequence into law in his first nine months: 

  1. $1.9 trillion COVID -10 Relief Package, passed completely along party lines in the Senate, 50-49. 

2)   $1.2 trillion Infrastructure and Jobs Act

If you happen to be a Democrat who believes that these two laws were wise and necessary measures, then you have hit the legislative lottery. Taken together, these are massive accomplishments, for any president — much less one with a congressional majority thinner than beef carpaccio. 

So, back to Senator Manchin. Did he violate his word? Did he promise to pass an agreed upon form of the Build Back Better bill that he just shot down on FOX News Sunday? Most Democrats, including the White House and the entire Progressive Caucus, say yes. Manchin says no. 

Here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter. Not in terms of what comes next. All that matters is what comes next. As Tiger Woods advised his 12-year-old son Charlie prior to last weekend’s tournament: 

“Son, I don’t care how mad you get. Your head could blow off for all I care, just as long as you’re 100 percent committed to the next shot. That next shot should be the most important shot in your life. It should be more important than breathing.”

It’s the Ted Lasso philosophy: A goldfish has a 10-second memory. Think like a goldfish. 

I don’t mean this in a fully literal sense as it applies to progressives. But not far off. 

Let’s say that Manchin unequivocally DID screw you. If I were in your shoes, I’d be on fire. Beyond infuriated. And we can see that you are. But whatever Manchin’s real motivation was for doing so — that argument is meaningless now. And that part I do mean literally. 

Manchin has the power in this situation — because he has the power. Because he is in West Virginia, a state that he won as a Democrat — which also voted for Trump by 39 PERCENT (the loser’s strongest showing in any state). 

So assuming from recent events that Manchin still has ALL of the power and can dictate any size of the next version of the Build Back Better Act — what will you do? What CAN you do? 

You can’t do much. Let Biden renegotiate with him. Or for that matter, acquiesce to a number he’ll accept. Is Manchin’s word any good? Maybe not. But that doesn’t matter anymore either. All that matters is what he will agree to and then vote on. So even if a further scaled down iteration of the bill emerges and Manchin agrees to it — and follows through — it’ll still be a whole lot better than zero. Scraping the pan sucks.    

Will your far-left base get rid of you in the 2022 primaries? Because you delivered only 3 trillion in overall investment instead of seven or eight? Probably not. But even if they do — look what you did in just a few years in Congress. If you really believe that the Americans you serve are in dire need of assistance in order to better their lives, will you leave them without a cent? Will you leave them with only a bet on what the next Congress will do?

It would not be prudent to make that wager. In the last 80 years, only twice has the party in the White House won the House. Incumbent presidents have lost an average of 25 seats in each midterm over the last seven decades. You’re going to roll those dice? 

Deliver. Deliver what you can. This is about raw politics, plain and simple. What can you get that gets you as close as possible to what you believe is necessary — and doesn’t totally squander the political moment you’ve worked for years to achieve.

Rep. Jayapal, I realize that you probably already know this. And I would venture the guess that every member of your Progressive Caucus knows it, too. They must. Right now, I’m sure you’re all seeing red. Red red. 

Nevertheless, I just had to get this basic strategic suggestion off my chest. And now I can go back to sleep.