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‘I see this as a down payment’: Progressives see room to get more out of budget package that is short of their goal

By Annie Grayer, CNN

Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders and Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal both wanted the top line for Democrats’ sweeping spending plan to be higher, in fact nearly double the $3.5 trillion framework that was announced Tuesday.

The pair had been working behind the scenes and around the clock to ensure progressive priorities were included in the proposal.

“We just spoke this morning. We talked the other night. We talked several days ago,” Jayapal, a Democratic congresswoman from Washington state, said Wednesday. “We’re in very close coordination,” she added.

Even though the framework that has been announced falls short of what progressives wanted, it still sets the stage for Democrats to pass monumental overhauls like expanding the child tax credit, broadening medical benefits and introducing new climate change proposals, making them willing to work within the framework given instead of viewing the deal as a nonstarter. But that doesn’t mean progressives will stop pushing for more.

Jayapal called the framework “important movement forward,” acknowledging that the deal includes all five priorities progressives pushed to be included and key tax increases.

But, to Jayapal, this deal is just a “down payment.”

“I don’t want people to think that if we do this package we are done,” she said.

As Democrats continue to dig into the details of what is in the Senate budget resolution proposal, Jayapal said Wednesday her support for a package with a smaller price tag than she initially had hoped depended on how cuts were made.

“There are different ways to get a lower number. And if the lower number is because some programs are not for the full 10 years, but they are still universal benefits and they’re for long enough that Americans get to see what they are getting … that is one thing, versus just cutting something completely.”

Jayapal also said she is advocating for the budget resolution to be done first in the House, rather than in tandem with the bipartisan infrastructure deal as is currently the plan, so progressives “can shape a little bit more what this looks like.”

“Our caucus’ support is not guaranteed until we see how our priorities fit into the framework,” she added.

Just last month, Jayapal told reporters, “it would take $6-10 trillion dollars for this package to really do what we need to do” making clear that the message from progressives was “let’s go big, let’s go bold.”

Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats and who was key to getting this deal over the finish line, was also pushing for the budget resolution to be in the $6 trillion range as recently as Monday, but after the deal was announced late Tuesday night, quickly re-framed the final agreement as “a big deal.”

“This is the most consequential program in the modern history of this country,” Sanders said Wednesday. “It’ll impact millions of working-class people. I’m very proud of what we have.”

Progressive Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, who has been pushing hard for the reconciliation package to include wide ranging climate change measures described the deal as a “good start.”

“We’re facing several interlocking crises — especially a climate crisis. This package is a good start on attacking that, and we’ve got to keep working hard to get meaningful climate action in the final deal. It’s not the overall topline number I wanted, but it’s a great first step,” Markey said in a statement provided to CNN on Wednesday.

But, Sanders and Jayapal both telling their colleagues on a call on Monday that $3.5 trillion would not be enough to cover all of the legislative priorities they wanted to fit into the package has left some progressives frustrated with where the framework landed.

“This is a capitulation by progressives,” a progressive lawmaker familiar with the call told CNN on Tuesday, reacting to the agreed-upon number.

“Many in the Squad and Squad-adjacent will vote no,” the lawmaker added, referencing members of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing and making clear that it will be a rocky road of negotiations ahead.

Another source familiar with the Monday call said it was not about whether progressives would support the top-line number, or withhold their votes, but rather the reality of what would have to be cut from the priority list if the final number ended up being around $3.5 trillion.

This wouldn’t be the first time progressives signal their potential withholding of votes in a budget resolution process, even if only to ultimately join the rest of their party in support of the deal.

In March, when Congress was in the process of building out a Covid relief package, progressives threatened to withhold their votes if the final package did not include a provision to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. But, when minimum wage was stripped out of the final version of the bill, progressives got in line behind their party and did not obstruct President Joe Biden’s first legislative victory.

Democratic leadership is now faced with the task of keeping all factions of the party satisfied in order to get both the budget resolution over the finish line without letting the bipartisan infrastructure package fall apart.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer acknowledged the twists and turns to come as Democratic leaders try to wrangle their caucus with sprawling points of view behind this deal.

“We know the road ahead is going to be long,” Schumer said Wednesday. “There are bumps along the way. This is only the first step in a long road we will have to travel and must travel, but we are going to get this done.”

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